New rock climb on Cerro Walwalun, Cochamó Valley, Chile
In February 2013 the Italian climbers Lorenzo Lanfranchi, Mirko Masè, Simone Pedeferri, Mattia Tisi and Andrea Zaffaroni made the first ascent of Perdidos en el Mundo (870m, 23 pitches, 7b+, 6c+ obligatory) up the north face of Cerro Walwalun in Cochamo valley in Patagonia, Chile. The story by Mirko Masè.
Beauty can’t be explained in words, it’s simply there. Is tangible. Perhaps palpable in the air. Perhaps this is why the soul of a face can sometimes be felt even before you lay your hands on it. Just like with this climb. The team is comprised of strong climbers. But this doesn’t suffice. More is needed. Friendship. The ability to be amazed and to laugh and joke. Only then - but not always- will you meet the unexpected. Like a lake warmed by the sun at the base of the Big Wall, ideal for an amazing swim. Or water on a hidden ledge, so large that we can walk around untied. A true oasis. A gift of nature that lies there, ready to be discovered and experienced with joy. Does it really strike you as strange if we belive all of this is true beautify?
PERDIDOS EN EL MUNDO by Mirko Masè
I'm tired and despite the annoying drone of the engines, shortly after having eaten dinner I fall into a deep sleep. I worked a lot recently to allow me five weeks off and finally we’re off, even though my enthusiasm gives way to a little regret: my wife is five months pregnant... We’re the usual close-knit team comprised of myself, Simi and Pala, and this year we’re joined by Matt, my habitual partner in crime, and Zaffa, the youngest of us five.
Although it’s my sixth expedition to South America, for me Chile is still a land unknown. It is this element of mystery that fascinates me most during my travels. One discovers new places, visits other worlds, get to know different realities and perhaps this is why we travel so far to establish new routes, to quest our thirst for discovery and, like ancient explorers, to climb new lines and interpret them as we wish.
I don’t have any idea about what Chile will be like and at Puerto Montt we discover a typical small South American town, with honking, a crowded bus station, people serving chicken with fries and frost-covered glasses of beer just pulled out of the freezer.
What strikes me most here is the scenery. We’re close to the sea, in the middle of summer and there is luscious green all around, it reminds me of Scandinavia. "Look how much it rains" - Simone says - "fuck, surely I won’t be trapped in a tent for a month, listening to the water drip onto the outer while I read the same book over and over again…?”
We drive down the road past the fjords and the Osorno volcano to reach the village of Cochamo where the Cochamo valley extends to the sea. Mussels are farmed here before moving on to saltier waters.
We spend the night at Siro’s, the huaso (Chilean gaucho) who will accompany us the following day with his horses, transporting out take our three hundred kilos of food and gear to the camp three hours away. This is where we’ll make our base camp.
The green meadow is wedged into the bottom of a valley, shaped by grey granite walls split by cracks that draw beautiful lines high towards the blue sky. With watchful eyes we search the faces in search of a logical sequence that combines beauty with feasibility.
This year our goal is the Walwalun face located at the end of the Amphitheatre valley that soars upwards for a thousand metres. We’re fascinated by this wall but it doesn’t seem to offer a simple line of ascent. We spend an entire day scrutinising the face through our binoculars in search of its most logical line but all either dying or lead to sections which are less interesting.
The alpine tradition that has characterised the experiences of our group induces us to choose a route which leads to the very top since only this fully describes the relationship of a group of climbing friends. This is what we’d like to do, but this mountain simply doesn’t want to play game. After this reccie and first gear transport we return to base camp somewhat pensive.
Perhaps the dark of night, apart from revealing a sky of stars we have never seen before, will calm our desire to find a new line at all costs. And perhaps provide a new perspective from which to analyse this vertical world and develop a new plan of attack.
The eye doesn’t always meet the most logical line. Sometimes this needs to be unearthed, sometimes the most unpredictable, those which hold the greatest doubts also hold the key. A reason for failure can at times motivate and fuel a dream.
The temperatures are rising and during the approach the already very hot temperatures are kept at bay by the lush vegetation that keeps the path to the Amphitheatre in the shade. We come across an overhanging boulder which turns into an excellent camp and home.
A month, a week, even a day spent in an inhospitable place is best avoided. So our camp gradually takes shape, we build a bench, a fireplace, a table, essential furniture and so it transforms into our home and for all those who pass this way.
The face motivates me and I start up it during the hottest hours of the day. Its logical line leads me to believe that we’ll climb quickly, but three hours later I'm dehydrated and boiling beneath the scorching, early afternoon sun. I’ve only climbed fifty metres, my rope leads down, far from the shady trees where my partners wait, almost asleep.
A big question mark looms above me, the crack peters out and I'm certain a battle will soon commence up a series of slabs that’ll lead to nowhere. We decide to give in another go later in the cooler hours of the afternoon, when the rock is no longer exposed to the beating sun.
Walwalun faces North, but since it’s in the southern hemisphere, the north faces receive the sun for most of the day and it’s virtually impossible to climb slabs which require intricate footwork.
Doubts, attempts, some good ones, others less, tension, risk of having to throw away hours of work… these are the feelings we experience on new route where new terrain begins where the path ends, where you have few certainties and those you do have are already long forgotten.
But climbing is possible, one pitch follows the next, the soul feeds the mind with courage, one belay after the next, hours pass, days pass and we reach mid-height, the centre of the Walwalun, this immense face made of corners, roofs, cracks and slabs that change shape and depth depending on the angle of the sun.
We’ve climbed 13 pitches and 500 metres of our new route, from this point onwards everything becomes more difficult, hauling gear, food, equipment and water is a strenuous affair. The higher one gets the harder things become, in particular because water weighs a ton and lasts no time at all.
We reach a ledge halfway up the face and the mountain surprises us with a fantastic present that Walwalun perhaps held in store for those who one day would come this way. For her guests, for those she decided to welcome, Walwalun has prepared an excellent bedroom, safe and comfortable. So comfortable event that we can walk around unroped to reach the fresh water source! This place will be the top floor of our house, we’ll spend two nights here suspended between mountains and stars that are almost within reaching distance. .
Water on a big wall counts for almost everything. I can drop a peg or a rope can break – as has happened in the past – but nevertheless one can continue to climb. Without water though one is forced to descent. Thanks to this water we decide to decide to use the ledge as our base and attack the upper section of the route from here.
Above us the climbing changes, the rock is different, older, provides more cracks and is decidedly steeper. A logical series of lines, sensed by this magnificent team effort, allows us t o breach this face, discover its secrets and complete this 23-pitch route to the top of Walwalun which was reached via final, fantastic vertical chimney.
We call our route Perdidos en el Mundo, just like our souls were, lost up there on the summit, coloured in deep satisfaction which is reflected across the pinkish grey walls, the green valleys, the deep blue sky reflected in the lakes suspended deep below, in the horizon marked by the deep blue Pacific Ocean. We were lost but now we’re found. We return and our thoughts mingle. One dominates all: my baby in his mother’s tummy.
Perdidos en el Mundo
Walwalun North Face, Cochamò, Chile
870m, 23 pitches, 7b+ (6c+ obligatory)
First ascent Lorenzo Lanfranchi, Mirko Masè, Simone Pedeferri, Mattia Tisi, Andrea Zaffaroni from 2 - 6 February 2013