2017, Expeditions, Planning

Maps and Machetes

Planning an expedition is one thing. Planning a successful expedition is something else.

Legendary explore Bill TIlman is quoted as saying “any expedition should be able to be planned on the back of an envelope.” With that philosophy of streamlined and efficient expeditions he and his mates explored uncharted mountains, deserts and oceans throughout the world. While I have never quite done that, and I do suppose that envelopes were slightly larger back then, the planning session that Josie and I went through this morning might come close to fitting the bill.

My partner fishing scheme of a few months earlier mostly yielded responses that fell into the nay category. Josie was in though.  A September evening of scouring American Alpine Journals, Google Earth and the internet had us settle on somewhere in the Lago Yelcho region in Northern Chilean Patagonia.  A friend of Josie’s had been in the area a few years prior. But information was short and vague and we were non-commital..

So now, a few months later, a few days of phone tag ensue before Josie and I are able to connect and as it is, she is in the airport with two gargantuan bags heading for the southern hemisphere. We catch up just in time.

One more use for a machete in Argentine Patagonia 2009. Photo by Dave Anderson
One more use for a machete in Argentine Patagonia 2009. Photo by Dave Anderson

Despite expedition planning being part of my job, I find it quite daunting. While in the work arena, I have significant help from various departments; I don’t plan my food and I don’t plan how to get to the mountains and back. My personal expeditionary resume does not run that deep even though this coming December will mark the eighth time I have piled and organized gear, gone through checklists, purchased plane tickets, fretted and worried, and ultimately boarded a plane and traveled to the far reaches of the South American continent. Trips to Chalten are no longer expeditions. They are climbing trips, not that different than going to Yosemite or Red Rock. Sure the terrain and the rescue infrastructures are significantly different, but the living is similar; you hang out in an urban-esque environment with most things readily available. This in fact may be the first backcountry expedition I have spearheaded in a long time and definitely the first one to Patagonia.

Back to the phone tag. She tagged me, but I was in a meeting. A quick text then I biked home and called her back. Another text in return: “I am at the airport and checking in, can I call you back in a bit?” A session of frisbee fetch with Sunny and laundry folding ensued as I watched the clock tick toward my upcoming 1330 meeting. Finally I sent another text letting her know of my deadline. The funny part was that we had chatted months before and had been in contact on and off, but never really got down to business. Finally the phone vibrates, chattering against the wooden table.

We talk of the details, the stuff that should fit on the back of an envelope: what she has (a machete, among other things), what I need to bring (maps, among other things), where to meet up, when to meet up and I guess most importantly, where we want to go.  Where to go.  That is the 3,000$ question.  We have scant images picked from panaramio and google earth.  We have a second hand photo of gleaming white granite up a dark, foreboding valley.  We have reports of heinous bushwhacking and unclimbed granite.  We have no maps, not yet anyway.  I warn her not to put the machete in her carry-on and we catch it before she goes through security, then we bid each other adieu and hang up. I look at the call timer: thirty-four minutes. Not bad for planning a remote Patagonian expedition.

Now, with a month left before I board a plane, I am starting to feel the urge, the excitement is starting to build. It is like that for me, with everything. Excitement needs to build. I don’t have the perpetual stoke, the always psyched mentality of many members of the climbing community and I am OK with that.

So the Jared packing scheme will start to take shape. Gear will start finding piles, lists of all sorts will be scattered around. Boxes and emails will be opened with great excitement. The gear pile will grow and the bank account will shrink. I will spend hours debating over where I want to fly from, when I want to go and with whom I want to fly. I will take pictures and write, take notes and analyze and definitely get struck by analysis paralysis. Then I will load it all into a duffle bag or two, throw it in the back of my truck and take it to the airport.