Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ridge Running in the Nahual Huapi National Park!

Kind of bummed that the main event didn´t happen in Chalten, I hopped on a bus back up to Bariloche, in hopes of climbing some classic rock routes in the Frey with an old friend and current Chilean Bohemian Matteo Fiori.  
He wasn´t set to arrive until several days after I got back to Bari, so I decided to take a little solo trip into the mountains:  move fast, light, and cover some new ground in one of the biggest and most beautiful of Argentina´s national parks, Nahual Huapi.

I bivied my first night high on Cerro Lopez´ridgeline, with an amazing evening spent watching the moon rise over the lakes far below.  The next morn I summited Lopez and continued along the traverse.

Sometime around midday the tabanos (massive oversized horseflies) became so bad that I was just running through talus, taking little time to scout corniced sections, and generally being totally bugged out.  There was zero chance of me being able to handle being surounded and chewed up by these things for another 2 days.
So I bailed off the ridge, and headed down to the nearest refugio, at Laguna Negra.

The Mangfred Sagre Refugio at Laguna Negra is the most beautiful of all the refugios in the park I think, and I was happy to be able to hang out inside for a little bit and get my psyche back before pushing on and doing another 16 km for a total day distance of 32km, mostly on the ridge.  
Fun terrain, incredible views, I´ll wait for the tabanos to go away before going back to complete the section I avoided though!

A Little Taste of the Alpine- Amy Route on Guillamet

Wind and rain has finally returned to Bariloche, after what has seemed like months of warm and dry summer.  So it makes sense to sit down and compile a few posts about what has been going on this past month.  

After the semester wrapped up I took the bus down to Chalten which is currently taking about 24 hours (13 hours less than the first time I took it down in 2008!).  Wagner met me and we settled into our digs back at the ramshackle house of Tito Ramirez.  Always fun seeing what strange new construction projects Tito is working on.  Code does not exist.  

After catching up with many friends who return year after year to Chalten, we got the sense that the new Patagonia (weather windows every week, and extended windows of 10 plus days) was not the case this year and that very few climbs had been completed during the season so far. 

Just a few days after arriving and going bouldering a bit in order to try to remember how to actually climb we decided that the forecast looked decent enough to go out and try.  "Hay que probar" was the slogan of the mission.  Wagner and I packed up a light little kit and taxied up to Puente Electrico, which I hadn´t visited since Geoff and I were dropped off at 1 am or so before approaching Fitz Roy 2 years ago.

 The wall of rain was sitting at the valley waiting for us.  We approached Piedra del Fraile in non stop rain and wind that kept knocking us off our feet, got to camp and set up the tent JUST as the heavy stuff started rolling in.  We were expecting the weather to abate earlier in the morning and attempt something a little more involved but with rain still falling at 4am we slept in a little bit and modified our objective to something more casual, the Amy-Vidhailet Route on Aguja Guillamet.  

 The Amy is a super classic route on the northernmost summit of the Fitz Roy Massif, and is a good choice when the snow is falling and the wind is howling.  Which it was.  After arriving to the edge of the Rio Blanco glaciar we roped up, headed up to the bergschrund and made quick work of getting into the couloir itself which is about 200 meters long and consists mostly of a moderate 65/70 degree ice smear 3-5 feet wide with a few mixed rock steps near the top.




We swapped a handful of leads and were on top in just under 3 hours, with clouds swirling around allowing brief glimpses of some of the grander peaks around us.
We rapped the same line and boogied back down to pick up our camp and hitchhike back to town before the empanada shop closed!

