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Cerro Cota 2000

Rolando Larcher on the first ascent of Osa, Ma Non Troppo (5.12b A3, 700m, 16 pitches, Cagol-Larcher-Leoni-Orlandi, 2007) on the east face of Cerro Cota 2000, Valle del Frances, Chilean Patagonia. The route features some of the hardest free climbing in Torres del Paine National Park; Orlandi compares Cerro Cota 2000 to El Capitan. Osa is the third route on this face and the first to be climbed in pure capsule style. [Photo] Elio Orlandi / Spedizione Cota 2000

As usual, an evening between friends, two photos, two beers–and on the return home, we’re still talking about those photos. The next day four of us discuss them: come on, it’s only a month, and the wall seems made to be climbed. We buy our tickets.

Our initial objective, based on Fabio Leoni’s previous experiences, was Cerro Castillo in the Valle des Frances, but after a careful appraisal upon arrival, we shifted our choice a bit to the right, to the enormous wall of Cota 2000–a Patagonian version of El Capitan, but with a little-known name and–very important–only two other routes. Cerro Castillo is much more slender, but in the initial section the rock doesn’t look very solid and even if it improves higher up, it would clearly require a predominance of aid. We seek exactly the opposite.

After three consecutive days for the customary shuttle of gear to the base of the wall, we are granted the luxury of a rest at the British camp, then the next day begin our capsule-style climb. A beautiful wall, a group of friends, a compelling objective, though one whose 700 meters are totally vertical, without so much as a shadow of a ledge loaded with snow. We will have to bring water.

Thus, on January 21 we’re on the wall with our portaledge, food, forty liters of water and quite a lot of equipment. The climate is bizarre: dawn’s sunshine yields to an afternoon squall, which gives way to a thunderstorm (complete with lightning bolts and thunder–practically unknown in Patagonia), to wind and finally to the calm of a quiet evening. We get in our ledges with 400 meters beneath us and go to sleep expecting a happy tomorrow. Instead it rains so heavily that our tents are put to the test and after thirty-six consecutive hours of pelting we are practically flooded–to the point where it seems as if we’re sleeping in a swimming pool.

Immediate evacuation! We’re soaked and freezing, trying to wring out our down bags and clothes. We look at one another: if below tourists are walking for hours in the rain and the implacable wind, how can veterans like us complain? But, at the end of the day, you wouldn’t see anybody else up here but us; we could descend, dry up, restore our spirits and then reascend….

Our spirits are mixed; we oscillate between staying and going, until after a day and a half, a ray of sun arrives. The most beautiful gift in Patagonia: two hours of morning sun, ever warmer, dries us out and then, feeling like the true hardmen who fill the pages of magazines, toward 11 a.m. we resume our climb.

The first two pitches of the day, Pitches 9 and 10, will become, for aesthetics and difficulty, the key of the entire route. They make all our sacrifices worthwhile. With great pleasure we confront–in T-shirts!–a superb, fifty-meter flake, and discover at its top a very small but comfortable El Cap Spire. We call the pitch the “Changing Dihedral”: it brings us from one corner system to another, a bit more to the right, direct and beautiful. A crackless, overhanging section, that from below we hypothesize will require substantial aid, then goes unexpectedly free, with a tiny bit of psyche and a dose of obligatory free climbing.

In this manner, we proceed on perfect granite, and after five nights in the portaledges, four days of climbing and six days total amid the sun, rain, wind and fog, we find ourselves happily at the top of our route, which we christen Osa, Ma Non Troppo (Dare, But Not Too Much: VI 5.12b A3, 700m). The wall’s granite is fantastic, 95% solid, all of which favors a free climb, which we managed to maintain for 85% of the 700 meters of the route. We think that with a little luck with the weather, finding the cracks drier than we found them, it would be possible to free the route entirely except for the third pitch.

–Elio Orlandi, Fabio Leoni, Michele Cagol, Rolando Larcher, Italy

Translated from the Italian by Christian Beckwith