Blue is the sky of the blind
Latin America's first 9a in Piedra Parada, Argentina, falls after a long struggle and long time after fall has fallen into the Patagonian pampa.
When skies are blue and climbers are singing, the sun is heating the ground and only in this enormous canyon, that makes Piedra Parada Piedra Parada, fresh air reigns, staying it is no art, no effort. Just fun.
We came to have fun. Arriving in April, everything was as perfect as South America can be. Wild, vast, clear and friendly, open people, lots of rock, picturesque, free camping besides the Rio Chubut, eponym to a whole region, probably bigger than Germany, and nevertheless small up here, close to it's source. Small enough to wade through. To bathe. To yoga on it's riverbanks.
After almost four months in Patagonia, with spectacular landscapes, nice people, beautiful and also hard climbing, this will be the first place we will literately dive in. People will drag us down into this water of easiness, unknown to even a Europe's climbers heart. A day is just a day, not a unit of productivity. Fire, music, collective cooking, joints and wine. Climbing then and when, but not more than one or two gos per day in a project. This is different, feels like days I thought to have forgotten in ten years Switzerland. Feels like my first trips to Siurana, El Chorro, Gorges du Tarn, 2006. Smile out into the day throughout my eyes, oh my sweet past!
Then comes reality. It is suited in harmlessness. Actually I just want to climb a little bit. Just no lactate in my boulderer's arms! Then I find this project in the guide book, find the route. Find it quite nice, good rock, very good in comparison to large parts of the gorge, complicated moves, delicate hooks, one finger pockets. My style, a boulder and a route before. 7c+ plus more or less 8B. I start to work as I am used to work. As I had all the time the world has still to offer. I quickly get better, stamina comes back, being out of every kind of Patagonian civilization, no more burgers, no more white bread, makes me lighter. I will succeed. It isn't more than 9a. 9a is feasible.
We enjoy, we climb, I finally learn Spanish. It has been a while since I more or less understand it, now I take all the French stuff, grammar, gender, phrase construction and put the Spanish words on it. Ready is the new language that is indispensable in South America. Nearly no one knows another one. We chat.
In the first cold weather wave and something above the 20th try a might have done it, if I had had the courage to skip the quick draw in the middle of the crux. So far, so blue. Blue is the sky of the blind. Azul es el cielo de los ciegos. I will be seeing.
Seeing autumn. Frost napalms the plane trees in the middle of the camp, then comes the rain, narrow clouds, so low, so contrary to the open blue we used to know. Hearts begin to shrink, people leaving, as if the Chubut would have been accused to carry cholera down to the Ocean. Humidity here is autumn's best friend. Not as in Europe. Good conditions especially in the narrow Calavera canyon is a rare good up from May. We make a break, see the local climbing legend Carlos Carlanga in his self made house in the middle of the woods of Epuyen. Life can take forms so different from what we know up in the west. Okay, we have been living in a yurt one year before this travel, but we had so much much much more things around. I don't like things.
We rest and I can have a look into a project that is supposed to be much to hard for the local 8c climbers. It appears to me way easier than the one in the Calavera. 9a should thus be alright. Just needs a sending.
This comes along, nearly at least, the next day on. On the last hard move, without having clipped the questionable quick draw and therefore facing an at least 10m flight into the dark, I am lacking courage. Unbelievable, I pull back my hand from the first better hold! Somehow to test the fall and avoid the clip two moves further up. This hasn't happened to me in the last ten years. But, hey, there is no way to worry, so many gos to go. Blue is the future's sky that I am painting at the ceiling of my mind. Still painting easily.
But blue isn't reality. Grey is the color of the day, the season. Rain and diarrhea. Weakness of the body, weakness of the mind. Friday the 13th of May arrives. Everything on this day fails, we nearly loose our pussy cat besides the road, nearly loose our car in the mud of the drowning dirt road, I nearly loose my temper in the worst try of the last five days on. Time to surrender. Time to draw back. Unchain this metal link between me and my dreams, called my quick draws. Home is where your quick draws are (hanging in). For me, who nearly always leaves them in, this is a sign. We won't come back.
Not only this. We will cut off our journey, not until August or September will we stay, for the 8th of June we are now booking homewards. The cold, the illness sucked us out, we will continue later on. Leaving the bus in Uruguay. Altiplano, you will have to wait a year!
Three weeks to go. To go where to? Chile isn't possible because of the cat's non existant vaccinations, so many friends down here, we will thus stay until one week before the flight from Buenos Aires. 2000km north. Weather forecast turns from rain to crystal clear, my body quikly recovers, so why not will we dare a last occasion? There is a true trophy in the game: the first 9a of South America. Vacant, blue.
The rest then is less interesting than the failure that I had faced before. It is success. With good conditions, some kilos less, my preferred belay bunny on the rope below and courage not to clip this tempting bolt, it is still a fight and still a rush, but, well, a well known one. The causal game. My baby is sleeping on the canyons ground, my cheering rather soft, more of relieve than happiness. What kind of a struggle! What logistic strain. To get for more than 30 tries, 12 days, 4km deep into this volcanic crack. 4km back, sometimes at night. And Jules, our 4 years old son, who walks this distance not only once all on his own. He is the true star in this story. My girlfriend and my baby girl. Thank you my family! Love you so much.
Cure me from blindness one more time.