It was February when I arrived in Argentina’s outdoor activity capital – Bariloche, for a sport climbing holiday. There are rocky crags all around the town, mountain bike trails in the forests, windsurfing on the lake, hiking around Refugio Frey and the local ski hill Cerro Catedral is a big draw in winter (June – September). While wandering around town, I ate “chori-pan” – the Argentinean version of smokies topped with chimichuri paste – an Argentinean barbecue specialty. Chori-pan was so delicious and such a bargain at a dollar each. After a few stops for supplies I was ready to head back to the camp ground by the lake sleep and then catch tomorrows morning bus 60 kilometers to Valle Encantado.
It was mid morning the next day as I fidgeted in the Valle Encantado bus impatiently, before arriving at a dirt pull out, a bend in the road, across from the colourful Limay River and stunning rock faces. The bus pulled away and I went to investigate the innocuous river, found a nice flat area, set up camp, boiled some water for a mate – a mild herbal stimulant the Argentinean sip on all day long – packed a lunch, the climbing gear and hiked five minutes along the trail through the pine plantation to the visible crags.
There are over 150 established sport routes at Valle Encantado with many nice warm ups on cobbled hueco-featured routes, which remind me of Smith Rock, Oregon. After the first hueco dominated 30 meter warm up 6a, I sat on a cool ledge resting but quickly felt ready to go again. I slipped my shoes on, tied in, and blasted off up a super fluid 28 meter 6b. The third route was the classic arête Carpe Diem – a 35 meter 6c. It was slightly overhanging and demanded some endurance with hard climbing between every three or four bolts. Slowly the pump engorged my forearms.
After looking around at many lines I found the steep, well bolted, pocketed Hercules 7c. It was wonderful and after an initial burn on it, I was super amped yet pumped and had lunch of bread and cheese in the shade. I tried Hercules again and made progress up the route but fell, victim of my hands opening against my will . So I cleaned the route and I hiked through the pine plantation to find shade and climb Axel, a divine 6a+. Then I went down to the river for a refreshing cool swim to get the sweat and dust off the body.
I exhausted the day with an attempt on the classic Nayawaliki 7c – a steep overhanging fin with a sinewy tufa, to a crack, to a few tiny crimps and pebbles. I decided to give it another go now that I had figured out the moves and hung the draws. I sat in the cool cave resting and felt ready to go again in twenty minutes but decided to wait a bit longer and sure enough, twenty minutes later the air temps seemed a bit cooler. I slipped my shoes on, tied in, mentally rehearsed the moves, and blasted off with the intent to reach the chains feeling strong. I red pointed it confidently with a fresh smile and was happy with my performance and positive mental state.
The next week passed by in a blur of sun, swimming, climbing, mate, sumptuous food, sleep and socializing. My Spanish got better, my climbing got better, my belly got smaller and skin got browner. Over the ten days at Valle Encantado the routes I did were consistently good – long, bouldery and on solid volcanic rock. There are about 15 different crags to climb and I sampled a route from every one. There were climbers from all over South America and everyone was hospitable and friendly.