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Cajon de Maipo, various ascents I flew to Santiago in November with vague plans to make an excursion into the Central Andes, hoping to explore a mountain range that would be new to me. If I was lucky, I might also bag an ascent or two. After struggling to find information, I eventually met helpful local climbers and decided to focus on the region of Cajon de Maipo, southwest of the capital. Over the following weeks, I made two rewarding trips.
On the first I made my way to the small village of Banos Morales and hiked up into the Quebrada Valdes, directly behind Lo Valdes Refugio Los Condores, setting up camp below the 500m south face of Retumbadero Norte (3,819m). The face made a perfect warm up and acclimatization climb, and the summit provided an impressive panorama of surrounding peaks. The climb was mostly nontechnical mixed ground, with difficulties up to M4 and AI2+. The steepest mixed sections were short and occurred at the bottom and top. I descended by a series of moderate snow gullies on the left-hand side of the face.
I resupplied in Santiago and four days later trekked up the Cajon del Morado, camping on the glacier draining from the southern slopes of Cerro Cortaderas. This south face was my initial objective, but on closer inspection the upper glacier proved to be heavily crevassed and threatened by unstable ice cliffs. I reassessed and turned to two appealing faces farther down the valley.
The first was the 650m south face of Yamakawa (4,930m). Starting from the Cortaderas Glacier, I climbed through ice cliffs at the bottom of the face via a short but steep water ice step on the right-hand side. Above I followed snow slopes to the rock and mixed ground of the upper face. This proved quite sustained (up to M4+), although there were occasional snow patches and a section
of thin water ice at half-height. More mixed climbing led to the upper snow slopes and eventually the summit. I downclimbed the original Pardo-Oyarzun Route.
The following morning I climbed the 500m south face of Peak 4,589m, via an obvious ice gully up the center. In the lower part of the face, sustained ice up to WI4 extended for four or five pitches through three prominent steps, the main difficulties involving the second and third steps. Above, the angle eased, and steep snow led to a final short mixed step and the summit ridge. I descended the same line, downclimbing the snow on the upper face and rappelling the lower gully from Abalakovs.
I only spent a short time in the area, but the potential for new alpine mixed and ice routes is undeniable. The rock was far from spectacular, but I found that with a thin coating of ice, the climbing was challenging and enjoyable. Even in the Cajon del Morado I spotted dozens of possible lines, many of which would be longer and more demanding than the climbs I completed.
This potential is far from limited to the one region. While in Santiago I was shown photos of a number of large, steep faces, such as those on Cerro Alto los Leones and Cerro Tronco, which have seen few or no ascents and offer a number of appealing lines.
Ben Dare, New Zealand