As per usual, my headlamp is fading fast, but its pale glow can still illuminate the tiny beech tree in front of me. No larger than the biggest part of my forearm, it creaks and flexes under Josie’s weight. Behind it the soft, fern covered, moss smothered ground rises and falls with each creak and bend. I watch the neatly tied flemish bend slowly cinch down on itself as her weight loads and unloads the cord. Its white, freshly cut ends dangle, playing tag with the rich, moist soil that is holding it in place.
I click my headlamp off, both for my sanity and to save what power remains. If something fails, I know what it will be. I won’t need a headlamp to know it. I don’t figure that I weigh less than her, not with the extra gear and rope shoved in my pack, but I know that I am next. From below I hear a random “whoo-heee” and then silence. I lean forward and feel around in the dark for the rope. It is still taught. Josie has rapped in the vertical jungle below and is hoping for a ledge and a short rappel so we can avoid pulling two ropes through this gauntlet of rope snaggers. Meanwhile, I sit and wait.
Several hours earlier had topped out on pk 1458 meters (Cerro Desnudo, at least according to Map Carta). A thorough exploration of the mountain’s summit plateau and peaks had ensued and once complete we began our descent. Mostly we reversed our route, down the up, after going up the down. Much scrambling and down climbing had already occurred, but there were four previous rappels as well. Darkness had set in completely as I rigged my rappel device for rap number three. I took that rappel for all 65 meters one of our ropes had to offer (plus a smidgen extra), ending up at a perfectly located placement for a two nut anchor that I was able to garden out of some cracks in the pale glow of my headlamp. The smidgen extra came from leaning and reaching down to do the work. Above Josie had waited patiently. Thirty-five meters below that we scrambled again, before encountering a waterfall with a decent chockstone from which we rappelled another time. We wandered downward once more, scouting this way and that, backtracking and cautiously picking our way across wet, slimy slabs with a thousand feet of exposure below. Somewhere in the darkness, we made a wrong turn; we headed to far north, but it was unknown when or where. We scouted judiciously but still only found the thin, creaky beech tree for downward progress: no nut cracks, no pin placements, no boulders, and no trees; just the son of a beech.
“Rappel off and you’re on firefighters” Josie yells up after what seems like forever. “One rope will do ya too!” I click on my headlamp and smile at the good news. I pull up the rope and find the middle, slotting it into the carabiner. With the rope re-positioned correctly, I rig my device, whisper a silent prayer and rap into the jungle thickness.
The rope pulls cleanly. The Patagonian rope gods have smiled on us once again. How it fell through the thicket of branches, well, we will never know, but with both ends on the ground, we get it coiled and plop down on the large stone ledge. It’s 0135.
“How you doin’?” I ask Josie.
Above, the twinkling stars of a moonless sky do not look familiar, maybe just the upside down Orion, the one that the two of us had talked about years ago when we had met in Frey. Tonight, nothing obscures them, the day’s clouds have evaporated, leaving nothing but pinpoints of light in the immense blackness. We lie in silence, maybe resting our eyelids, maybe staring into the heavens.
“Wanna bivy?” I ask. I can feel myself loosing focus, despite the caffeine laced Gu packet I had several hours earlier. I know the dangers of loss of focus.
“Yeah, maybe somewhere flatter.”
“OK, lets do it then” I say moments later. The sky is clear and the forecast was favorable, but these slabs would be awash in waterfalls if it were to start raining on us. Just one more worry to keep me up at night. We move down and left, spy some flat spots, and post up. No bivy gear, just puffies, rain coats, ropes, backpacks. We curl up, make do and await the morning light.
Featured Image: Dawn from our bivy ledge.