el chalten: viento… mucho viento!

We saw the above title (“El Chalten: wind, … , lots of wind!”) on a local climber’s t-shirt and it pretty much sums up a good deal of the Chalten experience.  The town was founded only 25 years ago by Argentina in a strategic attempt to settle the Southern Patagonia border region ahead of Chile and as a result it’s not particularly well sheltered from the violent Patagonian winds and the accompanying horizontal rainstorms.  That said it is very well located for making forays into the Fitz Roy massif and we highly recommend putting up with the weather and the two-day bus approach through NBP (Nothing But Pampa!) to see some very remarkable mountains indeed.

(Pampa is the Argentinian desert which stretches over much the continent to the east of the Andes.  It is quite similar to the Karoo in South Africa or the Mojave desert north of Los Angeles although it appears to occupy a much greater area.)

Fitz Roy standing proudly above El Chalten (Cerro Torre is hidden behind a cloud to the left)
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Looking up river from town (the top of one of the Madsen boulders can just be seen)
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We spent three weeks in the town living changa style (roughly translating to dirt bag), camping for most of the time on the lawn of a very psyched local climber, Numa. Despite long periods of pelting rain and wind that continually threatened to uproot our tent, we  squeezed in some great hikes in the nearby Parque de los Glaciares along with some quality climbing at the local boulders and sport crags.

We met Ana (pictured below), a great girl from Reno, Nevada over mate in the mountains and ended up camping with her on Numa´s lawn for most of our stay.  This is her sending a great V3 on the Black Cat boulder on the trail to Cerro Torre.
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Despite much bad weather, we were lucky to catch the end of one of the longest weather windows in local memory (10 days).  There are some great stories of people spending weeks here without so much as glimpsing the mountains!  Unfortunately, our good weather ventana is just one of the many signs of global warning that abound in Patagonia, like milder winters, dramatically retreating glaciers and waterfalls that no longer freeze.

Steve practicing his Chris McCandless Into the Wild pose below Glaciar Piedra Blanca
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Despite these worrying signs, Patagonia still has more glacial ice than can be believed unless seen first hand. The Patagonian ice fields, which stretch out behind the Fitzroy massif, represent a colossal collection of the world’s largest glaciers and are truly spectacular to behold. Though unfortunately we didn’t catch any on film, condors abound here and we had several really amazing sightings of these massive birds of prey. At one point two flew over a ridge line just a few meters above us. Here’s a picture from www.redargentina.com that shows one of these strange birds up close.

Here are a few pics from our stay. All are taken with Angie’s iPhone 3–not bad for a little guy!

Angie and I above Lago Sucia (Lake Dirty!)
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Fitz Roy behind the clouds at Lago de los Tres
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One of the alpacas Numa complained were stealing his porter work
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Hiking up to Po Cuadrado past a very cool icy lake (the start of the Patagonian ice fields is visible back centre). At this height there were no bugs, plants or lichen. Nada!
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Back below the life line where things can actually grow
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A cool demonstration of wind erosion making use of pebbles to form huecos
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Camp Fraile on Rio Electrico. Why can’t all campsites have Bachar ladders?
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Encouters with wild horses
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Steve auditioning for the upcoming musical “Spongebob Squarepants Gets Serious”
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Andy from Buenos Aires performing “Hit Me Baby One More Time” on his charango, an Andean guitar
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We discovered a mini forest of guindas (wild cherries) and proceeded to pick them by the bagful
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Treating ourselves at La Wafleria on a rainy day, mmm…
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Scrabble in Spanish!
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On one of our last days, we rented crampons and set out early to explore Glacier Grande, the glacier below Cerro Torre. To access the glacier you need to cross a fixed tyrolean traverse at Lago Torre.
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The mouth of the glacier
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Angie in crampons!
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Steve surveying the area
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One of the many cool holes where water drained through the glacier
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Cerro Torre above Glacier Grande–finally clear of clouds! On our way up we passed a photographer who had waited eight days to try to catch this moment (the one photo he wanted from El Chalten) but had given up and walked down that morning!
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A puma lair…and also the sit start to a boulder problem!
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Signs of autumn
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Bouldering with Sean, Tim from Belgium and Numa (on the rock)
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Taking a mate break at the Madsen boulders
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Climbing at the Club Andino Laguna boulders
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All our El Chalten photos can be viewed here

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One Response to el chalten: viento… mucho viento!

  1. Kate says:

    You guys have seen the most amazing sites and your journey still continues! Love this blog so I can live vicariously through you! Hope you’re enjoying every minute of this adventure!

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