Shortly thereafter Wagner decided to return to work in Brazil, the weather forecast not looking good enough to hang around, and so without a partner I returned to Bariloche to climb some warm weather rock routes with my friend Matteo.
It is a little frustrating to have come so far with the hope and expectation of getting on the route which I had been physically and mentally training for, ready to take the next step after an incredible season 2 years ago, only to have a complication at every step.  It is heartening though to have at least been able to climb something while in Chalten, and was an important piece in realizing how much these peaks and the prospect of climbing them has defined my life over the past 5 years.  They will still be there, and with a little bit of luck, I´ll get my chance too.  
Thanks to the American Alpine Club and the SW Region Live Your Dream Grant for giving me the opportunity to live my dreams and to persue my goals, whatever the outcome is. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Patagonia...Round 5!

After one of the busiest guiding seasons in the Sierra that I have had, then transitioning into AMGA Exam mode and climbing for the month of October without much break, I packed up all my alpine gear and flew out of LAX to Bariloche, Argentina to guide some courses for the Outward Bound Patagonia program as well as take some personal time to get rad in El Chalten with the weather permitting.
I arrived only a couple days before the students, to prep the course.  The month long trip was the second phase of a larger semester that began in North Carolina and will continue in Florida after this phase.
Expedition style climbing and mountaineering was the name of the game, and we got in many awesome summits and locations working within the constraints of some very fierce Patagonian weather. 

This was the GOOD day at the Frey!
 Our week of rock climbing at the Frey was turned into a 4 hour top roping session near the hut on the last day we had after days of sleet and snow, though Craig and I managed to get in a quick lap on Sifuentes-Weber in 40 minutes while the students packed up!
Looking up at Tronador, the objective during the second phase of the trip

First we gotta get there though!  Plastics ain´t fun!

Too bad the scenery is so drab...

No Man´s Land, Chile-Argentine Border
 After resupplying in Pamapa Linda we headed up with heavy packs to climb Cerro Volcanico and traverse along a cornice filled ridge down to Maillin Chileno for another resupply before going back up to attempt a traverse on Monte Trondador.
Approaching Refugio Viejo on the flanks of Tronador

Teaching a lesson on self arrest and crampon techniques

 As soon as we got to the glaciar camp on Tronador however, and had covered all the requisite skills for the traverse across the glaciar to Refugio Meiling, the weather closed in and we waited out 3 days of nasty whiteout conditions with intense winds.  We ended up having to take a couple of the tents down and move into a snow cave to keep our tents from being shredded by the wind!  In the end we had to navigate down off the glaciar by GPS with 30 ft. visibility but the students had a very powerful experience regardless.

For the last several days of the trip, we let the students take more control over the navigation and management and let them plan and manage some summit climbs of Mar del Piedra, Mirador del Doctor, and Cerro Capitan.  By far the highlight of this section, and probably the whole trip (at least for me) was approaching Mirador del Doctor, which is an overlook which juts out above the fjord-like Lago Frey, and seeing a juvenile condor hanging out.  She let us watch her for a few minutes and then flew off, letting us take over the summit block while she came back and spent 20 minutes circling us as close as I have ever seen them.  There was a palpable magic in the air as we all sat there silently letting her circle us curiously, hearing the wind whip through the feathers on the tips of her wings.  

Tronador on the left, Mar del Piedra on the right

The mirador down below.

2 year old condor.  They live on average to 50 years. 

Holes made by the wind moving water in a circular motion for thousands of years.

Up close and personal.

Summit of Cerro Capitan, 30th Birthday

Wanda presents some delicious Dulce de Leche covered birthday cake!
 On November 27th, our group had a double birthday party- my 30th and one of the student´s 20th.  We made it memorable by summiting Capitan, then glissading down to a bivy next to a waterfall below Laguna Creton.  The pool was ice cold but we all got in and bivied under the stars for our last night out.
Crossing Laguna Creton on our way out of the mountains on our last day.
After descending from Creton and Laguna Azul we reached our pick-up and made it back to Bariloche for an incredible asado before the students left the country to continue their semester in Florida.  Now with a few days of rest and relaxation I make my way down to Chalten tomorrow to meet up with my friend Wagner for some alpine antics!  Keep checking back in for updates from the South as they come in...