It was my first time in South America. When I heard about Cochamo, a place for granite multi-pitch full of cracks and corners, I knew I had to visit. Cochamo is in Chile. It has been a popular destination for Chilean hikers and is starting to become a popular international destination among climbers. I originally was planning to go there with my friends, but I couldn’t get the same time off. I’ve heard it is common to travel solo and find climbing partners in Cochamo, so I decided to do a solo trip. I booked my flight, packed my bags and left winter in north for a month, in January 2018.
Cochamo is known for multi pitch climbs on its more than 1000 feet tall granite walls. It is still a fairly new area, with the first routes established in 1998, and many classic routes developed in the last 10 years (or still being developed). Granite is solid, with fine crystals, sharp edges, and really good friction. They have varieties of cracks from seams to chimneys, stemming corners, friction slabs, and some technical face climbing. Most routes are 5.10s and up so you’d want to be able to climb the grade to get the most fun in the Cochamo Valley. There’re also small sport and trad cragging areas around the campground as well.
If you’re planning to go there, definitely check cochamó.com. This is a website put together by La Junta Campground and Refugio owner Daniel. It has most of the information you need to plan your trip. When I planned my trip, I was all over his website, with bits of talking to friends who had been to Cochamo. On this post, I’ll talk about what I thought was helpful. If you’re only interested in climbing part, you don’t have to read through my logistics, skip to section.
Here’s my logistics to get to Cochamo valley:
Day 1: Flew into Puerto Montt, Chile. Took a shuttle to Puerto Varas, dropped off my luggage at a hostel and did last round of food & fuel shopping.
Day 2: Took a bus to Town of Cochamo (about 3 hours) and spent another night in a hostel.
Day 3: Took a shuttle to trailhead and hiked into La Junta campground. I arranged a pack horse to carry my gear to the campground and was told to meet at the trailhead at 11am. (You can make a reservation here. About a week in advance is recommended.)
The bus schedules change frequently and aren’t available online. I wasn’t sure if I could be at the trailhead by 11am if I were to leave Puerto Varas on the same day so I planned an extra day for transportation.
You can stay either in Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas to do the last round of grocery and fuel shopping. Since the bus to Cochamo starts from Puerto Montt and won’t stop in Puerto Varas if it’s already full, Puerto Montt would be a better option if you have to catch the first bus of the day. I didn’t have to catch the first bus and also heard Puerto Varas is much nicer of a city, so I decided to stay there.
From the airport, I took an airport shuttle (Andrés Tour, don’t need reservation) to Puerto Varas. It was $10,000 CP (Chilean Peso, about CAD$20). It was more expensive than taking regular buses to town of Puerto Montt then Puerto Varas, but they dropped me off at my hostel and I didn’t have to deal with carrying my luggage. I had a 70L backpack, a duffle about the same size, and a day pack. I had to carry everything the next day from the hostel to the bus stop and it wasn’t easy.
Hostels in Puerto Varas can sell out and I recommend making reservation at least 1-2 weeks in advance. I stayed in Puerto Varas for my re-supply and on my way back as well. I stayed in 3 different hostels. Here’s the list of hostels I stayed:
- Hostel Margouya Patagonia: Have lots of floor space to organize your gear. A bit far from bus stop considering how much gear I had to carry. Cash and Credit Card accepted (10% more charge for credit card).
- Casa Azul Hostel: Nicest facility. Serves great breakfast (separate charge but cheap). Far from bus station. It was good for re-supply stay, but was far from bus stop if you have to carry big packs to and from. Cash Only.
- Casa Margouya: Best location (only a couple blocks away from bus stop). Floor space is limited for organizing gear. Cash Only.
There’re many restaurants, grocery stores, and gear shops in Puerto Varas. I could get most things I needed, except for:
Beef jerky (I found sausages and salamis, but no beef jerky. I was glad I brought a few bags of beef jerky with me).
