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Cerro Huinay (1430m) in Chilean Patagonia Gets First Ascent

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The topo for Futa Chao (1000m, 5.12 A2+) on Cerro Huinay, in Chilean Patagonia. [Photo] Pancho Herrera.

From February 11 to 25, 2021, 1430-meter Cerro Huinay was climbed by four Chilean climbers: Nicolas Gutierrez, Pancho Herrera, Sebastian Rojas and Hernan Rodriguez. The 1000-meter, twenty-five pitch 5.12 A2+ was the first ascent of the wall–one of the biggest in Chilean Patagonia. The first pitch was the 5.12 free climbing crux of the route, while the third pitch was the only one with aid climbing–about ten meters of A2 traversing; fourteen of the other pitches were in the 5.11 range. It took the team two weeks–five days of fixing ropes for the first 500 meters, six days on the ground ofwaiting out bad weather, and then three more days of climbing to reach the summit.

Cerro Huinay was first attempted in 2010 by Erick Vigouroux (the current director of Escalando Magazine), Claudio Vicuna and Herrera. The team found the wall through photographer Guy Wenborne, who had been contracted to shoot photos on behalf of the San Ignacio del Huinay Foundation, a conservation and scientific research project run by the Catholic University of Valparaiso, in the Los Lagos Region of Chile. They made it 700 meters up the northeast face before retreating because of bad weather. Eleven years later, Herrera returned with Gutierrez, Rojas and Rodriguez to make a successful climb far to the climber’s right of the 2010 attempt.

Both the 2010 and 2021 teams approached the wall via helicopter, landing at the base. Approaching by foot, according to an instagram post by @patagoniavertical, would have taken a week. The helicopter was so small it took five trips to get all the team and equipment to the base. They brought food for 30 days, two portaledges, 500 meters of rope and 80 bolts (they placed around 60, mostly for rappels).

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Sebastian Rojas on the 13th pitch (5.11) of Futa Chao (1000m, 5.12 A2+) on Cerro Huinay, in Chilean Patagonia. [Photo] Pancho Herrera.

The first ten pitches of the wall were extremely vegetated, but the rock was compact and solid granite. After five days of work, the team had the first 500 meters of the wall fixed, with food and water stashed at their portaledge camp at the top of the fixed lines. They descended to the base to wait out a six-day downpour, and then returned for a summit push.

At the end of their eighth day on the wall (the third day of their summit push), they were only a pitch or two from the top and out of water. The whole team was very dehydrated, but they climbed another pitch in hopes they might find snow to melt up above. Just below the summit, they were greeted by a strange sight–a group of Patagonian vizcachas (a rodent in the Chinchillidae family, about the size of a small rabbit) which seemed to be watching them. They followed the vizcachas to the summit, where they were relieved to find plenty of snow.

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Nicolas Gutierrez on the 14th pitch (5.11+) of Futa Chao (1000m, 5.12 A2+) on Cerro Huinay, in Chilean Patagonia. [Photo] Pancho Herrera.

The team named their route Futa Chao, which means “God, the creator of all living beings, father, old man: the great father” in the local Mapuche language, Mapudungun, according to an article in Escalando.

Pancho noted that the trip was supported by a program run by Lippi called Andes Indomitable: “Here in Chile, we often compare ourselves to other places–Yosemite, the Rockies, the Alaska Range. The point of this campaign is to remind ourselves how rich we are in terms of nature in our own country; to stop comparing Chile to everywhere else. It’s not just about climbing. It’s about celebrating the places and cultures that make Chile so special.”