Trip Report
Patagonia 2015-2016: The Journey is the Destination
Tuesday February 16, 2016 4:28pm
For full trip report, additional photos, and art, visit: http://www.saltearthart.com.

Cerro Torre and the Fitz Roy Massif Watercolor and Ink (print for ...
Cerro Torre and the Fitz Roy Massif Watercolor and Ink (print for sale at www.saltearthart.com)
Credit: yosguns
Road to El Chalten
Road to El Chalten
Credit: yosguns

After three flights, a restless night in Buenos Aires, and a shuttle ride from the El Calafate airport, my partner and I arrived, deliriously tired, at our modest hostel in El Chaltén, 350 days after we had started planning our trip to Patagonia. The hostel kitchen window looked out onto Fitz Roy, which was more humbling and spectacular than I had ever imagined. Although the weather didn’t look stellar, it didn’t look dangerously bad either, so we decided to gear up. Our room hadn’t been vacated, so we set up our tent and a literal yard sale behind the main house. As we packed, another Californian climber staying at the hostel came by to watch the spectacle. He had a rope coiled on his back and had just spent the day cragging on the edge of town. It was his fifth season in the area and fortunately for us, he was generous with information. After dinner, he walked us across the main road to the northern stretch of Ricardo Arbilla to Oxalís, the taxi company accommodating alpine starts. It was 400 pesos to Puente Electrico, the trailhead for Guillaumet, but apparently the cost changed every season. We ordered a pick up at 3am, five hours from then, and retired back to our tent for another night of tossing and turning.

Fitz Roy
Fitz Roy
Credit: yosguns

It was already raining when we got to Rio Electrico around 4am. We followed the river west to a crossing and onto a trail for a few flat miles to Campamiento El Fraile. El Fraile was on private land and along the way, there was a sign that read, “500 pesos to pass and 200 pesos to camp (pass included).” I was happy to be hiking in trail runners; though we had acquired some new gear, we had mostly pieced together our setup from what we had and we were heavy. After Fraile, the trail continued up steep switchbacks along the edge of a forest, to a plateau. We dropped our packs in the forest where we would spend the night protected from the weather; I put on boots and we continued up through a talus slope to Piedra Negra. We encountered a couple of climbers who were on their way down. One had tried to solo the Amy Couloir and another party had tried the Comesaña-Fonrouge, but had turned around because of snow. No one had summited and the weather was getting worse. We had left our goggles in our packs down below and icy drops stung our eyes. Snow collected quickly making it impossible to pick out the unfamiliar trail through the talus. We turned back to camp, hoping the morning would bring better weather. The next day, we ventured back up the obscured talus. At the snow slope below Guillaumet Pass, we put on crampons. By that point, the precipitation had started again and we turned back shortly after being funneled back onto the talus just below the pass.

Snow beneath Guillaumet
Snow beneath Guillaumet
Credit: yosguns

On the descent, I was grateful for my trekking poles. A couple times on the switchbacks, the wind was so strong, I had to flatten myself on the ground not to be blown over. Back at the bridge, we hitched a ride, which saved us from the fifteen-kilometer walk to town or from calling a taxi from El Pilar, a hotel nearby. We arrived at the hostel just in time for a Christmas asado feast and to learn how to make empanadas and drink maté with our new friends.

It started snowing in El Chaltén on Christmas Day and cabin fever set in. Hard. We sat around in the kitchen for days, eating, learning Spanish, waiting for the weather from NOAA to load, waiting for the data to show that the pressure was rising and the precip was going down, for the weather to change, to be good enough for long enough to climb something. We were completely controlled by the weather. The wind howled outside. It rained. It snowed. We commented about the changes in the type of precipitation falling, “Now it's raining, now it's snowing. Now it's raining again.” We bundled up occasionally to go into the tiny touristy village, to pick up groceries or sit in the lobby of La Aldea, write or paint, treat ourselves to dinner at La Braseria. We sat around, dreaming about long approaches, steep passes and slopes, river crossings, and navigation across glaciers. Miles and miles (no one ever seemed to know or care how many) and thousands of feet of elevation gain. We dreamed about climbing, succeeding or failing, to reach a summit of something, anything, then rappelling and turning around. Back. Back down the passes, over the rivers and glaciers, back to the luxury of the kitchen in El Chaltén, to do the whole thing over again. Do it again and again, for as many wonderful days as we’d managed to eke out from our normal existence.

