EMOTION IN THE HEIGHTS
"... it is, above all, a sign of the integration of the body with the rock; of a desperate attempt to become one with the rock wall, taking advantage of any minimum weakness, any hold, no matter how small it might be." (Paolo Paci: Sport Climbing Course)
San Ramon hill as background
The practice of the sport climbing in Chile is a reality for more than ten years. In 1986, a few national climbers started to discover and implement the places that are now being climbed. Since then, and through a slow, but continuous development, this activity shows an increasing number of followers, lured by what for some people is a fashion, and for others a way of living: the adventure.
As in all sports, sport climbing has its own history, language, equipment and rules. Knowing them all is learning the essence of this discipline. This article is about these themes, and the most widely known places to practice it near Santiago.
Types of climbing: What’s the difference.
Although there is not much agreement on this topic, there are three types of climbing: sport climbing, traditional climbing and artificial climbing. In the first two ones, you can only move on the rock using just your hands and feet,
The first type, (sport climbing), is practiced in routes with 20 – 25 meter pitches, equipped with bolts or ‘chapas’ (hanger bolted to the rock) and anchors. They usually have a single pitch, which does not mean that some routes, in some areas, may have several pitches. In the central area, the best known places to practice this sport are Las Palestras, Torrecillas, and Piedra Rommel , in the Cajon del Maipo; Las Chilcas, going north along the 5 Route, and Piedra Rajada in Los Dominicos, Santiago.
In the traditional or free climbing, the practice is carried out in an alpine environment, in routes not previously equipped with bolts or anchors. In these routes, that generally have several pitches that may exceed the normal 25 meters, you move setting your own protection. In the central area, there are several places where you can practice this type of climbing, being the best known those located in the Cajón del Maipo, the Placa Roja, the Placa Gris, the south face of the San Gabriel, and the Punta Zanzi, among others.
Finally, in the artificial climbing, you can use all the elements, which are not allowed for the other two; in other words, in this kind of climbing, you can use all the necessary tools to climb the rock. This type of climbing is practiced in routes, or parts of routes that, due to their difficulty; it is impossible to overcome them through free climbing.
On the other hand, it’s important saying that sport climbing has a characteristic that the other two types of climbing lack, and which make it more versatile and independent from the natural environment where it is habitually developed. God created the rock and the man created the rock wall.
The Essential Equipment.
The minimum equipment to climb consists of the harness, rock shoes, ropes, quick draws, and a belay device (Grigri, figure eight and ATC). Of all these elements, the only strictly necessary to help you with the climb is the pair of shoes; the others’ only aim is to protect your life; that’s why it’s fundamental that the chosen equipment’ brand is well known and the equipment itself is new.
Las Chilcas: passing the rope
Mentioning some of the characteristics of these elements is not useless. The harness is basically a belt with padded cuisses that fulfill the double purpose of holding the body and carry the elements. The shoes, due to their soles, make the climbing a lot easier, because they increase the adherence to the rock, but to perform this mission, they must be at least one and a half size smaller than usual, increasing in this way the sensibility if they are tight.
The rope currently used for climbing is made of nylon, and it is elastic, to soften falls; they are generally 50 meters long and 10 or 11 mm of diameter. The quick draws consist of two carabiners (sort of rings) linked by a ribbon, whose function is linking the climber’s rope to the bolt hanger fixed to the rock.
At last, the Grigri, the ATC, and the figure eight are elements to belay the climber and to rappel. The first one is more comfortable to use and wear, because it has a system that stops automatically the flow of the rope in case of a sudden fall. The figure eight and the ATC are devices that required a lot of attention by the belayer, because in case of a ‘flight’ or fall, they don’t stop automatically the flow of the rope. The belayer must brake the rope manually
Knowing before Doing.
What’s important to face a rock wall is being willing to do so. Knowing exactly that, independent from all the elements prepared to protect life, climbing is a risky sport, and only practicing it with responsibility and care decreases the danger of an accident at a minimum.
Sitting on a rock
For those who are just starting to get involved with the world of climbing it is a good recommendation to do it next to someone who already have good expertise. Sharing this expertise can prevent a wrong decision in themes that may include since the election of the equipment and how using it.
Some of the things that must not be done when climbing are use the rope, bolt or quick draws to help you climb. It is almost shameful. It’s also bad considered to stop and hangdog to rest or examine the route (sometimes you are exhausted and is unavoidable).
Using and trusting more in your legs than in your arms not only allows moving better on the rock wall, but also it prevents you from being quickly tired. In general, the arms must be used to maintain the balance more than lifting the body, but in the case of overhanging routes they become fundamental.
At the beginning, the legs may be suddenly attacked, and in the worst of the moments, by the ‘sewing machine’ effect. The antidote is standing firmly on them, and the trembling stops. By and by, the legs adapt to the new exercise.
For those who belay, the responsibility is higher. Literally, they have the life of the partner in their hands, because any careless action may become, in the best of the cases, in an injury; and in the worst of the cases, in death; and it is not a joke.
If it is true that the advantage of the sport climbing is that it can be practiced on walls, indoors and with artificial light if necessary... most climbers agree that the core of this sport is practicing it on the natural rock.
Near Santiago, our capital city, there are four places preferred by climbers: Las Palestras, Piedra Rommel, and Las Chilcas.
