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Learning the Ropes in Patagonia
January 2009 :: Chile :: Patagonia

Jordan Griffler reports on his eye-opening trip to Patagonia.  Short weather windows kept him from his main objective, but he found ample time to climb some excellent routes and soak in a little South American culture.  Read on for the full report!

Alan Ream and I intended to attempt the "Spiral/Corkscrew/Anglo-Argentine Route" on Cerro Torre, skipping as many bolts as we could along the way. The Norwegian team of Ole Lied and Trym Atle Saeland pulled it off clipping only a few bolts in the monster weather window they had in early December. It’s too bad we weren't down there for that, because I think we would have had a fighting chance, but alas Patagonian weather is fickle, and we never did get a long enough window to try. It didn't help that Cerro Torre basically looked like an ice cream cone the majority of our trip.   Honestly, it was fantastical to think that we would get the required weather window only spending a month down there, but we had a good experience and learned a lot none the less. 

    The American Alpine Club would be glad to hear that I didn't spend the entire time eating pizza, drinking beer, and sport climbing (though we made an honest attempt). We decided to carry all of our equipment up to the glacier (to future parties I would suggest doing that in multiple trips). Due to our bumbly nature, we decided to follow cairns to nowhere, before dropping straight down the moraine with our stupid heavy packs. (Much to the confusion of the people cruising the relatively easy trail with sneakers.) From here we decided that our time would be best spent wandering aimlessly around the glacier before attempting to relocate the trail, but after the scenic detour it went without a hitch. (That's what 30 years of combined climbing experience gets you by the way.)

    The New Year Dawned with some nice looking weather, and we figured a little climbing would be in order. Seeing that neither Alan nor I have a very good grasp of the "Alpine Start", we woke at dawn, had a cup of coffee and then decided to go climb Aguille Del 'S'. On our way up, everyone else seemed to be descending due to the wind. We hid for a little while and noticed that the wind had died considerably. With a "Well, we've come this far already" we headed on up. The climb went without a hitch, in perfect weather, to a really cool, little spire (little being relative). We had no hang-ups on the descent, and all in all had a really nice day of climbing. Who said that late starts are a bad idea!

    After a week of 'meh' weather back in town, we decided to head back up with the supposedly rising pressure. I ended up only staying one night before running back to town due to a calorie emergency, but it didn't sound like I missed that much action anyways.  After one really horrendous night (We decided to bring the ultra-light-single-wall-joke-of-a-tent rather than the ultra-bomb-proof-Himalayan-super-tent) salvaged with a borrowed sheet of plastic the weather broke clear. Arriving parties were bearing a forecast of one day to a day-and-a-half of good weather. Cerro Torre still looked like an ice cream cone, so we figured we'd go rock climbing over that day of Patagonian mercy. That is until we started getting psyched up of course. It’s amazing what the effect of a whole bunch of excited climbers, none of whom have been able to really go climbing for the past week or so, all getting together in one of the raddest places for climbing  in the world, get a good weather forecast.        

    Our gaze shifted over to the Torre side of the valley. While Cerro Torre and our attempt on the Spiral Route was out, both of us were psyched on an attempt on Exocet on Cerro Standhart. We knew of two other parties headed up that way, so we did what Front Range climbers do best. Snipe ice routes; we packed our bags there and then, deciding to go for a single push through the night. The approach went smoothly up to the Col, but the initial rock pitches looked to be exciting in that half a millimeter of ice over rock sort of way. Some scary moves off the deck, (coincidentally where someone fell earlier that season) led to some more scary moves, but at least with pro. Conditions didn't get any better for the rest of the rock pitches either. An entire nights worth of climbing netted us four or five pitches total. Come first light, we were at the rappel to the snow ramp and a few more pitches to the chimney proper, or back down the glacier. Also come first light came the barrage of the entire face deciding that it didn't feel like being snow and ice anymore. Suddenly our decision to go ice climbing in some seriously nice alpine rock weather didn't seem like such a bright idea.  So we did what we do best, and got the hell out of dodge. A series of wet rappels got us back down to the glacier. Some serious napping and some slogging had us back in camp.

    The next few days went really, really fast. We got to do some sport climbing with some locals and semi-locals. Tried to off load all of our gear down there, rather than pay for its ride back to Colorado ("Any body want to buy a picket?"). Woke up in the pouring rain to pack up, hopped on a bus, got on a plane, and back to shredding the "gnar" back in Colorado in just a few days. All in all, while we didn't accomplish anything mind blowing, we learned an incredible amount. This trip has really opened my eyes to what Alpine Climbing is really about, and has shown me just where I've come in these past five years of climbing, and how much more I have to learn. I'm deeply indebted to the American Alpine Club for giving me this experience. While the grant I received wasn't huge, It was more than enough to push me and commit me to this trip. Thank you so much AAC!