Argentina is a huge country and a great destination for rock climbers. Whether you only go to one of the well-developed crags, each of which could easily occupy much more than a week of your time to explore fully, or just sample these crags in passing and discover a few hidden esoteric ones as part of a grand tour, Argentina has a wealth of options.
The first thing that I should say is that our experiences on this trip are based around rock climbing as we have no alpine, mountaineering or winter experience, but there is plenty of scope if those are your preferred pursuits. We sampled as many places as we could whilst we were in Argentina and were impressed by the quality and quantity of the available climbing. Finding information has usually been quite easy and we left Argentina with a number of excellent guidebooks, covering most of the major areas. They are usually available in outdoor or climbing shops in the nearest town to the crag, whilst the internet provided us with information for the three crags that weren’t in a guidebook.
El Chalten and the Fitzroy Massif
Cerro Torre, with all its history, and Fitzroy, with the outstanding recent completion of the Fitz Traverse by Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold in 2014, followed by further stunning ascents by Colin Haley and Alex Honnold in 2016, make the nearby town of El Chaltén the archetypical Patagonian alpine destination.
The area has it all from F7a ‘sport’ climbing in really wild situations to multiday epics, all with a constant threat of 60 – 100kph winds and some really severe weather. Indeed, most of the time, for both climbers and hikers, is spent waiting for weather windows to get out into the mountains.There are some great hikes to be had here as well and it is the only place where you can trek to a col, without the use of crampons, to glimpse the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the second largest outside of the polar regions (read about our experience doing that here).
What many people don’t realise is that there is also plenty of rock climbing available in the area. In fact, there is a 150m high crag (Paredón de Los Cóndores – Condor Wall) just across the river from El Chaltén, which has three sections of well bolted single pitch routes (ranging from F4 to at least F7b) as well as several excellent multipitch routes (about F6b) to reach the top.
The Carsten Route is probably one of the best multipitch sport routes that I have come across, with a bold start and an amazingly ‘out there’ traverse underneath the huge roof, all of it visible from the campsite. This means that your mates who are having a rest day can easily follow your progress (or lack of it in some cases). Descent is either by abseil (beware the wind whipping your ropes away), or a great descent gully to the left, with its own Tolkeinesque wood.
There are also a number of other crags that have been developed, a whole load of bouldering and what looks like plenty of scope for more. The park rangers have a copy of the out-of-date guidebook but it is missing pages for the crags with the easiest routes. You can also get a photocopy from one of the local climbing shops (go for the most obvious climbing orientated shop), but again it’s not all there. Put the two together and you have most of it! You can always ask the locals or just go without a guidebook, although there are a few more details on UKClimbing.com. If you want the definitive guidebook to Cerro Torre and the Fitzroy Massif, you will need Patagonia Vertical (Chaltén Massif) by the legendary Argentinian climber Rolando Garibotti.
We were in luck with our weather windows here and stayed for 10 days to get everything we wanted done. It was definitely a bit sad to leave the place but we did have a trip to continue…
Frey, near Bariloche, is one of the most traditional areas in Argentina. Few of the routes are full on sport and the approach is a three hour walk in to a stunning refugio and campsite by a lake surrounded by peaks of rock. By traditional, think a bit Welsh or Lakeland mountain crag (if you are British, perhaps Squamish if you are North American), with a lot of history, including pre-Petzel ‘Masters of Rock’ events in the 1980s. A brilliant place but one that probably needs an initial visit to get your bearings and then a second one to make the most of what is available.
Most of the routes are on immaculate rock and are basically traditionally protected with the odd bolt or piton, which can make some of the pitches a bit bold. However, many of the belays are bolted, making abseiling off much easier.
There are a couple of single pitch crags near the refugio that make a great place to start. We didn’t do that and went straight onto the classic multipitch Sifuentes-Weber route on the pillar next to the refugio, had a bit of a fright and abbed off after the second pitch! We only spent one session of a few days in Frey as we wanted to do the classic multiday trek in the area while we were there as well. They were great days, finishing with very sociable evenings in the refugio.
If Frey is not enough for you, there are several other well developed areas from single pitch sport climbs at Cerro Otto just behind Bariloche to multipitch sport routes further afield. Guidebooks are to these are available at the Club Andino Bariloche, along with the definitive guidebook to Frey by the Rolando Garibotti. This latter is the companion guide to his Chaltén Massif book.
