The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Climbing at Hatun Machay

Even though we set off for South America with our climbing gear and intended on a large part of our trip to be focused on using said gear, we have yet to climb anywhere that we knew about before coming down here. And I’ll admit we had never even heard of Hatun Machay before we got to Peru, although most self respecting climbers on a South American climbing trip would probably have it high up on their list. Despite our clear lack of being self respecting climbers we were still disappointed to learn that its routes had suffered extensive damage at the hands of a disgruntled Argentinian climber just months before we arrived in Huaraz, leaving us unsure of whether we’d be able to climb there at all.

From what we could piece together through online posts in Spanish and word of mouth, in July and August the refugio where climbers stayed and some 80% of the climbing routes had been damaged, including almost all of the easier climbs. Once we arrived in Huaraz we were able to get the full scoop. The (former) operator of the refugio and climber who was responsible for setting many of the routes had a falling out with the community over his land use agreement and in turn went postal on his business, sacking the lodging and chopping bolts off of hundreds of routes.

As we gathered more info, the whole scene grew slightly less grim than originally imagined. People were still climbing there and there may be a handful of routes left within our capability. For a small fee paid to a toothless sheep herder you could even camp out in the refugio which, although it no longer had beds or even doors, had not been burned down as one account had claimed.

When we arrived and got to experience it for ourselves, we quickly realized that the damage to routes was as extensive as we had feared. Wall after wall of climbs had entire routes missing or the first and maybe second bolt chopped, meaning any attempt at the route would require risking an unprotected fall to the deck of 4-8m. The refugio was doorless, it had boards for windows, no running water and only a handful of mattresses laying on the ground but it was still a step up from our tent and a good place to spend the evening with other climbers.

Who needs doors anyways?
Home sweet home

Thanks buddy! Love what you’ve done with the place.

One thing we repeatedly heard while trying to gather information about the current state of Hatun Machay was how beautiful this forest of rock was, even if the climbing wasn’t what it once was. They weren’t lying. After driving up through dry, barren hills with nothing but brown grass and sheep crap you come over one final ridge and laid out before you is this refugio and a huge collection of rocks, ranging from large boulders to massive 50m slabs.

Ridin’ the wave. Feelin’ the flow
Nothing left to do but wait for an epic sunset

There are over 25 separate walls scattered along the edge of the rock forest, all of which have numerous sport routes bolted on them, or used to. We spent our first days wandering more than we climbed as we confirmed which walls still had routes intact, and learning which paths through the centre of the rock forest were shortcuts and which were really, really good reasons to lose our tempers and shout at each other (AKA dead ends). Oh what fun!

At least all the boulders looked like dinosaurs.

A wild herd of Stegosaurus

We eventually found more than enough routes to keep us busy for 4 days. The climbing was easily the best we’ve found in South America so far. Long and challenging routes, each wall catering to a slightly different skill set. The rock is volcanic and sharp as knives. For all you petty criminals out there, a few days of rock climbing out here is a great way to make sure you don’t have finger prints for a few months.

Canadian Will tackling an unnamed 45m route

“Ohhh so that’s how you do it”…Watching real climbers at work
Right up the crack
Roxy crushing her hardest lead climb to date. Sapo Guitarrista (6a+)
Rasta Quechua (6a+)

We shared our evenings in the refugio with two other climbers, a fellow Canadian and an American, playing cards and drinking rum until the ungodly hour of 9:30pm. True party animals. We all cherished being out of service without wifi for election Tuesday and the accompanying media circus. Had we known the results I’m not sure our American friend would have ever left the refugio. I had the task of breaking the news to him a few days later on the streets of Huaraz after seeing a newspaper stand. Might as well have told him his wife left him, and his dog AND bunny got run over by the train she left town on.

Our dainty empanada holding fingers could only handle 4 days of climbing the first go round but we knew we had to come back to this special place.

The gang retreats back to the refugio
Rock forest at dawn

After we completed the Huayhuash trek and engaged in a few days of dessert eating competitions with each other we headed back for round two at Hatun Machay.

