Tuesday, 2 February 2016


The internet in El Chalten hasn’t really improved all that much in the four years that passed since our last trip there. Hence the post comes later as I am trying to resist the temptation of watching the latest offers from the in-flight entertainment system.

Well, the mountains haven’t gotten any smaller since the last time either. When we were here in 2011-12, we were unfit and inexperienced, but had the burning motivation which got us atop of bunch of cool stuff and by the end of a month’s stay, we managed to get up the Cerro Chalten. Having only one axe and one pair of crampons between the three of us felt super spicy to us and the whole thing just felt wild. We were sure we’d be back.

Excited Aras on top of Cerro Chalten
This year Aras stayed in Tatras, becoming a permanent resident of Slovakia, while Saule and I flew south. Climbing around El Chalten is a real holiday. You live indoors, eat fresh food and go cragging or hiking to stay fit. When the forecast shows a good weather window, the whole town starts buzzing. Climbers emerge from their caves and buy all the food from the markets. A day before the dry-high pressure-low wind weather sets in, everyone leaves the town for some of the most amazing climbing in this planet.

Our first foray into the hills didn’t quite work out. Just before getting on the Torre glacier, Saule twisted her ankle quite badly. We spent the next few days relaxing in a tent until the food ran out and the pain receded and wobbled back to town.

While Saule was still recovering, a long weather window showed up in the forecast and I headed back into the Torre valley. I had a few ideas about soloing some easier climbs, but was lucky enough to team up with other climbers. I first ran into Californians Allyson and Ted on my way to de L’S and we joined up to climb the mellow and pleasant North Ridge route. What a fun day, thanks a lot guys!

Photo by Ted
For the next climb, I roped up with Jason from Australia. We set our eyes on Saint Exupery and the Classic Chiarro de Luna. Since the weather looked very good, a number of other teams also had the same idea, so we decided to climb the first half of the route via the Los Angelitos variation. Jason turned out to be a great partner which is what you need on a long route like this. Not only was he super- efficient both on the way up and down, he totally downplayed his skills the night before the climb and let me do all the glory pitches, thanks mucho, Jason!

Our strategy to take Los Angelitos payed off very well and we overtook two parties and joined the Chiarro de Luna proper right behind another pair of west-coasters – Corrina and Brandon. We climbed right behind this competent and fun party, sharing belays and having enjoyable time on the route. We then all abseiled together which made it pretty mellow. The climb was as good as its reputation had promised. Clean, exposed with amazing jamming and a couple of neat face moves thrown in for good measure.

Saule’s ankle was getting better and we did a fun climb on Aguja Medialuna to see if she can hike and climb.  The short weather window was perfect for getting up the classic Rubio y Azul and testing whether we can do a longer trip. By the time we got down to town, the weather forecast showed a longish good weather window and we quickly repacked and refueled. This time we wanted to go all the way west to the Cirque de Altares and climb one of the walls there. The usual hike in to Niponino was very swift, but the next day we slept in and were generally slow to get up the Standhart col. By the time we reached the steep snow, it was all slush and misery. The abseils on the west side were wet too and by the time we were at the base of the walls we had our boots completely soaked. Our spirits were lifted though after checking out the many beautiful walls surround the Cirque de Altares. We settled to have a go at the previously unclimbed west face of Pachamama, which looked great and promised a cool adventure.

When the alarm rang we did our usual ‘maybe we can sleep another hour’ and made it to the base of the wall only by 9 am. But once we started climbing, it was as good as we had hoped for. Beautiful granite with pitch after pitch of moderate hand cracks. The Ice cap in the backdrop added some scenic value too. As is often the case in Patagonia, we got to within 30 meters of summit, but it was far from over, I had to get on the ridge, then downclimb back to the west face to reach the final crack, which also put up a good fight. The final few meters were glorious though. Steep, yet straightforward boulder mantle got us to the beautiful summit. When we topped out at 5 pm, you could see the whole thing – Torres in the South, Cerro Chalten in the East, Domo Blanco in the North and the Ice cap stretching to the West. With the wind picking up, we decided to mostly do short abseils, which took us quite some time, but we still got down in daylight and could scramble down to our tent for celebratory cookies.

What came along with climbing in the Cirque de Altares was a long approach and an equally long walk-out. This, however, was absolutely stunning. As we made our trip toward Paso del Viento, we could really appreciate the sheer scale of the Viedma glacier. You keep going for what seems like a really long time, but the scenery stays the same, somewhat reminiscent of driving through Nevada. After we crossed the glacier stretch and got on the Viento pass, the scenery started to slowly turn greener and greener. Next thing we knew, we were walking among trees and getting wet crossing rivers. A dinner at Senyera was a perfect ending to this outing.

When we decided to go to Patagonia, I told my parents and they were immediately eager to use this as an excuse to visit Argentina. Saule’s parents immediately followed suite and we ended up having a family reunion on the Viedma lake. While they were in Patagonia, it was great to catch up. On a half-day good weather window, I joined my parents in trying to climb Mojon Rojo in a day’s roundtrip from town. We got stopped by a hailstorm 50 meters below the summit even though the forecast promised good weather for 6 more hours. Nevertheless, stumbling back to town after some-teen hours, I had to admit that this was one of the most cardio-intensive days during the trip. These guys still rock!

Before leaving the South, we did the usual sale of our gear. Initially no one was interested in buying our stuff, so I left for a few minutes. Unsurprisingly, left alone, Saule sold everything, got a number of invitations to come party or climb together, some dude's phone number and even a wink from Alex. I, meanwhile, got some more empanadas from the bakery.

Until next time, El Chalten !

1 comment:

  1. Oi, Gedai, taip puikiai suskaičiau. Labai pagaviai rašai!