Travel Journaling to Pass the Time
Travel Journaling to Pass the Time
Credit: yosguns

Then, the weather changed. We had one or two days to decide how many pairs of sock liners to bring and which gloves and which gear. When we got back up to Piedra Negra, we were the only ones there until another party arrived. And another. And several more throughout the day. All with our objective: the Amy Couloir. We made a last-minute change of plans to a rock route, the Brenner-Moschioni, to avoid the crowds. We hadn’t brought enough food (again), so we were fatigued as we started up to the pass before sunrise the next morning. There was a bit of easy technical traversing to climb over the pass. When we got to the start of the Brenner, there was already a party on the route and another at the base. The party at the base decided it was too cold to climb, so we started ahead of them. After about a pitch, the party above us rapped. We were alone on the route. The climbing was really slow—hacking ice out of cracks with the ice tool—and the rock was generally covered in snow. My feet froze in rock shoes and the wind ripped, so I changed into mountaineering boots and left them on for the rest of the day. We bailed after pitch five from the thin crack, third from left. I struggled with our two ropes as I set up the rappel and they got tangled in the wind; as I rappelled, I came to an overhand knot. I felt like I had ten years before, when I first started climbing; I was humbled by the overwhelming nature of it all, but happy we had gotten on our route and made it down safely. The next morning, we ran up to Paso del Cuadrado for spectacular views of the Glacier Fitz Roy Norte and the west side of Fitz Roy, an amazing way to spend the last day of 2015. When we arrived back in town to another asado feast, a celebration of New Year’s Eve, we learned our friends had had similar experiences with the ice and cold weather.

Brenner Route on Guillaumet
Brenner Route on Guillaumet
Credit: yosguns
Spot the Leader on the North Ridge of Guillaumet! (by Liz Sloss)
Spot the Leader on the North Ridge of Guillaumet! (by Liz Sloss)
Credit: yosguns
Normal Part of the Rack
Normal Part of the Rack
Credit: yosguns
Yoga on Cuadrado Pass
Yoga on Cuadrado Pass
Credit: yosguns

We were grateful for the rest while it rained over the next few days until: “Window of the century!,” as described by an Alaskan climber when we met him on the trail out to Niponino, the camp at the base of El Mocho in Torre Valley. Though the approach was much longer and more involved than the walk to Guillaumet, we had lightened our loads considerably (only one sleeping bag for us both, no ice screws, less gear) while taking more food.

There are two approaches to Niponino, on the northern and southern edges of Lago del Torre. We took the southern route: nine kilometers along a trail, across a tyrolean, along the edge of the lake, down a steep, loose slope, and then onto the Torre Glacier. (There is no good beta for the approach. Unless you want to hike for twice as long as you need to, go with someone who knows the way the first time. We didn’t heed this warning and an approach that can take six hours took us a lot longer.)

Moulin in the Torre Glacier
Moulin in the Torre Glacier
Credit: yosguns

The next day was windy and restful. We were considering a route on El Mocho because the approach was shorter than anything on the Fitz Roy Massif and we yearned for success after two attempts at Guillaumet. We felt every decision would either bring us closer to or further from a summit. I had my eyes on the Fitz Roy summits, though, and we decided to try for De l’S. We headed up through the moraine to high camp at Polacos in the evening. We had learned a lot in the two previous weeks: save on weight whenever and however possible, but don’t skimp on food. We ate a big dinner and crawled under a rock to sleep as the sun dipped behind the Torres across the valley.

Sun behind the Torres
Sun behind the Torres
Credit: yosguns

Our objective was De l’S by a forty-five-degree, 300-meter snow couloir to the top of Austríaca, a route that seemed the surest for a summit. The approach to Col de los Austríacos was an alpine ramp that took us across the bases of Poincenot, Rafael Juarez, and Saint Exupéry. As we were putting on our crampons at the start of the couloir, a solo Lithuanian climber, Gediminas, strolled up. His cheerful demeanor was a welcome addition and we teamed up as a party of three for the remainder of the climb. At the top of the couloir, we climbed around a cornice and did a short approach pitch on rock. Traversing the saddle brought us to three glorious pitches of crack climbing to the summit. We reached the top around 1pm, the sun shining on our smiles. We ate a summit alfajor, enjoyed the views of the valleys and Lago Sucia, and set up the rappel.

