Southeast of Santiago lies a rocky and isolated valley that runs into Argentina called Valle Maule. The landscape morphs from the rugged peaks of extinct volcanoes with zero vegetation to big hills with lush vineyards that are reminiscent of interior BC as the Rio Maule flows from the Argentinian border to the Pacific Ocean. It is way up this valley that we were told lies one of the best climbing areas in Chile, 30km after the last village along highway 115. A truly hidden gem that has been developed by an incredibly dedicated climbing community but still doesn’t get the attention or crowds that it should. This was one of the primary reasons we chose to spend a week here instead of the Cochamo Valley, known as the Yosemite of South America. Another big reason was that the Cochamo valley involves a 6 hour hike in with all your gear and food. Oh and you still pay to camp there.
Instead of enduring another sufferfest approach we hopped a few busses through Chile’s Cachapoal wine valley, taking them as far as we could and then hitch-hiked the rest of the way. I tried to keep up a conversation in Spanish with our gracious driver but found myself continually getting distracted by the unique geological formations each mountain has on display. Once at our highway kilometer marker, we parted ways with our ride, who insisted on giving us a small gift before heading for the border.
We set up our tent in the camping area located between the Rio Maule and the Gran Pared climbing wall, not far from the highway but completely out of sight from it. For the moment we were the only group there and had our pick of previously built rock walls to pitch our tent behind, a sign of the ferocious winds that would soon blow fine sand into every nook and cranny of our tent and bags. Nothing like returning to your tent each day to find your sleeping bag under a layer of sand.
We went after the low hanging fruit on our first day and climbed easier trad and sport routes in the Gran Pared section, a stone’s throw from camp (for like Tom Brady, or someone who throws stones far).
Our next couple days took us across Rio Maule to explore the walls we could see from our camp.
There were another 7 sectors there, all with dozens of routes so we spent evenings hashing out a plan of attack and then usually abandoned that plan once we found better looking climbs on the walk over. We’d chase the sun when it was cold and seek shade when our necks turned bright red.
After we’d had our fill each day we’d follow smaller side channels of the Rio Maule downstream to where the ground would fall out beneath them and they’d turn into impressive waterfalls, and then fish our way back upstream. Again, Roxy couldn’t grasp the concept of our “Smallest Fish” competition and continued to catch bigger trout than me.
We also continued the routine we started in Cajon Del Maipo, washing up in the river after climbing. Although it was a heck of a lot colder here, we stayed committed to this whole “not smelling like gym towel in the tent” thing.
There are a few climbing areas in Valle de Los Condores that require a bit more effort to get to, but they are all worth the trip just to see the unique walls that now have routes up them. This is convenient considering how much climbing we actually ended up doing. We dedicated our next two days to these areas, the first of which was called Monjes Blancos, or White Monks.
Roxy must have failed Sunday school because the White Monks did not treat her kindly. On our first route of the day, working up a short chimney section, she made an awkward move and wrenched her knee. And just like that we were sent back to camp by the Monks. Way to go Roxanne. Selfish amirite?! At least the Monks looked cool, thank God for that.
Plan B was a few hours of hanging in the sun, fishing and putting a dent in our snack supplies. Thanks a lot Roxanne.
The day wasn’t all bad though, just before dinner we headed over to Gran Pared and I got a few routes in while Roxy belayed.
Our unplanned day of rest ended up being quite helpful as we crammed as much into our final full day as possible. Roxy’s knee was manageable after a few ice baths in the river the day before so we set off hiking down the Rio Maule to where the map showed several waterfalls adjacent to climbing areas. We passed our fishing competition on the way down and realized why the fish here certainly seemed more skeptical of our offerings than other rivers.
There are climbs lining the walls on either side of these falls including some that go up close enough to get you soaked but the only way to access them is by rappelling down.
From the base you can see that the water isn’t horizontal for long and there is another spectacular set of falls. Somewhere partway down, on a set of ledges at the base of a separate, smaller waterfall there is a climbing area we desperately wanted to check out. But alas, we quickly realized it was not accessed from where we stood, or at least not without the help of a parachute.
After using the via ferreta to get back up we walked the banks of the river back to camp, fishing wherever the water would allow and wherever the locals weren’t ripping trout out of the river and depositing them in there baskets.
We finished up the day climbing around camp again and took as many mental photos of this unreal area before we set off the next day.
Of course the next morning we awoke to rain and frigid temperatures, perfect weather for standing on the side of the highway and seeing cars only going the opposite direction we needed to go. After an hour someone finally stopped for us, an empty luxury coach bus no less, but unfortunately it only took us a few kilometres before turning into a mining camp and showing us the door. After our good fortune hitch hiking a few days ago we figured we were due for a rougher go on the return and chalked it up to karma. At the sound of this word Roxy piped up and decided the only way to change our luck was to eat the cake we had been gifted by our first ride. Pretty sure she had been looking for an excuse to eat it for the last week but I bought it. A few future cavities later we were sugar high and full of hope. It wasn’t immediate but a van did eventually show up and took us all the way to the Talara bus station where we caught a bus back to Santiago and learned that we had avoided being in the city throughout the nearby floods and water shortages. Roxy’s convinced this was all thanks to the cake.
Before heading south to Patagonia we got to enjoy a change of pace and spend a week in wine country with Roxy’s parents, visiting from Vancouver.