Like many other countries in South America, Chile is known for its expansive natural beauty, leading to numerous spots for hiking, climbing and adventure. However, Chile is also known as one of the most seismic countries on the planet! So, when an earthquake cancels big plans for a bouldering trip up north on the coast (tsunami warnings? no thanks!) what’s a climber to do? Fear not, because I have your answer!
Hidden away less than two hours from Santiago is an Andean valley called Cajon de Maipo, home to a volcano, snow capped mountains, hiking and climbing opportunities galore. It’s easily accessible by private car or collective taxi, and as soon as you begin to leave the city you feel like you’re in a different world. The sky becomes clearer as you leave the smog of Santiago behind and the urban landscape gives way to greenery as the mountains emerge from the distance.
As you pass down the winding road into the mountains, you can sense the calm way of life that’s so different from the bustling, busy metropolis of Santiago. About an hour from the city we reached the small village of San José de Maipo. Here we appreciated the calm atmosphere and small village square. After stocking up on potable water, we continued about 30 minutes more to reach the approach to our destination, Las Melosas.
To get to Las Melosas, a sector known for its bouldering, we passed through the mountain refuge of the Carabineros (Chilean police) and onto a bumpy dirt road that wound around a snow-fed river in the heart of the valley. After about 15 minutes of bumping along, we reached the small parking area and the trail leading up to Las Melosas.
To reach the climbing area there’s a 15 minute easy approach, which opens up to breathtaking views as you climb up from the valley and into the mountains. The snow line on the mountains felt close enough to touch and the sky was a brilliant cerulean as we ascended. Since Las Melosas is a fairly new area, there are no developed campsites. We chose to camp near a huge boulder, and passed many climbers who were escaping the city for Chile’s fiestas parties (Independence Day) vacations. Everyone we passed had brought more food than I’d ever seen, but the other climbers adhered to the pack-out rule, ensuring that Las Melosas remains a beautiful climbing area for years to come.
Climbers first found Las Melosas about two years ago and the crag continues to be developed as we speak. There are so many boulders here with grades from V1-V7 and some sport climbing routes with difficulties that range from 5.10a-5.13. Aside from the labeled climbs, there are many more untouched boulders as well as possibilities for more sport routes in the future.
One night by the campfire, we ran into some people who were setting a new multi-pitch route on a face just above Las Melosas. This is definitely an area to keep an eye on; I’m confident that more boulders will be found and new lines created in the future. The best part about climbing in Las Melosas is the attitude shared by everyone we came across. People were willing to share gear, beer, and everyone had a general desire to have fun and enjoy outdoor adventure. Chileans have seemed to master recipes for gourmet camping food. Their inventive recipes include pasta drizzled in a variety sauces, a full barbecue with all kinds of local of meat and breakfast creations that are ideal for anyone with a desire to eat like a king on a trip! In typical Chilean fashion, the days start late and climbing is relaxed.
As one friend put it, “No one here really cares about climbing hard grades just to say they did. We care here more about having fun, relaxing, and getting out of the city.” Perfect attitude if you ask me.
At the end of the day, people wander between campfires, bringing both food and stories to share. A group of guitarists provided a soothing ambiance for campfire singing late into the evening.
After three jam-packed and thrilling days of climbing, we descended down the narrow path and headed back to Santiago. Although this trip was a last minute change, I’m already planning on going back to re-work some of the boulders and routes I tried this weekend. There are many other sport climbing and bouldering locales in Cajon de Maipo with their own different quirks and benefits. Climb on, Santiago!