La Nueva Patagonia

I’ve been in El Chalten about a week and a half now, and have had some time to soak up the new changes. El Chalten has been growing and changing very dramatically in just the five years since my first trip here, and each time I come there are a slew of new buildings and paradigm shifts in the climbing scene here. Last year I realized that there were just as many climbers here to boulder and sport climb as there were for alpine climbing, which is not particularly surprising since the bouldering is very good and much of South America is too hot for good rock climbing at this time of year.

The most significant material changes to town this year are that half of the roads are now paved, Campomento Madsen has been shut down allowing for almost no free camping, and prices continue to rise (A good measure of the cost of living here is my beloved snack food: empanadas. Three years ago they were one peso each, and now they are three pesos each – a 300% price increase in three years!) For better or worse, El Chalten will continue to evolve from a rural outpost to a bustling tourist destination.

While I can’t help but slightly lament the changes to town, the changes in the climbing scene are exciting. Continuing the trend of the past few years, virtually no climbers are staying at Campo Bridwell, Campomento Rio Blanco or Piedra del Fraile – everyone lives in town now, and simply caches equipment up high for quick approaches when good weather arrives. The most exciting change I have noticed this year is the frequency with which the local Argentine climbers are attacking the big routes. In the past years that I have climbed here it seemed like a few Argentine climbers (Rolando Garibotti of course, Ramiro Calvo, and a few others) tackled big routes, but most remained on the smaller routes. This year the local Argentine climbers are equally confident in attempting big routes as the European and North American visitors.

Cerro Torre’s West Face has seen a huge amount of traffic recently. The last pitch was painstakingly “carved out” as usual by the first ascent of the season (Ackerman-Aguilo-Cabezas-Villavicencio-Pietron-Garibotti), and subsequent ascents have benefited from the hard work. Rolando Garibotti, the most expert historian on Patagonian climbing, has compiled an excellent summary of the activity on Cerro Torre:

Via dei Ragni, Cerro Torre West Face.
Info compiled by Rolando Garibotti

Twenty one people have climbed the Ragni route on the West Face of Cerro Torre in the last two weeks, more than all previous ascents combined. In comparison, this season there has been only one ascent of the Compressor route. It appears that the climbing community has finally come to understand that an ascent of the Compressor route is not really an ascent of Cerro Torre. It is as if overnight everyone stopped climbing Everest with oxygen, fixed rope and sherpa support. This is a humongous step forward for the Patagonian climbing scene. While Maestri’s bolts remain in place, the climbing community appears to have been able to finally give them a cold shoulder.

Ascents to the summit.
1- Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri (Italy), January 1974. This was the first ascent of the mountain.
2- John Bragg, Dave Carman and Jay Wilson (USA) January 1977. Second ascent of the peak. First Alpine Style.
3- Michael Bearzi and Eric Winkelmann (USA) February 1986. First free ascent.
4- Simon Elias and Josu Merino (Spain) February 1997 via the West Face Route.
5- Ramiro Calvo, Gabriel and Luciano Fiorenza, Max Odell, Walter Rossini (Arg) and Bruno Sourzac (France) December 2005. Bruno Sourzac made the first free and leash-less ascent.
6- Kelly Cordes and Colin Haley (USA) January 2007 approaching via Los Tiempos Perdidos (south face).
7- Jorge Ackermann, Tomas Aguilo, Charly Cabezas and Matias Villavicencio (Arg), and Rolando Garibotti (no country-or 3?), and Doerte Pietron (Germany). Doerte’s is the first female ascent of the route, and the 6th female ascent of the peak (after Rossana Manfrini, Inez Bozic, Cathy Cosely, Monika kambic and Tanja Gromosek), and the first female ascent without using Maestri’s Compressor route bolts. December 1, 2008.
8- Ole Lied and Trym Atle Saeland (Norway) approaching via the SE ridge by traversing above the south face. A snow mushroom along the SE ridge forced them to use some of Maestri’s bolts before traversing west. December 2nd, 2008. This is the much talked about “Corkscrew” link-up, originally discussed by the English and Argentine expedition in 1968 (Fonrouge, Haston, etc). A “bolt-free” ascent of the “Corkscrew” link up remains to be done.
9- Mateo Bernasconi and Fabio Salini (Italy). December 2nd, 2008.
10- Julien Dusserre, Pierre Labbre, Baptiste Rostaing Puissant and Jerome Para (France). December 9, 2008.
11- Walter Hungerbuhler. First solo ascent of the route, first solo ascent of Cerro Torre without Maestri’s bolts, 5th solo ascent of the peak. December 9, 2008.
12- Nico Benedetti, Flavio “Manzana” Renzacci, Fernando “Capi” Irrazabal and Jimmy Heredia (Arg). December 9, 2008.
13- Cullen Kirk (USA) and Bjorn-Eivind Artun (Norway). In 13 hours from Niponinos to the summit via the Standhardt col. December 9, 2008.

