SPORT CLIMBING IN SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
Last year, in August I met Esteban in San Pedro de Atacama. I was on the paperwork to buy a piece of land in San Pedro, and it was taking longer than I expected, so I had plenty of time to explore the place.
I had already climbed in some canyons near San Pedro, and I had also done some ‘boulder’, so with Esteban, we started to walk over different places, ranging from 2,500 to 4,200 meters above sea level. There were some very good walls, but in general, there was only one type of climbing: or they were cracks, vertical walls or overhangs. The idea was walking around until finding a zone having the most varied kinds of climbing as possible.
One of those searching days, we had already walked around a lot and we were a bit tired when I talked to Esteban that I remembered about a rock near the village of Socaire. Thus, we went there.
They were repairing the road, and there was a machine working. We moved to the other track and after 300 meters we were held up in the sand, unable to move. The driver of the machine gave us a hand, but we didn’t have anything to pull the pick up truck with. We tried with ribbons, with ropes, but it was of no use. Finally, Esteban sacrificed a nice piece of rope he had, and so we could get out. The guy of the machine was so impressed that the rope had resisted that we gave it to him.
Well, we continued and went down a small crack. In the search, we found walls full of petroglyphs that hadn’t been discovered yet (later, I went there with an archeologist). The crack was beautiful and it offered a wider variety of climbing, but we decided to keep on searching. We passed the village of Socaire, and about 15 kilometers farther; we stopped when seeing the upper part of a wall. We went down and ... it was incredible: there were tops, overhangs, cracks, and walls with openings. A bit upper there was a brook. It was the place we were looking for.
Discovering and getting equipped
We had the equipment for cracks and we climbed a very beautiful one. With the same top rope, we climbed the slabs on the sides. The climb was incredible: fine, delicate and very technical. The sensation when climbing these walls progressing through virgin terrain was enough to motivate us and save money to come back to this place and equip it. With Eddie, Esteban, Leo and Max, we came back, and the first routes started to show up.
A big effort
It was overwhelming to climb after equipping a route. The first time, we had too few bolts and clamps, and it was terrible to decide where we had to equip and where we didn’t, because there were routes everywhere. The rock was perfect, because the only thing you had to do was dusting it a bit. In that occasion, some routes appeared, such as Don Zeferino (5.10 a) (the name was after Mr. Zeferino, who was the guy handling the engine that powered Socaire and charged out drill batteries), Terminator (5.12 a-b), Digital Torture (5.11d), among others.
Now there are 22 routes equipped with chains and clamps in the meeting points. The cracks (numberless) are not equipped, and they only have a lock with chains at the end to make the descent easier.
The dream descent place in Chile
Due to the height of the place, 3,550 meters above sea level, it is necessary to get accustomed to it the first days, but as you exercise, the process is fast.
The climb here is mainly of the boulder type: short and explosive routes. The heights go from 12 to 25 meters. In the last trip, some continuity routes were equipped (22 – 23 meters), which are also overhang.
Middle of the rock
The cracks are a different story, because they could turn into THE PLACE to climb cracks of any type. Some of them are similar to Indian Creek in the United States. They are parallel cracks of all the possible widths (fingers, fists and off width). In the central zone of Chile there are not good crack places, but here, we have them at ground level, and through all the range of widths and shapes. (Here I discovered that the cracks are terrific).
The overhang routes are and they don’t have too many rest places. The holds are small holes for the fingers, and sometimes there are structures that seem gullies, such as limestone.
When one walks along the crack, you realize that there is not a wall equal to another. Sometimes they are so different one from the other that one could think that they are different places. This is the magic of Socaire: variety.
Like a wall
There are easy level routes within the range 5.10, and the rest are 5.11 – 5.12 routes. The potential of harder routes is evident, because there are several overhangs with very small holds. There is a project that is equipped, but not yet climbed.
The potential of routes may reach up to 200 routes (100 more than in Las Chilcas).
Upper in the canyon, there are walls 250 meters high, with a width of 4 kilometers. These walls resemble the ones in Torrecillas.
In the canyon you can camp anywhere. There are even big rocky roofs that can be used as shelter in case of rain, especially during the Bolivian winter (December – March). The temperature is very pleasant, and due to the height, it is never hot in excess. In general, you can climb with light clothes, but in winter you must wear a woolen hat.
An Anthology Surrounding
The surroundings of the place are perhaps, charming, because climbing absolutely alone (without car noises), with volcanoes reaching 6,000 meters high as background, the orange color of the rock, the pure air and the climbing turn it into a magic place.
The idea is turning the place into a destination interesting to climb and get to know the natural wonders of the high lands. At present, we are building a small wall in Eddie’s house, and there is a café, whose owner is Steffen, a German guy who lives in San Pedro for more than a year. The café is called ‘Base Camp’, where the talk is about climbing and mountains; besides, it is the perfect meeting place after every climb. Here you can get information about new routes or other climbing places or boulders; besides, it is the only place where they serve grain coffee in San Pedro and delicious soy hamburgers.
Text: Kenneth Lein