2016, El Chalten


I feel like an armchair quarterback. Here at a table, with a warm cup of tea and a writing device in front of me, I wax poetic (or try to) about the nature of mountains, the meaning of summits and all the details that surrounds those things. I think of ideas for “next time” and try to distill “this time” into enjoyable prose.

It is easy to sit here in this warmth and security and laugh at my moments of doubt. It is frequently said that hindsight is 20/20. Foresight, it is less frequently said, is 20/50.*  Two months ago I sat at this same table writing, but with very different thoughts in my head. I imagine ten months from now that scene will replay once again. In November dread and doubt were forefront in my mind. It was stressful. I had a partner, but no ticket to Patagonia. I had scant plans and little confidence. Now, after returning from a quasi-successful trip to El Chalten, I find myself romanticizing my time there. And it is not the first time that this has happened. In fact, I would say it happens quite frequently, with all types of climbing. I dread it before it comes, dislike it while I am doing it (often simultaneously making promises and deals to a God unknown about never doing it again) and think, “oh, it wasn’t that bad” in retrospect. And that is where this Monday morning quarterback sits right now. I am in the honeymoon phase. I have lists of routes, gear, places and partners at the back of my notebook. It is titled “Patagonia 2017.” I want to go back. “It wasn’t that bad” or “I wasn’t that scared” I think.

The Cerro Torre massif
The Cerro Torre massif

Like so many times before, I will talk and scheme, purchase and plan, all the while feeling a “I just want to get this over with” feeling in my stomach. And so it will go, the cycle will start again.

In some ways, the truth is I really just want to sit and write. I want a cold morning, with frost on the window panes and the sun breaking into a cloud streaked sky while I sit in front of that window with a cup of tea, something to write with and a good idea to put out to the world. It is the having done that I truly enjoy. Did I have fun up there on Cerro Fitz Roy this year? That is truly hard to say. For sure I had Type 2 fun, the type where it is fun in retrospect (which is why I want to go back), but while I was doing it, honestly, I’m not sure. It was work. It was challenging. It was good. It was good for me. I guess it was fun enough that now I want to go back, even though I recognize the dichotomy and patterns in my thinking. And, if I want to just sit and write, well, I need something to write about.

“You know you are passionate about something,” someone once said to me, “if you only remember the good times.” I remember chuckling as my mind went to past relationships and the turbulence associated with them. Passion is created by tension, dissonance and uncertainty and I could see that in many aspects of my life. He was talking about climbing though, and alpine climbing in particular. I agreed on both counts. The funny part is however, that when it comes to Patagonia, I so often, in foresight, only focus on the alpine dread, that ominous feeling that tells me it is going to be cold, scary, and hard. That is not the good stuff. Hindsight what it is, tells me it is not all bad. For some reason I do not want to remember that. Passion must work in funny ways.

The maxikiosco a.k.a. the raggae kiosco.
The maxikiosco a.k.a. the raggae kiosco.

Looking back now, my time in El Chalten was good. Being down there with Jake was fun. The people we befriended and the old friends reunited with made for excellent in town and mountain time. When I think back on my time there this year, I think of town time, sitting in El Relincho’s cocina, time on the Reggae Kiosco’s porch drinking Quilmes with Jake, and of late nights and cervezas at the Rancho Grande. Of course I realize how those would have so much less meaning without a good dose of the Good Fight. And it comes full circle. All I want to do is to fight the Good Fight so that I can live to fight it another day. And I have, at least this time. And my deals and promises with/to a God unknown? Much like always, they fall by the wayside, victim of the passion glasses.

So the days go by and I dream of far away granite spires jutting high into a windswept sky. I fantasize about splitter cracks, all night rappels and lonely summits. I wish for one more beer at the maxikiosco with good friends, celebrating a successful return from the mountains and long for that feeling of contentment. I send random emails and messages to friends still in the crucible, asking how its going, seeking details and trying to live vicariously through them. I sit and I write and I savor the feelings of competence and desire, knowing full well that it will quickly swirl, blend and finally dissolve into the alpine dread.


* most would likely have never heard that expression, hence it is less frequently said.  And I may or may not have just made it up…