After dispersing across several continents for holiday break, the Chulengos trickled back into the NOLS Campo outside Coyhaique ready to get back into the swing of things and head out to their climbing section. Once everyone arrived, we didn’t spend a single night at the campo, instead prepping our gear quickly and heading straight to our base camp beneath Cerro Aguila, about 15 minutes outside the town of Ibanez.
The group was greeted by the infamous winds of the area, a constant companion during our stay, as we explored our new home for the next month. The area consisted of an expansive base camp with ample space for spreading out and setting up tents and tarps. The Rations Manager, Claudio, had overseen the construction of a fabulous new group-style kitchen that we installed in an area of bare dirt. Four large burners, big storage bins, and multiple tables for preparation and serving. Everyone was pretty excited to put it to use, having had only Whisperlite stoves and field rations for the entire first semester.
The next day the students go to jump right in to climbing, walking a few kilometers to one of the many crags in the area. Two of us instructors headed out early to begin setting up , while the other two started giving the students basic introductions to safety, techniques, and gear. Upon everyones arrival at the crag we finished up the intro with belaying techniques and commands, then it was time to climb. Aside from the wind whipping through the canyon in which we were climbing the weather was great, a common theme at Cerro Aguila, with beautiful blue skies, warm sun, cold constant wind.
The wind really was something else. The topography of the area pushed the wind upward as it blows through, so the strongest winds are on top of the crags. That meant that while climbing the wind would get stronger and stronger, eventually preventing the climbing from hearing much from below (though people below could still usually hear the climber). On multi-pitch routes, topping out on the crags would yield mind numbing, rope tangling, deafening gales upwards of 70 or 80 miles and hour.
Over the next weeks this routine continued. We, the instructors, would usually start the day with a meeting or class to cover more of the climbing curriculum, then head to the rock for climbing and practice of other skills. As students progressed people began working on different pursuits; Some focused on climbing and multi-pitching, others began to focus on preparing themselves to lead climb. Those wanting to lead took time from climbing to practice placing rock-protection in cracks building anchors at ground level.
After perfecting their skills on the ground, students started mock-leading. Mock leading consists of climbing a route with two ropes; The first, a top rope, is the safety line with a belayer and the second, a lead rope, is attached the same way at the top rope but only used to clip through pieces of gear that have been placed on the route. After successful mock leads several students were able to complete full-on leads on both sport and trad routes.
In the midst of all the climbing we took a day off and went into Puerto Ibañez for a day to attend the International Jinetiada being held there. A three day event similar to a rodeo, this Jinetiada brought competitors from all over South America to showcase their riding skills. It was an excellent opportunity for cultural immersion, with local vendors selling souvenirs, refreshments, and food like Antichuchos, a shish-kebab style affair traditionally (though usually no longer) made from heart-meat. We watched rider after try their best culminating, in the end, with a spectacular accident as the horse reared up to the sky and came down on it’s back, crushing the rider who had to be rushed to the hospital.
All this while, students were also working on their leadership. Teams of three students were responsible for 3-day blocks which included planning scheduling, where to climb, what gear to bring, and what to learn. They needed to take into account the goals of the group as well as the goals of individuals and pick locations and curriculum accordingly. This also required immense flexibility. On several days plans needed to be reworked multiple times, necessitated by changes in weather, such as a rare rain storm, which prevented any climbing.
This culminated on the last day of the rock camp when we took a step back and the students ran an entire ‘Staff Climbing Day’, where faculty, employees, and friends of NOLS all came down to Cerro Aguila to climb. The students greeted the staff off the bus and took them through all the necessary curriculum to get them climbing. It was a successful day and a testament to all the hard work of the students both over the last month and from the prior semester.
As we packed up and prepared to leave the next day we were treated to one final rainstorm. With the rain came an almost complete lull in the wind, an amusing end to our weeks of putting up with gusts and gales. Back at the branch everyone worked to finish the necessary de-prep and cleaning of our climbing gear, then began preparing a whole new batch of gear to use as we headed into the mountains.