“Well coach, we’re almost out of innings” Josie quips as we move up into the Rio Alerce’s headwaters. There is a solid chunk of white granite above us, but it is mostly guarded by a band of crappy looking rock of unknown origins. Orange, black, white, and grey all meld together into swirling, chunky fragile melting pot of seemingly unprotectable stone. That observation had, just previously elicited a “well, fuck” from her. We pause in our upward hike, and gaze upon what was to be our objective: a saddle overlooking the Rio Pelvisted. It seems now we might just be taking our gear for a walk.
We move on and fifteen more minutes of walking deposits us on a huge glacial polished slab on the side of a small cirque. Below a small tarn stores the snow melt that will become Rio Alerce. We have finally reached the alpine. White, grey, orange, and black rocks streaked with dikes and sills surround us. “Well, here we are” one of us predicably mutters. We drop our bags and plop down on the smoothness. It is 1500 and we have been on the go since 0630.
“It doesn’t look obvious from here, but I think it goes” Josie lowers the binoculars from her eyes. “There is a giant ledge above the waterfall…I think it is scramble-able. Just got to get up those slabs.”
“Might be hard getting off the snowfield…” I offer my usual pessimistic/realistic view point, referencing the large overhanging lips of snow that jut out from the two acre sized snowfield at the base of the slabs. “Or maybe we can go around it”
“Yeah, we’ll have to go see.”
There is some hemming and hawing about whether it is worth it; the hour of the day being so late, the quality of the route, the feasibility. But we are here, we have gear and we want to go see the other side and the Rio Pelivistan.
So we trim the rack, ditch a rope and harness up. We hoof it up the slabs to the snowfield’s right and spy a sneak around; a passage involving some chimneying, ice caving and a bit of faith, which deposits us at the base of a promising looking slab. “That does NOT look like something I want to solo” I say, stating my comfort levels in no uncertain terms.
“Me too” Josie says. “Wanna rope up?”
We organize and tie in. Twenty-five meters up Josie has reached a stopping point. No obvious cracks, ledges or potential gear above in what looks like harder terrain. She changes shoes, but to no avail, even with the Stealth courage. She down climbs.
“It looks like we could move left. You wanna scout that way?” I say as she joins me back at the ledge.
She peers past me for a quick glance. “Sure, I have the gear. Mind if I go?”
“Nope, on belay.”
Sixty meters left of me she sets up a belay in a large depression and brings me over. Above a small gash in the orange brown, semi-sold, turd-esque bowl, leads out and right. I take the rack and head up. Easy climbing deposits me onto black speckled white granite. It is what we came for. To the right the ledge system heads toward the water fall. Upon arrival though, Josie changes plans and climbs upward through some moss choked cracks and wet slabs. I find them to be challenging enough on top rope. We wander upward for a few more non-descript pitches finding mostly solid cracks, featured faces, and frictiony slabs. Gardened cracks would often reveal solid gear placements.
Two and a half hours after our slithering through the ice cave we find ourselves high on the northwest shoulder of El Trono, though the summit is still several hundred meters above us. Three o’clock’s clear blue skies though have given way to high cirrus and new mid level cumulus, a sundog and breezes. It is apparent that our day and a half of wonderful weather will quickly close in on us, as will night fall. We move north and find ourselves over looking Lago Yelcho and El Trono’s immense east face, a striking profile of shimmering white granite. Below and before us northern Patagonia spreads out in all directions. We snap photos, peer through the binocular and consult the map, but we have miles to go before we sleep. It is almost eight though and those miles start with an unknown descent, so lingering seems unwise.
We work our way north. A knife edge ridge with slabs below spills into Lago Trono. Eventually we find a grassy ramp and follow it south and west. The surprisingly straightforward routefinding and one 35+ meter rappel deposits us into the upper cirque with light to spare.
We knew though, that the hard part was just getting started. We organize gear, pack up and steel ourselves for miles of dark river walking, miles of slab and several thousand feet of elevation loss. It will be a long night, but at least it is not yet raining.
Featured Image: Josie McKee on the final pitch of Well, Here We Are… (5.9+ 250m)