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Our Members: Grant Simmons Finds Magic in Chile

Posted on: April 30th, 2012 by Luke Bauer

Cerro Trinidad, Valle Cochamo, Chile

The American Alpine Club has over 9,000 members worldwide and each of those members approaches climbing and time in the outdoors differently. For some it’s a career, for some a diversion, for others, an obsession. The Club’s membership spans boulderers, sport-climbers, hikers, skiers, trad-rats, scientists, big-wall aficionados, adventurers, ice-climbers, peak-baggers, explorers, and alpinists. It’s a big tent, but there are a lot of people in love with the mountains excited to fill that tent.

Telling the stories of our members is important to us because it helps the community understand who makes up that community.  Member Grant Simmons wrote to us recently about a trip that he took to Chile’s Cochamo Valley, which is like Yosemite, but with more snakes and machete-use.

I didn’t know what time it was. I wasn’t even sure how long the sun had been down. From my 8-inch wide ledge, all I knew was that we had completed six raps and still had four to go. Well, maybe it was more like five-and-a-half down and four-and-a-half to go. Our rope was stuck and so were we. From my perch I could see our camp, but I had no idea when we would get there, when we would eat dinner, or when we would sip that celebratory scotch that we had packed in.

The first couple of times that I was stuck on this wall after dark, it made sense. But now, with the loose rock cleaned up, the rap stations established, and the long work days cleaning, jugging, and drilling behind us, we were just supposed to be out climbing. Besides, I had just prussiked up the rope and thought that I had fixed the problem. Why the rope wouldn’t budge didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

Now, my partner headed up the line while I remained on the ledge. I was wet with sweat and in the crisp night air, I soon turned cold.  My feet hurt, dried blood caked the back of my hands, and my ankle too. If I thought about it, I realized that my stomach was empty and that I was dehydrated. Yet despite it all, despite the assumed misery of such a situation, I actually felt alright. When I stopped to think about it, what we had just done and where we were, a big, proud smile graced my face.

This was day nine on our route and we had finally finished what we set out to do. Our “first ascent” had been completed a week before, but on this day we were able to free the entire route in a single push. And the route was excellent! Pitch after pitch, we were constantly impressed with ourselves and with the luck of discovering this line. The route climbed obvious features up one of the most impressive formations in the valley, the climbing was incredible and varied, and the rock quality was high. To cap it all off, atop pitch 10 it offered perhaps the greatest belay ledge in all of Cochamó. I mean, I’ve never put up a new route before, and here we had stumbled into a classic.

Chris and Brian on the Summit of their new route

Sitting on that ledge chilled, hungry, exhausted, and beat up, that smile stuck around. Across the valley, I saw friends who were also having a longer-than-expected day and I watched their headlamps bob slowly down the wall.  I watched as the glow from the full moon shone like a spotlight on the Trinidad Valley. I saw shooting stars and looked at constellations that stood upside down in the night sky. I hung in my harness and reveled in the magic of being in Cochamó, of having another adventure on a wall, and of having the luck to put up a route like this. 

Soon enough, the rope was free and we were back on the ground. At the bivy boulder that night, there were six of us sitting around a fire, gorging on a 2 a.m. dinner. We all had story-worthy days and we all eagerly listened as the events unfolded, sipping that scotch, and celebrating the day in our own way. 

 —Grant Simmons, AAC member

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