Sunrise from Alpine Ramp on Fitz Roy Massif
Sunrise from Alpine Ramp on Fitz Roy Massif
Credit: yosguns
Col de los Austriacos
Col de los Austriacos
Credit: yosguns
Traverse to De l’S (by Gediminas Simutis)
Traverse to De l’S (by Gediminas Simutis)
Credit: yosguns
Top of Austriaca
Top of Austriaca
Credit: yosguns
Celebratory Dinner at Niponino
Celebratory Dinner at Niponino
Credit: yosguns

The walk back to town the next day, the day before our flight out, was tremendously rewarding. As we crossed each major section (the moraine, the glacier, the moulin, the loose slopes, the tyrolean), making it closer and closer to El Chaltén, my deep satisfaction with our trip set in. We had taken our experiences, learned from our missteps and the conditions, and accomplished an objective. Though our route was neither the hardest nor the longest, we had managed to tag a summit in Patagonia.

Torre Valley
Torre Valley
Credit: yosguns

In all, we spent eighteen days in Patagonia, ten of which were in the backcountry. We were truly lucky for the good weather and grateful to have met so many talented climbers along the way. Special thanks to Dan, my manager, and Linda, our teammate, for picking up my slack at the office while I was gone and to the American Alpine Club and the North Face for the generous “Live Your Dream” grant. Shameless plug because I had such a good experience: the application period for the 2016 LYD Grant is open until April 1, 2016 at AAC LYD Grant.

  Trip Report Views: 4,608
yosguns
About the Author
yosguns is a climber from Pacifica, CA.

Comments
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Comment on this Trip Report
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
  Feb 16, 2016 - 05:57pm PT
What a wonderful trip report!

Edit: Seeing those glaciers that peter out fairly quickly as they leave the highest elevations, I wonder what they looked like at the same relative time of year, say, 40 years ago?
Highlife

Trad climber
California
  Feb 16, 2016 - 06:25pm PT
No easy summits down there. No matter how big or small. I had alot of luck when I went, and guillamete was the only one that told me no. Good job!
crankster

Trad climber
No. Tahoe
  Feb 16, 2016 - 07:37pm PT
Excellent report and photos!
this just in

climber
Justin Ross from North Fork
  Feb 17, 2016 - 07:40am PT
Really good write up, cool to see a year's worth of planning for the unknown come together for success. Big thanks.
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Feb 17, 2016 - 08:39am PT
Fantastic. Just the stoke I needed here on a dreary day in Fresno with no immediate climbing plans on the books. Great writing and stellar photos. Thanks so much for sharing your adventure. Those watercolors show the creativity and talent that flows from a life of adventure in the outdoors. I want one!

Best quote of the report:

We had taken our experiences, learned from our missteps and the conditions, and accomplished an objective. Though our route was neither the hardest nor the longest, we had managed to tag a summit in Patagonia.

Thanks what its all about.

Have a great rest of your season!

Scott
kaholatingtong

Trad climber
The fake McCoy from nevernever land.
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:10am PT
Humbly inspiring, and well written, cheers.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:23am PT
nice report, thanks for letting us in on your wonderful trip...


“You’ll be bothered from time to time by storms, fog, snow. When you are, think to yourself, ‘What they could do, I can do.'”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars
BigB

Trad climber
Red Rock
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:25am PT
Stunning! TFPU
skcreidc

Social climber
SD, CA
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:35am PT
Pretty sweet adventure! Thank you so much for posting it up.
shipoopoi

Big Wall climber
oakland
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:40am PT
nice tr, great to hear the excitement come out from patagonia first timers. just got back from the paine a couple of weks ago where i managed to do a couple of new routes in the french valley. steve
H

Mountain climber
there and back again
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:45am PT
welcome home Alison. Great report. So glad you had a good time and the weather behaved. Love the artwork. Journey on!
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:50am PT
Thanks for taking the time to share your photos & adventures.
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
  Feb 17, 2016 - 09:54am PT

