Pete Graham and I headed south this winter in fact so far south it became summer again, we spent 3 months in Patagonia climbing mostly out of El Chalten. Unfortunately the weather made things hard for us but we managed some routes and got smashed on others but it was still a great trip to an amazing place.
We spent 10 days climbing at Frey in northern Patagonia at the start of our trip. Here there are lots of perfect granite spires generally about 100 to 200 metres high. The granite is very similar to Chamonix granite with some splitter cracks broken up every so often by some intricate face climbing. Every day it was sunny and as long as there was some wind we mostly managed not to overheat and enjoy the climbing.
Pete on the classic Lost Fingers.
On the 10th of December we managed to get a lift with a friend of a friend, Craig, from Baralochie to El Chalten where we would stay for the next 2 months. Craig picked us up at our hostel and we all fitted in with the suspension just avoiding bottoming out. We started cruising down through Patagonia with Craig pointing out all the interesting features and telling us all the history which was really cool. As the sun set 12 hours into the 24 hour drive I was feeling very content as I fell asleep in the back. However, 2 hours later I woke up to find out that the alternator wasn’t working properly. It could sustain the battery of the jeep to run the engine but it couldn’t do this and have the lights on at the same time. We solved this problem by sleeping at the side of the road for a few hours until it got light. Once it was light the jeep started and we continued driving. Three hours later disaster struck. I was driving when suddenly there was a funny noise followed by a lot of steam coming out from under the bonnet. After a bit of investigation we discovered that a radiator pipe had burst, and once we had removed a few other parts of the engine we could reach the broken pipe. We stood at the side of the road in the middle of the Patagonian desert 50 km from the nearest town trying to decide how to fix the pipe with our limited supplies of tape and plastic bottles. All thinking the same thing that what we really needed was some sort of plastic hose to patch it. After five minutes of discussing a pick-up came round the corner. Craig threw his arm out and the truck pulled over. Craig quickly spoke some Spanish to the old farmer and amazingly he turned into his jeep and handed a small section of plastic pipe out. However, the excitement died before it had time to begin - the pipe he had produced was too thin. Craig explained this to the farmer, the farmer was silent for two seconds then smiled with the points of his moustache turning upwards as he did. He jumped out of his pick-up, went round into the back and after some rumbling pulled out another wider section of pipe. This section was about 3 m long so he cut us of a 6 inch section with what could only be described as a machete and was on his way. Pete, Craig and I went back to the truck, tried the pipe to see if would fit and to our surprise the pipe slid inside the old pipe like it was built for the job. We sealed the join of the old and new pipe by twisting some fencing wire round them and with a repair job that reminded me of days spent fixing broken farm vehicles growing up, we refilled the radiator with water, started the engine and continued on our way. Amazingly it held for the last 300km of the journey to El Chalten.
The classic view of Fitzroy on the drive into town was of course blocked by a mass of dark clouds. After only a day in town the weather looked to be good for 24 hours so we packed our bags and set our alarms for 3 am. We managed to climb Aguja Guillaumet via the Brenner-Moschioni that climbs the North Ridge. The climbing is mostly straightforward with one really nice 6b+ crack pitch. It took us 18 hours from road to road. It was nice to skip the bivi and do it in a long day, meaning we got back to town at 11pm and managed to get a burger and chips before heading to bed.
Our next trip into the mountains was a lot less successful it culminated in us wandering around on a clagged-in Torre Glacier and after hours of weaving around crevasses we discovered we couldn’t go any further due to rock fall and some active seracs blocking out way to our intended route. To make things worse it was Christmas day and after a very disappointing Christmas dinner of tuna, pasta and mayonnaise we spent the night in the tent and headed back to town the next day.
We only got one day in El Chalten to rest and eat as there was another 24 hour lull in the winds so the next day we made the 6 hour walk back to our gear stash at Nipinino on the Torre Glacier.
The alarm sounded at 3 am and after some cake for breakfast we headed off and climbed Chiara de Luna, a fantastic 750m rock route on Saint Exupery. A cold first few pitches were worth the pain as it soon warmed up and perfect pitches of granite cracks came one after the other. We topped out at 6 pm to a calm summit and some awesome views of the Torres. We started heading down and after a few abseils the winds picked up and it started snowing.
Many abseils later we reached the snow at the base of the wall, just as it was getting dark. It was now lashing with rain. We got back to the bags and started walking back down through the cliff bands and big ramp system to get back to the glacier. However, after 20 minutes we were cliffed out. The rain was restricting the beams on our head torches and eventually although being fairly sure we were in the right place, the only way was down into a very dark void and both of us had no recollection of climbing up anything so steep on the way up. An hour of wandering around in the rain and dark had passed so we decided it was time to give up and sit under a boulder for 3 hours until it got light again. Sitting under the boulder we were both reasonable warm except for our legs and feet. I couldn’t help but think this was a really rubbish way to end such a good day in the mountains.
In the day-light we discovered that we had been in the right place and there was just a small section of down climbing previously on the approach in the dry and day-light both of hadn’t even registered it as climbing. After much cursing we trudged back to our tent. It was still lashing with rain. We decided that rather than trying to get dry and sleep in the tent for a few hours it would be better to pack everything up straight away. After a fair few sense of humour failures packing up Pete and I ate some pasta, stashed the gear and made the long 6 hour walk back to town.
Since then the weather has been poor and we have only managed to get out into the mountains once. It got very windy 3 pitches from the summit so we had to bail. Meanwhile it has been fun sport climbing and bouldering in town while we wait for some decent weather.