2013, El Chalten, Lessons

You Get What You Need…

11 Enero 2013 — The purple “Turbo Wagon” slows to a stop in front of the maxikiosco.  A bearded driver hops out and looks at Matt and me.  “Gerry?” he inquires.

Si” I reply standing quickly, a small Osprey day pack light on my back.

Usted con Lago San Martin?” Matt asks.

“Si”

Sweet.  We walk to the rear of the diesel Isuzu Trooper and deposit our bags in the back.  Our driver closes the door and we hop in.  Soon we are splashing and bumping down Argentina Ruta 23 toward Rio Electrico.  The previous days and nights of rain have caused the Rio Los Vueltas to rise considerably and many puddles and small ponds dot the gravel road.  After a brief stop at Hosteria El Pilar, we pull up to the puente Rio Electrico.  Above us Fitz Roy and her cohorts are enshrouded in clouds and a rainbow arcs over the small red bridge and Valle Rio Electrico.

The hike is smooth and easy even though the recent downpours have swelled the creeks and we are forced to wade and circumnavigate several small ponds.  The rain falls lightly, barely penetrating the trees.  The wind however does it’s usual howl across the wide gravel river bed, doing its best to knock us off balance.  Four hours later after a brief respite at Piedre Del Fraille to pay an access fee and eat some sandwiches we find ourselves listening to el viento make its mad rush toward the Atlantic as we sit and wait in our small tent.

***

We breech Paso Guillamet in the darkness and arrive at the base of our intended climb with the breaking of the dawn.  To the east the red streaks of the coming light stretch across the horizon and Matt is silhouetted black against the painted sky.  We gain the ridge, riding the rock between the Piedras Blancas Glacier and the long since retreated Guillamet Glacier.  We drop packs, gear up and asses the cracks above as the sun breaks the horizon and everything takes on a soft glow.  Upward progress up the icy and snow filled cracks is made in inches and hours.  Three Japanese climbers pass us, stemming around, on, and over the ice like it was non existent.  They are gone before I can tell myself that we have overestimated our abilities and underestimated the mountains.

Five hours later I take over the leads.  I look up at the ice filled chimney that awaits me, down at the long crux hand/fist crack Matt just led and my mind wanders back to the Bulletheads East, August, Squamish and my last lead climb.  It seems worlds away, much like the obstacle that lies at the tip of my outstretched hand.  I stem, jam, lie back, and smear up the slot delicately avoiding the ice while reaching deep into my kinesthetic memory to recover the need techniques and movements.  “Nice lead” Matt offers up as I belay him up to my anchor at the top of the pitch.  “Hardest one yet” he lies.  “I think that can go into the category of worst firsts for sure” he continues.

“Don’t worry, it gets better” I reply.

“Huh? What  do you mean?”

“Look up” I gesture upwards with a nod of my head toward the beautiful right facing dihedral above.

“Oh wow, that looks awesome” Matt says as he makes his way onto the small ledge and clips himself into the anchor.  We swap gear and I continue upward making my way through immaculate cracks, roofs, overhangs and slabs all made out of immaculate white granite.

***

Yesterday morning the weather report called for a two and a half day window.  It was not what we wanted.  It is what we needed however.  Climbing the Brenner-Moschioni in a nineteen hour camp to camp push allowed us to more accurately asses our abilities and gave us the “warm up” that we didn’t really want to do.  We wanted to cruise the ridge, dispatch of it quickly.  We needed to have a long day, struggle on some icy pitches and get a little bit worked.  We needed to be challenged with route finding and endurance.  It wasn’t what we wanted, but it is what we needed.

***

At 1600 we find ourselves where our ridge connects to the summit ridge.  We continue upward and over five more pitches of rock, eventually trading ropes and sticky rubber for boots, ice axes and crampons.  We kick steps up the snow and to the rocky summit as the sun settles lower into the western sky.  To the north the southern icefield, Campo de Heilo Sur, stretches to the horizon, but it is the southern view, with the Torres popping out from behind Fitz that holds our gaze.  We don’t linger however, as we still have a long way to go before we sleep.