We had the place all to ourselves aside from the resident goose, Lucho, some strays and the few local shepherds who make their living out there.

Side story, we met a Dutch couple at our hostel who had made a half dozen or so visits to Hatun Machay, became enamoured with one of the mangy mutts, “adopted” it, and called it Hodor after a character from some HBO show no one has heard of. I say “adopted” because we have yet to confirm that some Peruvian kid isn’t putting up flyers all around his neighbourhood and crying himself to sleep. The amount of baby talking this dog received at a hostel with paper maché walls was enough to make you want to slam your head in the door. My Spanish has improved enough to know (no it hasn’t, someone told me) that saying “Hodor” with a Dutch accent sounds just like the Spanish word:

Much to the delight of all the guys running our hostel, to them this was a stray dog getting followed around by a woman dropping eff bombs in a baby voice.

Morale of the story, don’t get your pet’s name from TV shows like Game of Thrones.

Lucho, el jefe
If you’re going to adopt a stray, at least pick the cute puppy
“The Cat” boxed wine elegantly paired with salami and queso mantecoso. You stay classy San Diego

Back at Hatun Machay, we put in a solid two more days, not wasting any time and only going after the best routes we’d eyed from our first outing. We enjoyed almost purely sunny skies each day and cloudless, starry nights. Two nights to ourselves and then our final night spent competing in massive card games with 8 other climbers who arrived from our hostel.

“I’m gonna get ya!”

Long routes on sharp rock, puts your pain tolerance and curse word vocabulary to the test
Spent plenty of time on this wall. One route goes up the middle, another up the right side and both finish with big lieback moves on the edges of the arrowhead

Two days of hard climbing was plenty satisfying, and our fingers were screaming uncle, so we opted to enjoy a casual morning before walking the dirt road back to the highway.  As per usual our ride home was interesting, after numerous unsuccessful attempts at flagging a ride we finally got a car to stop for us, a full car. Much to the chagrin of the 3 ladies in the backseat the driver ushered Roxy onto their laps and shut me in the hatchback. While we love a good adventurous travel tale, we were glad ours was rather lame this time and that we hadn’t left the night before. We caught up with an American at our hostel who had come out for the day and returned to Huaraz that evening and was attacked by a dog on the road to the highway.  A well aimed rock failed to deter the dog who managed to sink his teeth into the guy’s thigh, but left it vulnerable to an overhead body slam (rookie mistake dog).  The guy left the dog, still breathing but not moving, and continued on his way only to have a woman come running out of a nearby field shouting at him and brandishing a rock of her own. He stuck around to find out what she wanted (absolutely not what I would have done) and got the gist that she didn’t want revenge, but rather for him to finish the job.  Our American friend respectfully declined and made his way to the highway to hitch a ride, which he managed to do in record time.  His ride back to society, and hopefully a clinic, was the standard colectivo van with the added bonus of a half dozen dead sheep split between the floor and the roof.  I would not have guessed it, but he claimed it smelled like raw sewage.  For those of you keeping track, this was the Ugly portion of the story, which means it’s almost over.  Suddenly my cramped neck and Roxy’s invasion of personal space seemed like much less of a blog-worthy travel tale (wasn’t the most promising to begin with), so I hope you enjoyed our borrowed story.

A week of recovery later…
Thumbs up to not riding with dead sheep!

Not sure exactly how but over a month has passed since we first showed up in Huaraz. If I used clichés I’d say “time flies when you’re having fun”, but that’d be cliché. We are aware that Peru is not a small country, and it is not the only country in S.A., so we are pressing on. We are going to make our way back to the Peruvian coast before heading north to Quito for the Christmas holidays (yes, we realize this brings us back to square one and that we are doing a very poor job of travelling south as originally planned). Our first stop is the tiny surf village of Lobitos for a week and maybe more if we can land ourselves a volunteering gig.

¡Gracias por leer!


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