Nick Phillips searches for new heights at Buenos Aires’ rock climbing centres, finding a variety of walls and courses for climbing novices and pros alike.
Argentina boasts a wealth of rock climbing opportunities for the novice or advanced climber. Córdoba, Mendoza, and Bariloche all offer tall natural rock faces for climbers of varying abilities. Further south, the 3400-metre Cerro Chaltén (Fitz Roy), is one of the world’s premier peaks for alpine climbers. But these and other climbing destinations tend to cluster around Argentina’s border with Chile, in the Southern Andes region. Buenos Aires is a long-distance bus or expensive plane ride away from the country’s western border. Even comparatively close rock faces, like those in Mar del Plata, can require a drive of five or more hours.
Nonetheless, as Argentina’s most populous city, Buenos Aires is home to a number of dedicated climbers. The Buenos Aires Climbing Association (AEBA), formed earlier this year, seeks to grow the sport by bringing together local climbers and organising competitions. Many local climbers train in gyms during the week and head to the mountains on weekend climbing trips, but others are dedicated to indoor climbing for its own sake.
The Indy visited four climbing centres in Buenos Aires that offer a mix of bouldering (short climbing routes that do not require the protection of a rope and harness), top-rope climbing (longer vertical routes where climbers are secured by a rope at the top of the wall), and sport climbing (climbers secure their own rope to new holds as they ascend). All of the gyms offer lessons for novices, as well as “open wall” sessions for climbers who prefer to train independently. They also have climbing shoes available for those who do not have their own, but in some cases it was unclear when/if the shoes had last been washed. If you like climbing (or really dislike feet), it might be worth investing in a pair.
Centrally located just two blocks from Plaza Congreso, the Punto Cumbre bouldering site is housed in a larger building that also contains a Megatlon health club. Though the main entrance feels a bit like Planet Fitness, the bouldering wall feels homey. When we arrived there was a class in session, other climbers were practising on their own, a woman was playing with a young child, and a group of friends passed around a mate. Tucked into a low-ceilinged basement room, the design makes the most of a relatively modest space. Climbing holds cover three walls and some routes even traverse the ceiling.
In part due to its location, Punto Cumbre attracts many newcomers to the sport. “We’re inside a gym. People come in and see us, they’re curious, they think that it is something from another world, something impossible,” said Sofía Domínguez, an instructor at Punto Cumbre. “But they try and then they see: ‘I can do it!’” Classes are available for children as young as four (at separate times). Domínguez also said that many foreigners come to climb at Punto Cumbre. “They come for a few weeks, train, go to the rocks, make connections. People come from Germany and Colombia, for example. They make friends, and then they go back to Colombia, to Germany, and it builds a network of climbers.”
Riobamba 165, Congreso. Day pass: $90
Open Wall: Monday-Friday 4pm-10pm; Tuesday & Thursday additional morning hours 9am-2pm; Saturday 2pm-8pm.
Classes: Monday & Thursday 10am and 7:30pm; Saturday 4pm and 8pm.
Punto Cumbre also offers top-rope and sport climbing at another location in Devoto.
For more information visit puntocumbre.com
Campus: Tierra de Escalada
Campus is located in the northern suburb of Vicente López, but those who make the trek will be treated to the largest amount of climbing space of all the centres that we visited. The sport and top-rope wall has a maximum height of 14 metres and a there is a separate bouldering wall. Campus is actually an outdoor climbing gym, which means that fresh-air-lovers can climb outside without going far from the city. Marked routes on the wall include difficulty ratings up to 7a.
German Farina, an instructor at Campus, said: “We have a mix of climbers. There are some who are more advanced, but there many who have been climbing for just one year or two…” For German, the wall is a place to train in preparation for weekend trips to the mountains. “We stay in shape [at the wall], but then for the weekend we go to the rocks. We leave on Friday night and arrive dead after travelling for five or six hours!” With a wide range of bouldering and top-rope routes, Campus offers a little bit of everything for those who don’t mind spending a little time on the bus. It might be a less appealing option for a drizzly afternoon, but the hardy folks at Campus do stay open when it rains.
Libertador 981, Vicente López. Day Pass: $90
Open Wall: Monday-Friday 3pm-10pm; Saturday-Sunday 1pm-9pm.
Classes: Monday & Friday 7pm; Saturday & Sunday 3pm
Campus also operates another location in Pilar.
For more information visit www.campusescalada.com.ar
Centro Andino de Buenos Aires
The Centro Andino de Buenos Aires, founded in 1950, is the city’s oldest club devoted to mountain sports and it remains a major hub for outdoor enthusiasts. At its founding, the club was dedicated to getting outside, but interest in training nearer to the city led to the 1982 construction of a practice wall in Nuñez. The bouldering site in Congreso opened four years ago. To enter the bouldering wall you pass through a spacious, naturally lit courtyard that quickly whisks the visitor away from the bustle of downtown. The bouldering area is arranged with the climbing holds along one long wall. The set-up leaves plenty of room to stand behind friends and give advice and encouragement, but can feel less social than the cave-like setting of Punto Cumbre.
Tobías Reyes, an instructor at CABA, said that the club is unique in its wide range of offerings. CABA offers classes for beginners, but also hosts advanced training for those at advanced skill levels. Those interested in getting experience on real rocks can sign up for classes that culminate in a trip to Los Gigantes in Córdoba. Reyes said that there is growing interest in indoor climbing due to competitions around the city, but that “there are few people who only climb ‘on plastic’,” referring to the plastic holds on indoor climbing walls. CABA also offers courses in alpine skiing and ice climbing. Next to the bouldering area, there is a small shop with technical climbing equipment and other outdoor gear.
Rivadavia 1255, Monserrat. Day Pass (non club-members): $60
Open Wall: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 5pm-10pm; Tuesday & Thursday 11am-10pm.
Classes: Monday-Thursday, 8pm
CABA also operates an artificial rock wall in Nuñez, with sport- and top-rope routes up to rating 7b.
For more information visit www.caba.org.ar
Bien Alto is the smallest of the walls we visited, but the central location and welcoming environment make it an appealing option. It offers bouldering as well as some sport- and top-rope climbing routes, though the wall is shorter than at Campus. The location is not advertised outside and when we arrived at the address, it appeared to be a garage. But behind its unassuming entrance, Bien Alto shares a cavernous warehouse space with an acrobatics school. As we climbed on one end of the room, we saw groups training to do flips on a trampoline and swinging from high ropes in the back of the space.
Bien Alto’s small size is made up for by the personality of the owner, Gabriel Massarone. In introductory classes he teaches novices the basic skills needed to climb with a top rope, and demonstrates his unusual double-belay technique, in which he hooks two ATCs onto his harness and holds one belay rope in each hand. (We cannot vouch for the safety of this technique, but Gabriel generally inspired confidence.) “The size is small, so the groups are small. Our work is more personalised.” He seeks to turn beginners into competent climbers who can take on bigger challenges and climb outside on their own. “The idea of the wall is to make autonomous climbers,” he said.
Malabia 538, Villa Crespo. Day pass: $100
Open Wall: Monday-Friday 1pm-6pm; Saturdays 3-7pm.
Classes: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 8pm; Tuesday & Thursday 10am; and Saturday 1pm.
For more information visit their Facebook page.
All photos by Meghan McDonough