Trip Report: Piedra Parada, Chubut, Argentina
So You Want to Climb in the Patagonian Desert?
Piedra Parada, Chubut Region, Argentina
Johnny Townsend, Dani Reyes-Acosta, Loreah Winlow, Manuela Boehm, Thomas Martin, William Dabbert
Dani Reyes-Acosta and Loreah Winlow
Windy and overcast at times, we hit Parada at a perfect time in the Patagonian summer. Most of the days were long and sunny, although occasionally we encountered high overcast skies with light winds and temps dropping to the low- to mid-60s (Fahrenheit). Nighttime temps never dropped below 65, and in the day, we were most often climbing in tank tops and shorts.
Daytime highs climbed up to the low- to mid-80s, so timing out when to visit specific crags is key. Luckily, the Piedra Parada guidebook maps which crags are in the sun during morning and afternoon. (Note: the guidebook linked above is an incomplete–yet totally functional–version of the original book.)
Piedra Parada is definitely off the beaten track, unless you’ve gotten wind of the South American summer climbing circuit. Two hours from the closest pueblo, the canyon breaks open in the middle of the Patagonian desert, with only the small Chubut river and the Piedra Parada formation to demarcate its presence. While its presence exists both offline in local maps and online in places like the Mountain Project and various tourist agencies, we’d first gotten wind of this sport climbing heaven from friends Bill and Thomas, part of the crew that had convened at Refugio Frey. And thank god for those first bits of beta, because feeding us those tidbits of information early on fueled a fire that (at least in my book) rekindled the climbing stoke.
Driving along Ruta 40 from Bariloche to Esquel, then breaking off onto Ruta 12 towards Gualjaina in Argentina’s Chubut Province, Johnny and I hadn’t originally anticipated how long the 8+ hour drive would be. Five hours into the drive, we bivvy’d on the shores of Lago Puelo, just to rise the next morning and continue our trek. The alpine of Bariloche quickly melted into the desert of Chubut as we drove, and traffic grew to be less and less. Stopping in Esquel to fuel up and stock our pantry was a critical move; arriving later at Parada we’d discover that the paid camp host also has a “market,” but selection is slim, and price markups rampant.
Leaving Esquel, the frequency with which we’d pass other cars decreased until we were the only car on the road for maybe 30 minute intervals–save the occasional band of horses or hair armadillo scampering across the road. The place was remote, no joke.
That first week was idyllic: the weather was perfect (save one day of summer thundershowers), if not a little hot for climbing. Single pitch sport climbing had never been more fun, and the fact that there were so few people made it even better. Water wasn’t an issue: paid camping at Mario’s (just in front of the canyon’s entrance) had potable water, and for those so inclined, showers. Across the river, the hippie camp hosted some of our new Argentinian and Chilean friends, whom we joined once for a magical “Martes Musical” (Music Tuesday)–note: Spanish is a must if you’re going to befriend anyone other than gringos. And the routes were never-ending: there are over 25 crags with bolted routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.14, so each day promised a new adventure.
While the guidebook isn’t mandatory, it definitely helps to have a copy before heading out there. Same goes for a climbing partner, unless you’re really outgoing and speak Spanish. And if all else fails? Fuel your stoke watching Petzl’s 2012 Rock Trip video chronicling their Piedra Parada shenanigans. And read this before you go.
What to Bring
- 60m (ideally 70m) rope
- 15+ quickdraws or alpine draws. Rope drag can be an issue on some of the routes, so having slings or longer dogbones is nice.
- Helmet. Holds might break. The rock is chossy, for whatever that means to you. Avoiding head injuries is always nice.
- Tent/sleeping bag/the essentials. If you visit in summer, you can likely bivvy outside, under the stars (but biting ants might be a problem).
- Food storage container. Mario’s cows (if you’re camping on his land) and rodents can and will get into your food. Secure your food or your 1lb. block of cheese might disappear down a gopher hole, as ours did.
- Backpack. Just because it’s single pitch sport climbing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t neatly pack all your gear up when heading into the canyon.
- Water containers, lots of them. There is no water source in the canyon, so packing in at least 1.5 liters is advisable on hot days. Larger containers are a must-have for your campsite as well, unless you want to continually walk back to Mario’s spigot.
- Water purifier, preferably pump-type. If you choose not to camp at Mario’s (and I don’t blame you), then you should filter the river water. After 3 weeks, our pump broke and we drank the water straight from the river, but I wouldn’t advise it. After all, our stomachs had 4 months of bacteria-hardening behind them.
- Spanish dictionary. If you don’t speak Spanish, bring along a dictionary or phrasebook so you can at least attempt to communicate with the locals.
Please note (along the guidelines of the last bullet point) that this climbing area, although on the radar of the international climbing scene, is still dominated by locals. There will likely be few, if any, English-speakers, and above all, the locals have been stewards of this climbing area since its earliest development stages. They are friendly, though, so crack that Spanish phrasebook and go make friends.