I first came down to El Chalten 4 years ago, in 2008. On that trip I was just scoping things out, making more of a total Argentinian climbing trip than a Patagonian specific one. I climbed in some of the "escuelas clasicas", like los Arenales and Frey on my way south, learning much about the climbing culture and history of the country.
When I made it to Chalten, I didn't have a clue (or a partner!). I hooked up with a local named Marcos and we climbed the normal route up Cerro Solo, more of a mountain scramble than a Patagonian peak, but from the summit you can look up both the Cordon Torre and Fitz Roy, and see the massive walls on each side of the Torre Valley. I was stunned. The power of this range was indescribable.
The next season I came down, together with my partner Josh Garrison, but this time to climb in the Torres del Paine, hoping to climb the North and Central Towers. It seemed to me like the Paine was a good stepping stone before commiting to the Chalten massif. Shorter approaches, smaller climbs, a bit easier to wrap our minds around. We climbed the North Tower that season, and that was it. We sat out 11 weeks of unforgiving weather before bailing to warmer latitudes.
Last season, we returned to the Paine, climbed a cold route on Peineta, and then turned our attention to a massive project; first ascents in an incredibly remote zone in the Northern Patagonian Andes. This would be the most committing thing either Josh or I had undertaken, and we were very lucky to make it out both successfully and safely. When I returned from that trip, I was happy, but also kind of nervous. I felt like I had been building towards something, ever bigger and badder, but wasn't sure what it was yet. By mid summer, I knew. I had to go back to Chalten. I wanted to climb Fitz.
Only a short 7 months later, I was again flying into Buenos Aires, this time to work some early season mountaineering courses for Outward Bound Patagonia before meeting up with my good friend Geoff for the month of January, but after only a short trip had the rest of my season cancelled due to low enrollment. Instead of moping around Bariloche, I took the first bus down to Chalten to get a jump on the season. I didn't have a partner, but I figured I could wrangle one up when I got there, and besides, the weather was probably just going to suck anyway right?
I lined up a partner, who spoke English and had visited the zone before, and seemed a good fit. We began ticking off classic routes during the several fantastic weather windows that came during December, but I never felt comfortable considering the bigger committing objectives of the range with this partner, and hoped that I wasn't squandering all the good windows of the season on moderate climbs. This gap in trust created an unresolvable rift, and in the end I ended up climbing Aguja de la S solo because of it.
Geoff arrived in early January, after a guiding gig on Aconcagua, and before that a major Himalayan expedition on which he climbed his first 8000m peak, Shishapangma. He was fit and ready to go, never having visited Patagonia before. After sport climbing and making pizzas for a week or so in town, a phenomenal high pressure system showed up on the NOAA Meteogram, one that looked like it could develop into a week long window, interrupted by a couple days of high winds in the middle. We started scheming...
Continued in a following post.