2014, El Chalten, Weather

The Times They Have A’ Changed

“Hello Anna Haegel, this is Jared Spaulding” I say when she answers the phone. I detect a hint of uncertainty in her “hello?”

“Hmm, I thought it might be you with the funky phone number. It seemed like it was from a long way away” she replied.

“Are you busy?” I asked, getting straight to business, thinking about the $1.65 a minute that I am taking out of my pocket for this call.

“No, just in bed reading with the dogs” she replies.

“Whoa, in bed early…” I trail off, then launch into the driving force behind this call from camp in the mountains above El Chalten. “Anne, Rainbow and I are up here in the mountains and were wondering if you could look at a weather report for us?”

***
The three of us are crammed into a small, leaking two person tent that is being hammered by wind gusts and pelted by heavy, wet drops of rain. We hiked up early this afternoon in an attempt to set ourselves up for an out of the way ascent of the Whillans-Cochrane on Aguja Poincenot. The further we walked up the valley toward the mountains, the heavier the rain got and both the wind and the rain stayed that course as we ascended the steep unrelenting hillside toward the high camp. Our plan to grab some gear and make a high camp at Paso Guillaumet seemed more daunting the higher we walked.

***
We pull the cached gear out from under a large boulder and rig a small tarp under which we start sorting the gear. The forecasted relenting of the wind does not come and we reassess our plans. “What do you think about camping here and leaving a touch earlier in the AM?” someone asks.

“Well, I sure as heck do not want to climb that hill and camp up there in this wind and rain” I say, “but I am willing to if you all want to.”

“Yeah, I think we should stay here and call for a weather report… it is always changing and not very stable”

The decision made, we settle in under the tarp and struggle with getting our Jetboil to work with the foreign and possibly refilled canisters. A little asking around, darting here and there over the sharp, slick boulders scores us a working canister and a more functional MSR Reactor along with the resulting dinner of various freeze dried meals. “Well, I can call Craig for the updated forecast at seven forty-five” Rainbow suggests. “He helped us out last year when we were on the ice field and I’ve asked him to help us again”

“That sounds great” Anne replies as Rainbow fiddles with the antenna of the satellite phone and looks for the power switch. I reach up and grab the tarp as a gust of wind comes in and it shakes violently, billowing and slapping against the elements and us.

A Rainy Piedra Negra

Later, after the call: “Well” Anne says after recapping the notes from the weather report “it seems that it could be like this till tomorrow morning.”

“And after that it’s calming and clearing” Rainbow adds and speculates.

After organizing our gear and making a plan we pile into the only slightly waterproof Black Diamond Firstlight. Packed in like sardines, head to tail, we lie down and attempt several hours rest before the twelve AM alarms rouse us from our sleep, or in my case, give me reason to believe that others are now up with me.

Sleep always comes hard for me before an alpine start or other significant climb and since I paid a lot of money to come down here all climbs are significant and tonight is no different. I toss and turn as best a sardine can when packed live into a can and kick Rainbow more often than I wished. When the watches started beeping at midnight, not only was I still awake, but they were almost drowned out by the fury of the wind and water being pelted and hurled at us from all directions. It shoulda been a no brainer.

“Well,” I said after all had adjusted positions and turned on headlamps “it is doing exactly what it was supposed to do. It’s supposed to rain till five then clear up.”

“Is anyone else out there moving around?” Anne asks in reference to the plans that the others camped around us had made for the coming early start and “good” weather. “Not that we should base our plans on them…” she continues.

I poke my head out. Needless to say I can not see any stars nor do I see any headlamps piercing the blackness or illuminating tents. “Veo nada” I say pulling my head back in and turning around.

“I think climbing to the pass and crossing the glacier in this wind and rain would be miserable and I would get soaked” someone adds.

Then: “what about waiting an hour… or calling for a weather forecast?”

“I don’t think we will gain much out of a forecast, I mean it’s supposed to be raining now”

“Yeah, but an update could tell us if anything has changed and if it’s still worth trying in this ‘window'”

“Well, it’s ten thirty on the east coast and I would not try Craig any later than that” Rainbow throws in.

“I think a forecast would be beneficial and it is only going to cost a couple of bucks divided three ways” Anne offers.

“Great, I will make the call.” Once again, Rainbow unties the plastic bag, unfolds the antennae and waits for a signal. He passes me the notebook. “Here, can you take some notes?” He punches a few buttons and holds it up to his ear. “It’s gone straight to voicemail” he says before leaving a short message and hanging up. “Well, who else do we know that could do this?” Rainbow asks setting the phone down on his sleeping bag.

“I have Hartman’s but he is in the field” I offer after a few moments of silence.
“And Daren is in the field with an SOE” Anne adds.

“It is still early in Rocky Mountain Time,” I say referring to the time change and the fact that it is midnight at Piedra Negra. “Besides my mother, I think the only number I know of the top of my head is Sydney’s… she might help us out” I continue.

Do you have Anna’s number?” Anne asks me after a couple more moments of silence.

“Not off the top of my head” I reply, “but Rainbow should have it in his iPhone, don’t you?”

“Oh yeah, I didn’t even think about that” Rainbow says, digging it out of its ziploc bag. “I gots all sorts of numbers yo.”

“We should probably think about finding people who would be at a computer” Anne suggests after a couple of other names are tossed about.

“Well, it is eight thirtyish in Lander and I am pretty sure Anna would be able to help us out” I add.

“Great, let’s call Anna” Rainbow says scrolling through his phone to pull up her number. I reach my hand out and he passes me the satellite phone and I toss the notebook and pen over to Anne. The phone acquires a signal and after pressing a few buttons a phone on a nightstand 6,723 miles away starts ringing.

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