Dehydrated meal packages (came in handy for sleeping on a wall or nights coming back to camp late. I planned to cook some nights, but also brought 17 dehydrated meal packages with me since I didn’t know if I’d find them there).
Energy bars are about double the price so I’d recommend bringing them if you have a room in your luggage. I wasn’t sure if I’d have trouble at the custom for bringing food, but when I searched online, it seemed like commercially packed dehydrated food are fine as long as I claim them. At the custom, I claimed that I had dehydrated food and didn’t have any trouble.
Since you can’t fly with fuel, I had to get fuel there. There’re many places you can get butane fuel from in Puerto Varas. Doite (kind of like MEC or REI?) in the shopping mall, Mall Paseo Puerto Varas had the fuel for the cheapest price. I also found one store in Cochamo (a store where Restaurant El Faro is) who carried butane fuel, but is much more expensive and not guaranteed if they would always have the fuel. In Cochamo, credit cards are NOT accepted in many places, and there’s no ATM. The closest ATM is in Puerto Varas. Make sure you have enough cash before you head to Cochamo!!
The Bus station to Cochamo in Puerto Varas is on Del Salvador and Santa Rosa.
There were four buses/day to Cochamo. The first bus was at 8am. The only way you can get the bus schedule is to ask at the bus stop. When the 8am bus came to the bus stop, it was already full and was told the next bus would be at 11am. I could wait at the bus stop, but I found people who wanted to share a taxi ride with and it was only $12,000 CP (CAD $24) per person so we decided to take a taxi instead.
In the town of Cochamo, I stayed at Patagonia Nativa. To get to Patagonia Nativa, you’d want to get off the bus at the first street in Cochamo. You have to walk up the gravel road for a few minutes, but the hostel was quiet and had a cabin like relaxing feel. I was tired from 40-hour-flights and I really enjoyed the stay there.
The owner speaks English and also offer shuttle service to trail head (separate charge, cheaper for guests who stayed). Cash only.
They also have internet so you can check the weather (some local climbers recommended using Meteo Blue) before you head to Cochamo Valley.
Next day, I got dropped off at the trail head to Cochamo Valley. The forecast was calling for slight chance of showers for the day but the weather looked great onwards.
It is about 3-6 hour hike to the Cochamo Valley. Make sure you have a reservation in campgrounds before you head in. There’s a check point at the trail head, and if all campgrounds are full, they won’t let you hike up to to the valley.
You can make reservation for the campground here. There’re 5 campgrounds (La Junta, Campo Aventura, Vista Hermosa, Trawen, and Los Mazones). La Junta Campground is the most popular one for climbers. At La Junta campground, you can find approach and climbing routes info as well as having the best chance of finding climbing partners.
Trail can be muddy in December/begging of January being after a rainy season. I arrived at the beginning of January and some sections of trail were really muddy. I had a pair of approach boots and light approach shoes. Since I’ve arranged the pack horse, weight didn’t matter too much. I was glad to have an extra pair of shoes while I let the other pair to dry.
Once you get to the campgrounds area, you’d use these cable cars to cross Cochamo River to get to and from other campgrounds.
La Junta Campground has:
- Compost Toilets (Bring toilet paper!!)
- Cooking Shelter, Fogon
- Running Water with Sinks
- Laundry Sink
- Solar Shower
- Folders of Climbing Route Topos and Approach Info (Bring pen & tracing paper/waterproof paper, or take photos)
- Bread ($1,000CP), Deep Fried Bread (3 for $1,000CP), and Cake ($1,000CP). Made daily at Campo Aventura but can sell out or only make certain kinds so you wouldn’t want to count on these as your only food supply. Cash Only.
- Natural water slide, Tobogan, near the campground. Great for rest days.
There’s no electricity available. Bring battery pack and/or solar panel if you want to charge your phone, camera, headlamp…etc.
Climbers use the campgrounds as base camps and move up to bivy spots for most climbing. You don’t have to pay to sleep at bivy spots, but due to the weather, it is hard to plan in advance which nights you’d be at the bivy. You also have to pack up your tent and bring everything with you to the bivy if you don’t want to pay for the campground.
