High on the Altiplano of the Atacama Desert, German climber Pirmin Bertle has completed the first ascent of Ruta de Cobre (9a/5.14d)—the
second 9a sport route in Chile and the third of the grade in all of South America.
route, at Quebrada de Nacienmento, Socaire, San Pedro de Atacama, is in the world’s driest desert, and at 3,600 meters above sea level, Bertle not
only battled relentless sun and strong winds blowing salty air from the Salar de Atacama 1,000 meters below, but also thin air, large temperature swings and sporadic snow storms.
“People call it the Mal de la Puna, the illness of the Altiplano, that is due to the lack of oxygen on this as-vast-as-beautiful-as-lifeless plateau that
spreads over thousands of kilometers,” Bertle writes for his blog lizardclimbing.com.
“But people could mean as well the infertile dryness, the harsh winter winds, the minus 20 degrees [Celsius] at night or the lack of shelter from the
“People in general try not to stay,” he continues.“We came for months...”
Despite the harsh environment, on June 4, the Puna rewarded Bertle with cloudy, windy and cold conditions—perfect for the overhanging, technical
crimp line, as he describes Ruta de Cobre.
The route begins with a 7A (V6) boulder problem that leads to “a fair rest that [at] sea level would be of marginal meaning for the whole route, but here
has to be taken seriously,” Bertle writes. From there it enters the first crux with “a delicate crimp above a delicate flag” to another bad rest, before
entering an 8A/+ (V11/12) crux, he describes.
Bertle sent the route on his 17th attempt overall. He named it Ruta de Cobre, or Copper Street, after the copper pieces that speckle the rock.
Compared to other climbs, “It’s definitively 9a,” Bertle writes. He adds, “For smaller and less acclimatized climbers who aren’t blessed with finger
strength, it should be even upper end [9a].” That is, if you can get past the Mal de la Puna, the illness of the Altiplano, first.
Bertle is living in a bus and traveling throughout South America to climb with his wife Jeanne Garnier, two kids (two and five years old) and cat (six
months old). Earlier in the trip, he established The Cold and Smelly Breath of Death (V14/V15) at Dorotea outside of Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia, and Azul es el Cielo de Los Ciegos
—South America's first 9a/5.14d—in Piedra Parada, Argentina (Alex Megos established South America's second and Chile’s first 9a/5.14d
route with Pasito a Pasito in Valle de los Condores this spring).
Follow their journey on lizardclimbing.com.
Watch Pirmin Bertle on Ruta de Cobre (9a/5.14d):