A beautiful TR on so many levels...
W.L.

climber
Edge of the Electric Ocean Beneath Red Rock
  Feb 17, 2016 - 10:03am PT
thank you for sharing!!!! climbing content on a climbing website...I knew there was a reason I still poke my head around here. Thanks for sharing the stoke!
crøtch

climber
  Feb 17, 2016 - 10:42am PT
Nice TR. Congrats on your summit.
Gregory Crouch

Social climber
Walnut Creek, California
  Feb 17, 2016 - 11:05am PT
Congratulations! No place like it in the world. Love your artwork, too.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Feb 17, 2016 - 02:44pm PT
great art
great photos
great climbing
great adventure
lars johansen

Trad climber
West Marin, CA
  Feb 17, 2016 - 03:05pm PT
Way to get after it! Best-lars
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Feb 17, 2016 - 03:53pm PT
Awesome!
Congrads on the summit and getting the grant!
yosguns

climber
Author's Reply  Feb 19, 2016 - 12:36am PT
Wow!!! Thanks for all your positive responses. I am so glad you enjoyed the report--I really appreciated having the opportunity to put it together and relive the evolution of our trip. :)

As for the Torre Glacier receding, I can't find anything about it specifically online, but locals were reporting 100-200 feet every 5 years or so (? if I recall correctly). This is really evident in the terrain around the edges of the glacier, more and more of which is left loose and unstable (as the glacier recedes away). Getting onto the glacier is also more difficult than it was years ago (apparently) because the edge of the glacier has moved away from the slopes along the sides.
Send

Trad climber
Central Sierra
  Feb 18, 2016 - 10:55am PT
Woohoo! Great stuff!

And lovely artwork!
I met a guy named Lee in Cochamo and he had his Frey guidebook all painted up and it looked very similar to your work. Did you, by chance, paint on Lee's (from Squamish/Vancouver Is.) guidebook as well ???
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Feb 18, 2016 - 12:59pm PT
Thanks for the superb report. It sounds like as close to Patagonian perfection as one could get. Well done in all respects!

John
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
  Feb 18, 2016 - 04:26pm PT
Man, you got me thinking that I have got to go there. It's not windy, is it? I hate the wind.
mikeyschaefer

climber
Sport-o-land
  Feb 18, 2016 - 04:40pm PT
Great trip report and wonderful art work!

yosguns

climber
Author's Reply  Feb 19, 2016 - 11:02am PT
Send, I didn't paint on Lee's book and I'm not sure we met Lee, actually!! How was Cochamo?

Ha ha ha...eeyonkee...yeah, just a little windy, some of the time!

Thanks, Mikey--congrats on your recent successes down there.



Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Feb 21, 2016 - 09:08pm PT
Really nice adventure, thank you!!!
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Feb 21, 2016 - 10:38pm PT
thanks for sharing the stoke!
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
  Mar 31, 2018 - 03:30pm PT
You sure have tagged a wide variety of tasty global destinations, Allyson!
Looks like a good first trip to Patagonia.

Thanks for posting up Gedas’ blog post from the same timeframe.
You & Ted clearly hooked up with a fun climber!

http://gediminassimutis.blogspot.com/2016/02/patagonia.html?_sm_au_=iVVCM6n2q4pN7k03

Nice job on your website: well laid out, clean and inviting.
Let's see, it's all there … diverse & thriving professional career, world travels, artwork, videography & blogging.

You must be one of these people who values experiences and activities over sleep! Ha ha
*Have less/do more, indeed.

What's next in terms of exotic climbing journeys?
Time for another TR!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Mar 31, 2018 - 12:55pm PT
A well-told tale which deserves the light of day, Yosguns.

Wish I'd seen it first time around.

Thanks for rescuing this one, Roy.
TWP

Trad climber
Mancos, CO & Bend, OR
  Mar 31, 2018 - 07:20pm PT
18 days is not a lot of time to get anything done in a place with as much difficulty and unpredictability. You did well! Great report! Well written and brimming with class and dignity.
yanqui

climber
Balcarce, Argentina
  Apr 1, 2018 - 06:52am PT
Glad I got to see this and glad you had fun!
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