My set up was to leave my tent, extra gear & food at the campground and brought a bivy sack and gear & food needed for 4-6 days of climbing each time. It required me to pay for the campground for the whole month, but it was nice not to carry extra weight to bivy spots and also had the tent set up when I come back to the campground for rests.
Here’s the map of the Cochamo Valley and main climbing areas. Trails and campgrounds locations aren’t to the scale, but to give you some idea. Climbing in Valle La Junta and Arco Iris can be done from La Junta Campground, but it is common to move to bivy spots for Anfiteatro, Trinidad, and El Monstruo. Check cochamó.com for more climbing area info.
For climbing gear, I had
- Double rack to #.75, single to #5
- Single set of nuts, RPs
- 12 extendable draws
- 70m rope
- 60m tag line
For my extendable draws, I only brought ones with 60cm slings, but I would recommend having a few longer slings. Some routes are very winding and rope drag was bad even with the extended draws.
Many routes in Cochamo requires 60m rappels for descent. I brought both a rope and a tag line so I can be flexible who to climb with, but you could bring only a rope or a tag line and find someone else with the other.
Finding climbing partners in Cochamo wasn’t difficult at all. I met a group of solo travellers as soon as I walked into Cochamo Valley and made plans to climb for the first couple weeks. I kept meeting more climbers throughout my stay at the campground. I was expecting to have some days that I couldn’t find a partner, but I didn’t have a single day that I couldn’t climb because I didn’t have a partner.
According to the locals, fastest drying multi pitches are in Anfiteatro. It still would need at least 24 hours to dry, but many classic routes in Anfiteatro are North facing (remember, it is in Southern hemisphere. North facing walls get more sun!).
We spent a day at La Junta and hiked up to Anfiteatro the next day. The bivy spot in Anfiteatro is a few hours hike from La Junta campground. If you haven’t realized, Cochamo climbing involves lots of approach hikes. After spending time in Cochamo, you’d have strong legs (and bigger appetite than ever). I was recommended staying in the bivy sites for 5-7 days at a time and even take rest days in the canyon between climbing days. When we headed to Anfiteatro, however, we planned to stay only for a few nights in the canyon due to logistics for other climbs.
In Anfiteatro, we got on classics, Al Centro y Adentro (5.11c) and Todo Cambia (5.11c). Al Centro y Adentro has fun cracks and corners and also hard (really hard!) vertical slab. It probably was the hardest “11c.” Todo Cambia had many fun pitches including a 45m crack pitch which was one of the best crack pitch I’ve climbed.
After Todo Cambia, we headed down to La Junta for re-supply and headed back up to Trinidad. We planned to stay for 5 nights this time.
We did Los Manos Del Dia (5.11d) and No Hay Hoyes (5.11a). We tried to do Alendalaca (5.12b) and EZ Does It (5.10d) but the weather came in and we ended up not being able to climb these routes.
Around this time, I realized my food would run out sooner than I expected. Everyone in Cochamo told me that people underestimate how hungry they get with the amount of hiking involved in Cochamo. When I hiked back to La Junta after Trinidad, the weather was coming in for a few days so I decided to go back to town for resupply. There’re option of resupplying in the town of Cochamo, but food is limited and also more expensive. I needed to get more cash as well so I went back to Puerto Varas. I filled up my day pack with food and headed back up to Cochamo Valley.
When I came back to the valley, my climbing partners that I had been climbing with were not at La Junta campground, but I found new climbing partners. We climbed Camp Farm (5.11b), 6 pitch multi pitch climb by La Junta campground. It was like cragging in Cochamo Valley.
After Camp Farm, we decided to climb Presencia de Mi Padre (5.10) on El Monstruo. It was a 1630m, 28 pitch route with some snow travel at the top. It probably was the most memorable climb for me. It is possible to do it in a day, but we decided to climb in 2 days since pitch 23 was covered in snow and wasn’t recommended to climb at the end of the day when the snow was hard. This climb would always have low angle snow to top out, but it isn’t normal to have snow on earlier pitches such as pitch 23.