This hidden gem came to international prominence when the 2012 Petzel Rock Trip hit the area and added to the efforts of the local activists to leave a crag that is now a world-class venue, with lots of potential for new routes. Imagine being in a desert, camped next to a river within walking distance of a canyon with plenty of well-bolted routes on solid rock from F4 to F8s, most single pitch, with a few multipitch routes that go to the top. Depending on time of year, you can always find routes in the shade or the sun as you want – we certainly thought it was heaven as a venue!
Piedra Parada actually refers to a large rock that is a local bus stop (parada) and it was this that was initially developed. The routes on it are multipitch, with the easiest being F6a. The majority of the climbing is in a nearby canyon (Buitrera – Nest of the Condors). We left the piedra alone and concentrated on the canyon. Despite good intentions, we ended up climbing everyday that we were there (six in total), which meant that by the end we were feeling quite weak, but it was definitely worth it.
Sierra de Cordoba – La Ola and Los Gigantes
The Sierra de Cordoba was the first place we climbed in Argentina and had some mixed results here. These two crags are a day drive away from each other, a day out from Cordoba and are at about 1,800m above sea level. We arrived in spring and a couple of days of rain intervened. However, there is some good climbing here. La Ola is generally single pitch sport and has a couple of roadside crags, which are fun. However, a couple of the grades are very stiff so be aware and the hand drawn map in the guidebook means that the non-roadside crags might be a bit harder to find. We never did find out as it rained the second day so we moved on to Los Gigantes.
Los Gigantes is a lot more adventurous and has a mixture of sport and traditional climbs. It is quite a complex area and if you try to find the obvious 50m slab with two F5 routes on it as a place to start – forget it. It is very green and I could only find a couple of very old bolts! Afterwards we realised we should have talked to the family who run the refugio before we set out, as they know which sections are maintained or not. However, there are a few other areas and we had a great session climbing the multi pitch Diedre Chico on Cerro de la Cruz, along with a couple of single pitches whilst dodging showers. It felt very British in that respect.
Mendoza and San Rafael
As well as the opportunity to sample wine (there are about 1,000 vinyards around Mendoza, with some stunning wines), this is also a great area for climbing ranging from roadside cragging at Potrerillos and El Salto, to more adventurous routes at Arenales and, of course, Aconganua (the highest peak in South America). We arrived along with the first snows of winter and so didn’t manage to sample the world-class delights of Arenales. Instead, we visited three ‘low-lying’ crags, albeit two were around 1,800m above sea level.
Near Mendoza, Potrerillos is a great place for winter cragging. Single pitch, well bolted routes by a river just off the road that are north facing and so gets all the sun going. There are plenty of routes to go at from F4 to F7b and popular with the locals. It was the first crag in Argentina where we had to queue for routes! Nearby is El Salto with a few great harder routes on granite, in particular on a feature known as La Ola, the wave. However it is south facing and so a bit cold in the winter, but in the shade on hot summers days.
South of Mendoza is the town of San Rafael, which also has vineyards and some mountains and gorges close by. There are a couple of climbing areas within reach, one of which is not in a guidebook – the Cajón de la Frazada. It involves a bit of a trek to find it, including a short section of via ferrata but when you get there, it is well worth it. There are plenty of routes bolted by local activists and scope for many more.
Esoterica – Tierra del Fuego and Puerto Deseado
On our travels round Argentina, whilst the main attraction in many parts was the wildlife and countryside (be it diving or snorkling with sealions, seeing tens of thousands of penguins or walking in magical Tierra Del Fuego in the far south), we did come across a couple of esoteric sports crags. The crags are definitely not the main reason to visit these areas, but if you are passing by and happen to have your climbing kit with you, then they are a fun diversion for a day or so.
There are a couple of short crags that have been developed in Puerto Deseado (Quita Peńa) on the east coast of Patagonia and there is a Facebook page run by the very enthusiastic Pedro. The routes are quite short and are on volcanic rock, some of which is solid and sharp, whilst other parts are quite chossy.
Much further south (in fact as far south as you can go in Argentina) there is plenty of mountaineering available around the town of Ushuia. This is in reality the start of the Andes and the town is the embarkation point for cruises to Antarctica. There are a couple of crags (including Pared Ensanada) around that have been bolted and one probably has the distinction of being the most southerly sport crag in the world! Grades range from F5 and are distinctly tough for the grade. There was an online topo but that seems to have disappeared so here it is…
And finally – Buenos Aires
Finally, to complete this round up, there is a sport crag near Buenos Aires that seems to be recommended a lot by the locals. However, we didn’t have the van and our climbing kit with us when we were in town and we were also only there for a week but I thought I should mention it here for completeness sake.