Boulder to Bariloche
A story by Will Stanhope.
After coming back from a long two month trip, there is always more than one story to be told. Most people like to hear about the facts- the 'who-did-what-when' stuff that comprises the meat-and-potatoes of any trip report. But a list of names, grades and dates tells only a sliver of the whole story. This past trip was all about the help I received from various people. Without them, I wouldn't have climbed anything at all.
This past summer Matt Segal was working Cobra Crack in Squamish. He had spent the majority of the summer on the climb and time was running short. He had only one day left before he had to leave for Colorado. I skipped work to give Matt a belay. I distinctly remember Matt at the base of the climb, steadying his nerves, chalking and re-chalking his hands, preparing to give everything he had. Then he did it, executing every move perfectly, despite a summer's expectations weighing down hard on him.
At the end of January I found myself in exactly the same situation, with the roles reversed. This time Matt had put life on hold to support me on Must've Been High, a dicey 5.13+ in Eldorado Canyon. On my rack was a specially filed-down nut handed down to me from Matt, who had in turn received it from first ascentionist Eric Decaria, his trad climbing mentor. To me, this route was much more than a 20 meter prow of sandstone. It was bolt-free and beautiful, a shining example of good style. The crux is protected by a shallow, half-driven knifeblade. A fall from the last move of the crux was simply not an option.
It snowed almost every day I was in Boulder. On the last day before my flight to Patagonia, the sky split wide open. As the sun dipped behind the mountains I tied in. I had one chance left. As the rock cooled I stopped thinking, and started moving, focussing on the sequences and not the consequences of a fall. Very rarely I manage to dip into that precious headspace, where intuitive movement usurps everything else. At the top, I felt like I woke up from a strange dream. A little over twelve hours later I was on a plane to Buenos Aires, still buzzed.
A few days later, Paul McSorley, Andrew Querner and I met up in Bariloche Argentina. We planned to venture into the Turbio Valley, a remote region located across Lago Puelo. Just getting there was no easy task. We spent a week in Bariloche - rounding up machetes, maps, rafts and food. Luckily for us, we had Bicho Fiorenza and Christie Pashby on our side. Bicho hooked us up with two critical contacts: first, a self-proclaimed pirate named Garibaldi to transport our gear across the lake in his Zodiac. Second, gauchos with horses to deposit us 50 kilometres up the valley. And Christie generously allowed us the use of her car to zip around Bariloche.
After about ten days of typical Patagonian rain, the weather finally split wide open. We scrambled our gear together and started hiking towards our objective, despite a very un-alpine start of 9 AM. Paul, Andrew and I managed a traverse of the Piritas, a tri-summited massif, way out there in the middle of nowhere. Two days later, Andrew and I climbed a more technical route up one of the towers, which went at 5.11-. Never before had I laid hands on a wall that had never been touched by humans before. New-routing up there felt like stepping out into the great wide open, the absolute unknown. Though the climbing wasn't too technical, I was very aware that breaking an ankle wasn't an option. We were on our own, completely.
The final crux of our trip was running the Turbio River in the inflatable rafts we bought in Bariloche. Our rafts were of the bargain basement variety, only one step up from the inflatable sea-horses kids play on in swimming pools. We had a few mere near-misses, but managed to hit Lago Puelo unscathed. From there we piled into Garibaldi's Zodiac and zipped across the lake, back to civilization.
Climbing has a heavy undercurrent of friend's helping friends. Like Matt, for example, trudging up in the snow to belay me in Eldorado. Or Bicho, giving us a detailed slideshow of the Turbio. I'm reminded of an old quote from Jim Bridwell, legendary big wall climber. Essentially, he said, "In the end, do you think it matters what routes you climbed? All that matters is how many people you helped along the way."