Ascent of Cerro Catedral in 2004

Climber: Morgan Batt

Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cerro Catedral
    Elevation:1686 ft / 513 m

Ascent Trip Report


Coolangatta 1950 meets Brisbane 1970 – well that’s how I would describe the feeling of being in the Republic Oriental of Uruguay – the name of the country means the “river of the painted birds” in the native Guarani language. Or another translation is the “river of the snail”. But however you would describe it it really is a country of rivers, culture, Gauchos and estancias (colonial cattle stations).

Urugauy occupies the sixth place in the World Ranking of the Environmental Sustainability Index 2000. More than 176,000 km2 with a dense hydrographic network of rivers and small spectacular hills and ravines. The highest point in Uruguay was Pan de Azucar 506m until 1973 when it was discovered that in fact Cerro Catedral at 513m was the highest point. Owing to this fact very few people have heard of or know of Cerro Catedral. And hear begins my little quest to climb this hill somewhere in the little visited interior of the “river of painted birds”.

They call themselves the friendly country and this theya re. Very willing to help. The ladies at the front desk of the hotel in Montevideo were prepared to really help me climb this hill but they could not understand for what reason I wanted to do it. They managed to find a bus that wold take me to a small town somewhere near the hills, but the rest (hotel, food, transport when there) was up to me. When I headed off the ladies said “now be careful, there are many snakes”. So off I went to the bus station with this plea from the ladies ringing in my ears. Confidence … hmmm!

At the bus terminal in Montevideo I found Imdal Bus company and collected the ticket that the ladies in the hotel had pre-ordered for me. All going well. Waited for about an hour and headed for Gate 29 and found the bus for Lascano (my bus). I was off into the snail land, sorry, painted bird land.

Two hours later I was ticking off on my map the town and features we passed by. I knew that Aigua was close. Nerves were starting the rise, was there a hotel or safe tree to sleep under, how to get to Cerro cathedral. Was I mad. And with this mind game came all the nervous bodily function associated with it. I was busting to go. Still through the window I almost felt at home with the view of the gums and rolling hills.

We rounded the high bridge and was in Aigua by 7.50pm. The bus stopped right outside a “hotel” I recon about half a star rating. I walked into an old 50’s type shop and the lady behind the counter looked busy with the bus tickets and out going parcels – I waited. After the bus left and all quietened I asked ever so politely in my best Spanish “do you have a room for me for one or two nights”. She looked up surprised that someone was there. She answered “si”. I smiled very broadly. Thank God was my little prayer. She lent over the counter a pointed down a hall out to the back “esta mi primero room – numero uno”. I looked, yep half star, but it was home. Now for the next big question “do you know of anyone who could take me to cerro cathedral?” “Si, pero por que?” Waves of relief flowing over me. I didn’t bother to explain why I wanted to go but thanked her profusely. I asked if she could arrange for this person to meet me tomorrow at 9am. She was straight on the phone and all was set for $300 pesos. The angel behind the counter was named Maria. So I went scurrying to my room to join the other rodents waiting for me in the converted stable. Room at the inn!!!!!

I unpacked in the musty old room. Timber panels half way up the wall and old blue painted. Over the bed was a cross. It was probably built in the late 1800’s. I took my pen and paper and returned to the shop front to order coffee and write this story. The shop had lime green painted walls. Cheque lino floor. Bottles of lollies lined up on the wood counter. Cakes and empanadas in the square glass cabinet. Tacky plastic clock on the wall. Exposed electric wires to the one incandesant light casting its yellow glow on the whole affair. There was an old push cash register and a big sign pointing to the banos. Odds and ends with boxes stacked up for the bus in the morning.. There was a sign showing prices to Lascano and Montevideo and towns in between. Children kept darting in and out buying 1 peso handfuls of lollies. And complete with art deco vinyl tables and chairs and there you have the hub of Aigua. While writing at one table a young bloke came in and introduced himself to me as Fernando. My guide for the climb. I said I spoke only a little Spanish. He looked nervously at Maria and back at me. But 9am was fine.

I woke 7am it was 31st January Saturday. It was a great sleep. I showered and then went to the toilet. It was one of those old squat porcelain ones. There was no paper so I had another shower – bit like a big bidé. I ventured into the shop front, “hola” all round then ordered coffee. Fernando arrived early and we went off to pick up another person. Someone who could speak English was the relieved expression on his face as he told me this. A young girl walked up to the car said “hola” and presented her cheek for me to kiss – very friendly this country. Anna Carla was her name and she was an English Student at the University of Montevideo home on hols. Anan Carla launched into her life story and an explanation of her country’s history. Fernando drove but kept one eye on Ana Carla – hmmm!!

Down the dirt roads and about 40 mins later we peeled off the road and parked. About fifty feet up was Cerro Catedral. There was even a sign placed with the name. Not much of a climb but a lot of effort to get there. So Anna Carla and I climbed the fence and within five minutes we were on the top of Cerro Catedral the highest point in Urugauy. On top there was a geological formation of rocks end to end that looked like a gothic building – hence the name I suppose. A few quick photos and Mass. It was just beautiful to be there on top and look out over the rolling hills and meandering rivers of this great little country. And to top it all off a “nandu”, the rarely seen large south American bird wandered passed us. Really must be the land of the birds.

After visiting an old mission building and the sight of the where the last person was executed as capital punishment we were back at the hotel by noon. The next bus was at two. So I booked a seat and went for a walk round the little village. Good to know you can always find room at the inn – birds, snails, mice, mountains and all.
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