Ascents to the base of the final 40 foot summit mushroom.
1- Dan Cauthorn and Jon Krakauer (USA) 1992.
2- David Authemann, Patrick Pessi and Fred Valet (France) 1994.
3- Thomas Ulrich, Stefan Siegrist and David Fasel (CH) and Greg Crouch (USA). Winter 1999.

Several other teams have reached the base of the mushroom pitch preceding the summit mushroom. This 50 meter vertical wall of cotton candy has turned numerous parties back, including Bruno Sourzac in 1997 that, not unlike a passionate lover returned after being rejected and finished the job eight years later.

The list of non-Compressor route ascents of Cerro Torre has now grown to 14 ascents, including the 12 of the 13 mentioned above (minus the recent Corkscrew ascent which used a few bolts), plus Alessandro Beltrami, Ermanno Salvaterra and Rolando Garibotti’s November 2005 ascent of El Arca de los Vientos; and Colin Haley and Rolando Garibotti’s January 2008 Torre Traverse finishing also via El Arca.

As for me, I arrived in El Chalten having already missed several days of incredible weather. Fortunately, more was on its way, and a few days later Rolo and I made a repeat ascent of “The Care Bear Traverse,” a ridge traverse of Guillamet, Mermoz, and Fitz Roy, established last season by Freddie Wilkinson and Dana Drummond. Two young Argentine climbers, Jorge Ackermann and Tomas Aguilo, also repeated The Care Bear Traverse immediately behind us during the same weather window. All four of us descended Fitz Roy via the Franco-Argentine.

Rolo leading on the first day of our traverse, on the Brenner Ridge of Guillamet:

Jorge and Tomas below the summit of Mermoz:

Rolo leading a traversing pitch on the ridge between Mermoz and Fitz Roy:

Rolo following a pitch on the North Pillar of Fitz Roy (which we climbed via a combination of the Casarotto, the Kearney-Knight, and “Mate-Porro”):

Luciana and Doerte bivying on the top of Fitz Roy’s North Pillar, having made the first female ascent of “Mate-Porro” to this high point:

Trym and Ole also repeated “Mate-Porro” to the top of the North Pillar. Between Rolo and I, Jorge and Tomas, Trym and Ole, and Luciana and Doerte, there were 8 people bivied on top of Fitz Roy’s North Pillar at the same time! Rolo pointed out that 8 people have bivied here together once before: when Alan Kearney and Bobby Knight topped out their variation on the North Pillar, and encountered 6 Polish climbers who had just reached the top of the pillar from their gigantic dihedral route. “Mate, Porro, y Todo lo Demas,” established last year by Rolo and Bean Bowers, has been one of the most popular routes on Fitz Roy recently, but has still yet to see an integral ascent from the base of the route to Fitz Roy’s summit (all ascents have stopped at the top of the North Pillar).

Bad weather has finally returned to El Chalten, and thus things are beginning to feel a bit more normal…