2014, El Chalten

Same Same, But Different

Anne pulls up the latest meteorogram as Rainbow and I peer over her shoulder. Rumour has it that this year is a year of manufactured windows. Rock routes are not dry and climbing more alpinesque routes allows for climbing in more varied conditions. “Yeah” he says, “there on Thursday, the pressure is a bit higher and the winds have dropped to single digits.” I eye the forty-eight hour dry spell unconvincingly yet feel a knot begin to be tied in my stomach and that old, familiar battle begins again.

Intrinsically nothing has changed here in El Chalten. The mountain summits peek in and out of swirling cloaks of moisture, the grey hues of both combining into a palate of fear. The wind howls down the valley, creaking the roof, sneaking in the windows and slamming doors. It scours all the trash and unsecured items further down the toward the south end of town. The old is taken away and the new is deposited not long before the new turns old and it happens all over again. Tourists and locals alike get pushed around and battered by the wind as they make their way down the sidewalks and streets. Climbers congregate around computer screens with meteorograms and speculate about wind speeds and pressure readings before making tracks to the local crags and boulders. They talk plan As and plan Bs. Dogs still wander the streets, doing as they please in the path of oncoming cars and trucks and then lie fat and happy in the storefronts.

It is the same place, with the same mountains with the same consequences. It still elicits the same feelings and same actions. My habits are the same. I wake, eat some food, drink a hot drink, go for a walk to look at the mountains and look at the weather. I sit on the corners and people watch. I write. I try to tell myself that I want to see a weather forecast without any green and with stable lines. I walk to the grocery store and smile and chat with friendly faces. I stumble through unplanned spanish interactions. I still lie awake at night, unable to get the shut eye I need. I feel the calling and I feel the fear.

But it is different. There are physical differences in town. New buildings house new businesses and old buildings host different or have lost businesses. The price tags read higher but the products are the same. There are differences in my choices as well. A clean, comfortable room with Rainbow and Anne near downtown has taken place of the tents and refugios that I have called home over the past two years. My comfort and the opportunity to live out of the elements helps to offset the nerves and stress that I feel from another change, that of not having a set partner. As someone who climbs to spend time with friends in a beautiful place, climbing with an unknown person in these mountains is scary. The rise of the HPAs indicate that soon I will need to climb for the sake of climbing not for spending time with people I like. Then there is the weather. That seems different this year too. The last two seasons have been drier. They have been warm and almost tropical. The rock climbing has been good. The wetness seems to be a bit more prominent this year and in the last two days it has rained harder than I have seen it rain except maybe once in the past two times I have been here. Climber talks swirls around mixed routes or snow and ice routes.

We huddle around “our” table in the cloud shrouded sunlight of La Cima’s front room. I sit with my back to the wall and stare out at the rain sweeping past the cliffs across the Rio de Las Vueltas. The loose “electrical” wires flop about in the wind, swinging back in forth in time with the fat droplets of water coming off the roof. Now and then the sun pokes through giving us hope of a drier, sunnier, sport climbing filled afternoon. I feel lucky that this is different and know that I could get used to it. We listen to music, play games, watch movies, chat on the internet, and drink wine. We go for walks, we cook good food and we ask each other if their internet is working. The activities and feelings elicited are all familiar, it is the places and people which this time are different.