Climbing Santiago

It is surprising how accessible rock climbing is to the vertically inclined of Santiago. In many places around the world a car is required to get to the best crags. However, in the capital of Chile some of the best rock climbing spots can be reached by public transport.

Small Climber at Los Manyos (photo by Ben Bookout)
Small Climber at Los Manyos (photo by Ben Bookout)

In spite of growing up in the climbing mecca of Boulder, Colorado, I never showed much interest in the sport until moving to Chile. For me it was an escape in many ways, escape from the city, escape from thoughts, escape from anything and everything. This is because climbing really only allows a singular focus, while challenging your mortality or coming very close to making you believe the end is nigh. Pushing that fear to the back of my mind strangely makes me feel more alive. These climbing experiences in Chile have been some of my fondest memories of my time here.

The closer spots in and around Santiago are in the Lo Barnechea neighborhood, at El Arrayan and Santuario de la Naturaleza near to Plaza San Enrique. From the plaza a 700 peso collectivo will get you within walking distance of the sport climbing areas. To get to El Arrayan walk a short distance down the dirt road from where the collectivo drops you off. On the right there will be a green gate entering into private land where you will be asked to pay 1.000 pesos to access the climbing spot. El Santuario is at the end of the dirt road with a slightly higher 2.500 peso entrance fee as it also offers picnic areas, water access, and moutain bike and hiking trails.

El Arrayan is a great place to go in the heat of the summer because of its dense canopy of myrtle trees. It's also a good spot to hone your skills as the basalt rock is less aggressive than granite. The climbing varies from beginner 5.7's to Expert 5.13's (see notes below). I've taken some of the best falls of my short climbing career here. I've left gear here. I cursed so loud that birds flew out of the trees, but I keep coming back. I get an eerie feeling on the approach to the shady hollow of Arrayan because for all its comfort of shade it is the most difficult climbing spot near Santiago.

El Arrayan photo (photo by Ben Bookout)
El Arrayan photo (photo by Ben Bookout)

The climbing area at Santuario de la Naturaleza isn't as large as Arrayan but it's cooler, and its exposure provides striking scenery and fun, interesting climbs. There are upper and lower climbing areas. To access the lower part you walk through the picnic area and continue on the trail along the creek. Just outside of the picnic area you will see a couple of shorter, more difficult (intermediate) routes, a 5.11 and a 5.10d (one grade below a 5.11) or called Alpha Whore. At this spot if you take a left the upper climbing area can be accessed after a hillside climb. The majority of the routes can be found here. Kara's Beaner is an interesting 5.7 with a fall directly onto a thorny Quisco Cactus.

El Curro is another climbing area in this vicinity although more difficult to access. It is near the trail to Cerro Manquehue and provides stunning views of Santiago. You can also expect to be buzzed by gliders and condors here.

The other major climbing areas are in the Cajon de Maipo, which can be accessed by taking the Metro (Line 5) to Bella Vista de la Florida and getting on the blue number 72 bus that leaves directly from the mall. The 72 bus route also passes by Metro Puente Alto but it takes a little more searching for the bus stop. All the climbing areas, (which are a day trips distance from Santiago), are near the town of El Manzano. The town is located just after crossing the tributary creek Estero El Manzano. When you see a sign for Camping and Picnic El Manzano get off the bus and you are within walking distance of three excellent climbing areas: Piedra Romel, Las Palestras and Los Manyos.

Piedra Romel (photo by Ben Bookout)
Piedra Romel (photo by Ben Bookout)

Piedra Romel is probably the best beginner crag of all the local climbing spots. For one it is located next to El Manzano creek and has a good variety of short beginner climbs. The area where the climbing is located is flat and comfortable unlike other places in the area. People who are not so interested in climbing can hang out next to the creek, bbq and sunbathe. To get to Piedra Romel you walk up the dirt road to Picnic and Camping El Manzano. At the entrance gate to the park you must pay 3.000 pesos although you can get to the climbing spot by walking up the creek but it is a much longer and more difficult route. Romel is a very popular area for Santiaguinos especially on the weekends so get there early and if you are planning on leaving that night be sure to ask the Señora at the entrance gate when she is closing the gates to avoid getting locked in.

