Expedition Report – Valle Alerce 2017

Retrospectively, sitting at a kitchen table in Lander, WY, drinking a cup of tea, I am putting much thought into this expedition.  In doing so, I absentmindedly stumble across this quote from The Road to Karakol, by the late Kyle Dempster.  It seemed fitting for our expedition:

“Real adventure is not polished, it’s not the result of a marketing budget. There’s no hashtag for it. It burns brightest on the maps’ edges, but it exists in all of us. It exists on the intersection between imagination and the ridiculous. You have to have faith, it will find you there.”


The Numbers:

Miles walked off roads (in the Rio Alerce Valley): 45-50
Miles hitchhiked: 85.75
Rides caught: 6
Campsites used: 5 (plus our shiver bivy)
Pitches climbed: about 20
Pitches rappelled: 12 plus a fixed line
Hardware left behind: 8 nuts & 8 carabiners
Feet of soft goods left behind: 102
#5 Camalots available: 2
#6 Camalots desired: 1
#6 Camalots available: 0
Stated overlap between #5 Camalot max range and #3 Big Bro minimum range: 13.5mm
Actual overlap: <0
River miles waded: >8
Miles bushwhacked: between 5 & 6
Days ferrying loads: 2
Miles bushwhacked at night: <1
Hours bushwhacked at night: about 1
River miles waded at night: 3+
# of song lyrics changed to fit our situation: countless
Episodes of day drinking and burning shit: 1
Horizontal difference between high water and low water: 4 meters
Kilos of manjar consumed: 2
Nights spent in the mountains: 21
Shiver bivies: 1
Leeches removed: untold
Cumbre viscachas seen: 1

The Commentary:
In late December of 2016 through early February of 2017, Josie McKee and I (Jared Spaulding) spent just over four weeks exploring and climbing in Northern Patagonia’s Río Alerce valley.  This relatively unexplored region is about 20-30 kilometers southwest of Chaitén Chile and east of Parque Nacional Corcovado.  We were inspired to visit this relatively unknown (climbing wise) region after hours of cerveza fueled google earth searching.  We narrowed it to Valle Alerce  after seeing photos from a local woman who had backpacked far up into the valley.

After securing a boat ride across the formidable moat of Río Yelcho, we waded rivers and bushwacked through dense jungle, braving the ubiquitous leeches and frequent (and fierce) flash floods, until we were able to establish a base camp below several 600+ meter walls.

Base camp in Valle Alerce
Base camp in Valle Alerce

We explored west to the headwaters of the Río Alerce along with poking our noses up various side valleys finding classic Siemepre Verde  forests with thick stands of colihue (bamboo) and ferns under moss draped canopies of beech trees and remnant alerces along with the ever-present nalca (a GIANT rhubarb plant) poking out into the sun bathed areas.  Higher we found classic alpine terrain of meadows, tarns, glaciers, and snowfields.

The valley played host to countless craggy peaks, ridges and canyons, all of which could be said to contain a lifetime’s worth of quality stone graced with splitter cracks, featured faces, and excellent friction.  However many of the lower portions of these cliffs are cloaked in jungle, thus necessitating navigation over mossy, slick slabs, vegetation filled cracks (usually good when gardened) and through dense brush, most of which can seemingly hold body weight.  I believe the rock to mostly be diorite, with bands of whiter granite showing up throughout the area. Regardless of elevation the whiter stone appears to not grow as much vegetation.

Josie McKee on the side of El Trono at the headwaters of the Rio Alerce
Josie McKee on the side of El Trono at the headwaters of the Rio Alerce

All told we established two new routes of insignificant proportions.  One route climbed the northwest face of what is locally called El Trono (which was climbed on its east face by Sylvia Vidal in 2012which was mostly ledge link-ups and slab wandering to the north shoulder of the peak (1527m) (5.9+ 250 meters).  Our second foray into the vertical yielded a possilbe first ascent of what may be called Cerro Desnudo (1458m).  This peak was climbed by a wandering linkup of slabs, jungle climbing, bushwacking, walking, and alpine bouldering on the left side of its southeast face – Pollos de Selva V 5.7 JC1 J5 V0 1358 m.   We also made a spirited though unsuccessful attempt at a route up what we dubbed “The Christmas Wall” as it was the wall that we first saw close up on Christmas day and cemented our desire to return and explore the valley.  This attempt was ultimately thwarted by lack of gear, time, and incoming weather.  We climbed terrain with dificulties of up to J6 5.10+.

Descending from the summit of Cerro Denudo (pk 1458 m) and looking up into Valle Alerce and beyond
Descending from the summit of Cerro Desnudo (pk 1458 m) and looking up into Valle Alerce and beyond

In the classic Patagonian style of “it ain’t over till its over” we ended our expedition with a one day load carry back to Río Yelcho then a day of bushwacking another mile down the river in order to flag down a boat from the other side.  Once that happened, we hitchiked back to Chaiten.

We would like to express our thanks to all those who helped us along the way, including the kind folks at the Puma Fishing Lodge (Patricio, Fredrico & Adier) and Chaitur (Nicolas La Penna), Anna Haegel, Anne Peick, and the generous folks at NOLS Rocky Mountain.