The hike to the base of El Monstruo was 7 hours from La Junta campground. We decided to sleep one night at the base and sleep another night on the wall to climb the snow pitch in a warm sun.
It was 4 of us, 2 parties of 2. We wanted to be light on route so we didn’t bring any sleeping pad and had 2 sleeping bags for 4 of us to share. We had light tarps to put on the ground and over sleeping bags. A few cold nights definitely were worth saving the weight and bulk for climbing. In stead of having followers carry heavy packs, we distributed the weight and all of us climbed with small packs on. We had ice axes for everyone and had a pair of crampons for the leader on steep snow on pitch 23.
On the first day, we climbed to a ledge on pitch 20.
It was a beautiful sunny day, until we got to pitch 18. Cloud started to roll in and the weather was changing. By the time we got to the bivy ledge, we were in a fog and couldn’t see what was around us.
We went to sleep hoping the weather would improve, but we got woken up several times with rain throughout the night. When we woke up in the morning, we were still in the fog, with wet sleeping bags. Snow on the pitch 23 may not be soft enough if the fog didn’t clear out. We had to make a decision whether to keep climbing hoping the weather would improve, or to rappel 20 pitches and start a fire to dry our soggy sleeping bags. By the cut off time we had to make the decision, it looked like the weather was improving so we made a call of continuing the climb. As the day went by, the cloud completely cleared out, and it turned out to be another beautiful day.
And we were at the top, with 360 degree view of the surroundings.
We had a full rest day when we came back to La Junta campground.
The weather forecast was calling for a couple days of rain so we squeezed in another climb before rain. It was by the campground, extension route of Camp Farm called Garden of the Galaxy (5.11c A0). It was a cold day and we only climbed 17 of 25 pitches, but it was another fun day on the rock.
For my last multi-pitch route, I got to get on Positive Affect (5.12b). Since I was traveling solo, I wasn’t sure if I’d find a partner for this climb, but it was THE ROUTE that I wanted to do on this trip. It is a 19 pitch of mostly crack and stemming with a 5.12 pitch at the end.
Since it was a 975m climb with many 5.11s and a 5.12, we decided to spend a night on the wall. We originally planned to sleep at pitch 12, but after hauling our gear for 5 pitches, we decided we would sleep on a huge ledge, King Ledge, at pitch 5 and decide to climb the rest without hauling the next day.
The next day, we started climbing as the sun hit the wall.
We were climbing in good time and enjoyed every single pitch on the route. It was a beautiful sunny day…but the sun was really hot, too hot for my partner. We didn’t had to worry about getting rained on this time, but my partner was starting to feel dehydration and heat exhaustion. When we arrived at pitch 12 ledge, despite our effort to drink more water, take food and rest, he couldn’t keep climbing. It was very nice of my partner, and he insisted that I at least climb the next pitch before we head down. It was another stellar corner. I eyed the rest of the route and I knew I had to come back to finish the route on another trip.
Back at the campground, I had one more day in Cochamo. My friend approached me if I’d be interested in deep water solo in an alpine lake! He had a pack raft and has been eyeing on some granite on the other side of the lake. It would be a 5 hour hike to the lake, but it sounded too fun of a plan to pass, so I decided to go! Another friend joined, and 3 of us headed up to the lake for deep water solo in Cochamo!!
My friend also convinced me that I should spend a night up there since it is such a beautiful spot. I knew it would’ve been a hustle on the day I leave Cochamo, to get back to La Junta campground to meet with pack horse in the morning and to hike down to catch a bus to Puerto Varas… but spending night up there absolutely was worth the hustle.
The next morning, we woke up at 4:30am, hike back to La Junta Campground then I hiked out of the valley to catch a bus to Puerto Varas. On my way back to Puerto Varas and to the airport, I was wishing I’d had more time there. Cochamo, I’d definitely be back!