Continuing on to the next bus stop you will get to the entrance of Las Palestras. This climbing area is above Romel but it has a different entrance. Just after the bus stop you will see a dirt road leading towards the climbing area above. The road dead ends at the entrance gate. There is a small house up to the left which is where things get interesting. A shout of 'álo' will bring out the señora who lives here and she will charge you 500 pesos to get to the trail through her property. Don't try to go without paying or say you will pay on the way down. Somehow she is deaf to a soft hello but can hear the shuffling of unpaid feet like a bat.

The crag is an intense 30-40 minute hike up the hillside. This can be an adventure in itself with all roads leading to Rome but some better than others. Once you get to the rock the hillside levels off into a clearing of beech forest with the wall rising above. The rock type is volcanic tuff, the same as Piedra Romel and similar in feel to sandstone. The wall offers beginner 5.8 climbs to expert 5.13's.

Las Palestras (photo by Ben Bookout)
Las Palestras (photo by Ben Bookout)

One more bus stop up the canyon is the entrance to Los Manyos. Again you will see a dirt road running to the North. The crag is up and to the east of the road. Look for the large water tower and you are on the right path. Take this road till it ends. It will turn into a less developed path which you follow up to a log opening in the nearby home owner's fence. This is the access point to the trail (watch for the dogs here, one of my climbing partners got bit on the leg. The owner is usually good about calling them off but I carry rocks just in case). After you get through the log entrance the trail is similar to Las Palestras but here all roads don't lead to Rome. The trail has been marked with small blue spots of paint. Stay on the well worn path and it will get you there.

Los Manyos (photo by Ben Bookout)
Los Manyos (photo by Ben Bookout)

Los Manyos is a good place for the day but even better for a short weekend. You can camp right next to the wall or in the small clearing above the wall. The only problem is a lack of water which you'll need to bring with you. The climbing area itself can be broken into 3-4 sectors. The largest being the Catedral, an area protected by a stand of larger beech trees similar to Arrayan but with the volcanic tuff rock type. Again, Los Manyos offers climbs for all types and the west-facing wall provides stunning views of the canyon below and Santiago in the distance. I just got back from camping here for Fiestas Patrias and it is becoming my favorite spot in Chile. The variety of walls and exposures, the interaction with nature, camping areas and views make Los Manyos one of the best locations to climb or hike to.

Climbing Map (image by Ben Bookout)
Climbing Map (image by Ben Bookout)

The central zone of Chile especially near Santiago offers a great variety of sport climbing spots highly accessible to those without a car. If you are an experienced climber or looking to get into the sport Santiago is a great place to start. There are many more places I have not covered with a variety of accessibility and new crags being developed all the time by Chile's climbing fanatics. For those not interested in climbing, these are good places to just hike to and get to know.

For more information you can start at the local climbing gyms: El Muro (www.gimnasioelmuro.cl) and Casa Boulder (www.casaboulder.cl). There are also a couple of good websites to visit for information on all the climbing spots in Chile and climbing related events:

http://chilemountains.info

http://chileclimbers.cl

Notes: Source Wikipedia
The system consists of five classes indicating the technical difficulty of the hardest section:

Class 1 is walking on an even, often planar, surface with a low chance of injury, and a fall is unlikely to be fatal.
Classes 2 and 3 are steeper scrambling with increased exposure and a greater chance of severe injury, but falls are not always fatal.
Class 4 can involve short steep sections where the use of a rope is recommended, and un-roped falls could be fatal.
Class 5 is considered true rock climbing, predominantly on vertical or near vertical rock, and requires skill and a rope to proceed safely. Un-roped falls would result in severe injury or death.

The original intention was that the classes would be subdivided decimally, so that a route graded 4.5 would be a scramble halfway between 4 and 5, and 5.9 would be the hardest rock climb. Increased standards and improved equipment meant that climbs graded 5.9 in the 1960s are now only of moderate difficulty. Rather than regrade all climbs each time standards improve, additional grades were added at the top – originally only 5.10, but it soon became apparent that an open-ended system was needed, and further grades of 5.11, 5.12, etc. were added.

While the top grade was 5.10, a large range of climbs in this grade were completed, and climbers realized a subdivision of the upper grades were required. Letter grades were added for climbs at 5.10 and above, by adding a letter "a" (easiest), "b", "c" or "d" (hardest).

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