I had the dream again last night. The dream is always the same—some details change here and there, different faces emerge and fade, lines of travel crisscross and follow different plans or lack thereof—but the dream is always of the same place. More nights than is probably sound, I dream of Cochamó.
This year will mark my fourth consecutive season in the granite paradise of Cochamó, located in Southern Chile’s Lake District. Cochamó is a climber’s dream - a seeming endless barrage of granite domes and 1,000 meter peaks whose scale and grandeur rival that of Yosemite Valley. Beneath the towering walls of white stone lie dense groves of Valdivian rainforest and crystal streams with water that can be drank straight from the source. There are pink and magenta flowers, bright green moss-covered boulders, and ancient Alerce trees in abundance.
While the majority of visitors to Cochamó come to enjoy the backpacking, hiking trails, local Gaucho culture, and biodiversity, a small but growing contingent of visitors from all over the world come to experience the world-class rock-climbing. But it is a special breed of climbers who come. While one can spend a lifetime in a place like Yosemite repeating the well-documented routes established by climbers over the last half a century or more of climbing, climbers in Cochamo often come to experience the adventure of establishing their own new routes, or repeating lines that have only recently been established.
I am of this latter breed. Even upon my first visit to the area in January of 2011—the Austral summer in the Southern Hemisphere—I couldn’t help but dream of “new-routing,” though my experience level led me to believe that such an achievement was a bit beyond my pay-grade. That trip I had the good fortune to team up with a seasoned Cochamó veteran, American J.B. Haab, who showed me the ropes as we established what has since become a classic introductory route to Cochamó: the 6 pitch 5.11A, ‘No Hay Hoyes’.
The process of establishing a route in Cochamó is far more blue-collar than the typical climbing experience. It requires a lot of hard work: cleaning dirty sections of rock, installing bolts and rappel anchors, removing vegetation from cracks, even cutting trail to the base of the route. While this manual labor is a deterrent to many potential Cochamó suitors, I have found it to be an exciting way to give back to the community, and the most fulfilling kind of climbing I have ever experienced.
Now, with my fourth trip to Cochamó just under a month away, I am making all the necessary preparations to be ready come January 3rd. Sorting and acquiring equipment, poring over old photos of unclimbed walls, whipping myself into physical shape climbing indoors and outdoors, discussing logistics with my climbing partner Austin Siadak, and trying to get some sleep. The last of these may be the most difficult. As the date nears, I find sleep harder and harder to come by. Although I have climbed on five of the seven continents, in more than ten different countries, and all over the United States, when I wake at night with sweaty palms, and heart pounding, it is always the same dream: I dream of Cochamó.
Switchback Travel’s Cochamó Journals will document climber Chris Kalman as he journeys down to Southern Chile in 2014 for another epic climbing season. You can learn more about Chris and follow his work at www.chriskalman.com. Chris is supported by Cilo Gear, Mad Rock Climbing, and NW Alpine.