Senda real


Doing the whole circuit of the ice climbing worldcup means to delay long ice climbing trips to the end of the ice season. Global warming makes it harder to find good ice conditions in March, except in the Candian Rockies or in Alaska. To explore a different way of ice climbing Albert Leichtfried, Hari Berger and Hermann Erber (photographer) started into the summer of Chile.

Heat in Santiago

Coming directly from cold Europe with up to –35°C it was kind of a change to get out of the plane in Santiago at +30°C. But our desire was not to go to the beach but to climb the south face of Marmolejo somewhere between 4000 and 6000m altitude. After some relaxing days at the Refugio Aleman in Banos Morales (3 hours east of Santiago) we started to transport our stuff of 200kg with the help of 3 horses and 2 horsemen. These horses are genetical absolutely different from the ones we knew from Europe, cause they are able to climb up paths, where normal tourists have a hard time to get up. But as different as the horses are the deals between locals and gringos... The horsemen dropped our stuff about 7 km before the point of our arrangement! (Never pay before a deal is finished…) The result was two days of carrying and a necessary rest day. But the blessing in disguise was that we found the perfect base camp at 3500m. In the middle of this stony desert we were honored with a spot of 200m2 of green grass, clear cold water and also a 20°C hot spring.

Too warm at the soutwest face

Less funny were the 3 hours approach to the base of the wall: In this gravel desert you have to make 20 steps to achieve one vertical meter, accepting to slide down every second step. With all the gear we brought, you will expect that this hike was not a big pleasure.
As a welcome of the mountain we were witnesses of a huge icicle falling down directly where we planned our new line! It was warm, far too warm for this southwest facing wall. Also the dimensions of the hazard became clearer, when another "little" icicle came down, which was more than 20m long. These signs were very clear: No way to make a step into anywhere near this wall. Very lucky we explored another ice wall right around the corner, clearly south facing. This means cold and shady at this side of the globe.

First ascent of Senda real WI 7+

Seeing this fantastic ice fall, we came to the same point of view: The most overhanging and outstanding line we have ever seen! It was a mixture of some overhanging glacier ice - no idea how many years or ages old – combined with vertical icicles and columns.
After some days preparing and carrying stuff to our second camp, we were able to climb "Senda Real" (WI 7+), maybe the hardest ice route at this altitude. We have done some harder glacier ice on our home training area on the Pitztaler-glacier, but we have never done or seen an ice line like this. Doing figures of four on ice climbing is normally not a very big deal any more, but doing this at 4500m altitude, with normal mountaineering boots on your feet, was a real challenge.

Tripple direct - on the way to the summit

Back at the base camp we still had one goal remaining – the Cerro - the summit of Marmolejo at 6085m altitude. We decided to climb an easier line of the south-face and trying to reach the summit within 2 days. On our way to the summit we (now all the three of us) could open “Tripple direct” WI 4+, WI 5-. On this route we took 2 haulbags for our camp at 5000m.
After finishing the wall, it looked to us that it would be a piece of a cake to walk up to the real summit of Marmolejo (another 1100m and 5km), but the 2-3m high "penitents" (we call it "Büßerschnee") drove us nuts and almost cut our legs. As beautiful this kind of snow formations are, you will learn to hate them after some hours of fighting to get forward. Exhausted and happy we reached the summit at 24th of March 2006.
A relaxing day was urgently needed after the 4 days lasting descend from the stone desert. Therefore we checked in at the Refugio Aleman again and celebrated our successful trip with some awesome steaks and bottles of fabulous local red wine.

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