Las Palestras are easy to identify: they are in El Manzano place, and they can be seen from the road leading to San José de Maipo; even more, if there is a good visibility, it is possible to see people climbing. To go there, it is necessary to pass through particular properties and walk upward for half an hour along the hill.
There are about 30 equipped routes in this place, all of them of one pitch and difficulty degree ranging from 5.4 to 5.13 (easy to difficult). Each route has its name, in most cases describing its characteristics; nevertheless, in some other cases, it seems that the names are products of a mere arbitrariness hard to elucidate for the uninformed people.
The best known routes are: Pajaritos (5.6), Constelaciones (5.9), La Peta (5.10b), Espirales (5.10d), Popeye (5.11a), Manjar de Dedos (5.12a), and El Leproso (5.11d).
You can go, climb and come back in one day, given the proximity of the road. This place has a beautiful landscape of the Cajón del Maipo, and although it is not very far away from the road, it allows, even though for a while, to forget about the city noise and pollution.
These big rock walls, visible from many points from the road leading to Cajón del Maipo, is one of the favorite destinations for climbers, not only because of the challenge that its routes present, but also because it is an excellent place to camp isolated from everything.
They are in the Cajón del Estero El Manzano, and you have to pay an entrance fee when passing through the property that bears the same name. The walk lasts about two hours, so it is recommended to go for more than a day, well equipped and with a lot of water. Don’t forget that all the way goes upwards, through a bit difficult paths. This gives it a sort of emotion.
There are about 30 routes, whose degree of difficulty varies between 5.9 and 5.12. What is attractive and interesting in Torrecillas is that the routes have several pitches (up to five in some cases) and very long pitches, it is to say, each pitch has between 40 and 50 meters long.
The best known routes are Tripi Para Dos (5.9 – 3 pitches), Centro de Masa (5.10c – 3 pitches), Cueva del Pirata (5.10 a – 1 pitch), Micro Clima (5.9 – 3 pitches), Cannalis (5.11+ - 1 pitch), Hare Ganja (5.11 – 5 pitches).
Two huge stones that managed to make their way to banks of stream El Manzano, are the attraction of the place, for climbers at least.
These stones, located in the area fitted out for picnics of the property El Manzano (so you have to pay the same entrance fee), offer something impossible to carry out somewhere else: taking a good plunge in the river if the heat and the effort make it worth.
In Piedra Rommel there are about ten equipped routes, these are ideal for training, because they have short pitches (roughly 10 meters), and their degree of difficulty goes from 5.8 to 5.12.
The most interesting to climb are: Azimut (5.11b), Esqueletor (5.11c), Carlanga (5.10a), Piedra Empotrada (5.11a), and Shaolin (5.10a).
A bit farther from Santiago, 80 kilometers north, next to Route 5 North, these huge rocks represent some other challenges for the national and foreign climbers.
Unlike the former ones, there is not so much vegetation surrounding the place, and the noise of the vehicles moving quickly along the highway restrain a bit to forget the modernity and fully enjoy the natural environment where you are.
Nevertheless, it is ideal as a climbing destination. 80 one-pitch routes, between 5.8 and 5.13, are waiting to be climbed. The rock is very different from the places already mentioned, reason why it is not the favorite for some climbers.
La Furia del Ermitaño (5.10d), Cachupín (5.9), Suplicio Chino (5.11c), Con Permiso (5.11b) and some other routes bearing non-mentionable names for this media, make Las Chilcas a very particular place to visit.
Translating a bit.
It is impossible to talk about climbing without using its own language. These are some of the words and their meanings:
Anchor: it is a protection device either set by you or fixed, that is along the route for stopping a fall.
Belay: rope and anchor handling techniques to protect the climber in case of a fall.
Overhanging: the rock that has more than 90º of inclination.
Pitch: part of a route corresponding to the length of a rope, about 50 meters.
Step: any unique movement on the rock.
To lead: to climb first, putting the quick draws and passing the rope through them.
Rappel: double rope that passes through the anchor for the descent.
Belay station: arriving place of a pitch, with chains.
Roof: a rock wall with a degree higher than 120º, forming thus a kind of roof.
Top Rope: climbing with the rope passed through the anchor, belayed from beneath
At the same time of the development of the sport climbing on natural rock in Chile, this activity was also developed on rock wall. It is true that many climbers prefer the rock, but the competitive aspect of this discipline has its origin in the introduction of artificial walls.
The walls are generally made of wood or cement panels, with fixed holds similar to what you can find in rocks. The height and form of the wall depend greatly of the objective for what it was built: training or competition.
In Santiago, there are several places offering these walls; nevertheless, those that allow public access are: Francisco Miranda School, Educares University, Metropolitan University of Education, Climbing Federation of Chile, and the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Chile.
And last but not least…
On the top at the end of the day
Climbing is a sport that implies risks, and whoever decides to practice it must consider that his life is in danger if he does not have the good judgment to receive instruction ( and even then ). You can’t either forget that all the equipment necessary to practice it transforms it into an expensive sport.
And despite everything, you dare to do it, and discover that the sport climbing is for you... congratulations. We hope you remember it every time you are in a difficult situation and you wonder who the hell told you to get into this.