2012, El Chalten, Lessons

Learning Curves

“Well, it´s nothing we haven´t done before, it is just stacked on top of each other.”  And with those words Matt and I set off towards the Valle Torre and Saint Exupery.  Little did we know that our assumption was so accurate.

Our first day in town was spent orienting ourselves, resting from our travels, buying some food and getting a map.  We ran into our friend Jake Tipton and his girlfriend Ava.  They had tried our intended route last year and gave us some beta on the route and approach.  The approach seemed involved, so we bailed on the idea of an afternoon approach, besides the grocery stores were closed , it being Sunday and New Year´s Day.  So we drank malbec and fried pàsta.

The approach started fine, easy walking up a well travelled trekking trail. We moved steadily along through the lenga and calafate berries, to the distant roar of the Rio Fitz Roy, the trail not feeling all that different than pounding the dust of Big Sandy Opening or the Glacier Trail in the Wind Rivers.  Lots of colorful trekkers were migrating up and down el sendero but no climbers, even under promising skies.  At Laguna Torre we scouted around and found the tyrolean, a rope strung across Rio Fitz Roy in order to facilitate safe, dry crossings.  We continued up hill through more lenga, eventually reaching the northwest end of Laguna Torre and its merger with the east end of the Grande Glacier.  A few wrong turns later had us scratching our heads and staring at steep moraine.  There were trail markers before, so we scouted, all the while trying to remember Jake´s directions.  A little searching put us on a steep, hard packed, dirt slope that ran out into Laguna Torre after a few small cliff bands and boulders.  Finally the glacier.  As we moved west we encountered a large torrent, spewing glacial melt down the steep, rocky, loose hillside.  Convinced we couldn´t go up the cliffs on either side, we cross the ice.  It is easy enough, not steep at all, only to exit onto a steep, rock covered glacier.  Unstable, slopes of mud, scree, rock, ice and dirt greet us.  Two hours of up and down travel later we find ourselves on the Torre Glacier.   The Torre Group is still in the clouds, with the ominous El Mocho standing guard while Cerro Torre occupies itself in the high swirling clouds.  The walking is easier though we are feeling the weariness of the load and hours.  We search with no avail for camp, eventually digging in, creating Los Gringitos, a wind sheltered bivy site atop of a morainal hill, just large enough for Matt´s two person tent.   We eat food and pass out.

The 0430 alarm has wind gusts buffetting the tent and finds us eating dulce de leche, crackers, salami, cheese and bread.  We grab our packs and start making our way up the moraine, passing Polacos, a camp high on the moraine.  Eventually we find our gully and a few cairns.  The wind, el viento, picks my fleece cap up off my head and deposits it in the boulders not to far away.  I scurry over and stomp on it before it takes off for good.  The wind knocks me over and the clouds move faster over Fitz Roy and Poincenot.  We look at each other. “Well, this probably won´t happen” I am the first to venture.

“Yeah” Matt replies, “but we should probably stash our gear and scout anyway.”

“Yep” I agree and turn and continue picking my way up the hillside.  I make a few weird fifth class moves up a low angle crack with a chockstone, only to discover a cairned trail on the other side.  I grin.  After 2200´of talus, moraine, and rock scrambling we reach the upper bivy site below Agua Raphael, Agua San Exupery and Agua de La S.  We cache our gear, hanging our metaphorical draws, and commit to the project.  We eat a bit, then turn around and make our way down, a little worse for the wear, but a whole lot smarter.

Lesson # 1:  We have done it before, but it is not just the rock climbing that is stacked on top of each other, but the talus, the moraine, the weather and the energy expenditure as well.