Fitz Roy and Friends
We headed North to Parque Nacionale de los Glaciares, home to a huge expanse of very dramatic mountain peaks and more glaciers.
El Chalten is an unusual pueblo at the center of all the activity. It’s unusual in that it’s only sprung up in the last 15 years or so, it feels like a frontier town; there’s no cell phone service and only very limited internet in a few hotels, they generate their own electricity, and the place is bustling with backpackers, trekkers, and rock climbers. At least in the summer, wind is the dominant force, blowing down the main street with ferocity. One touring company offers an excursion in which they drive you up-wind for 30 killometers and then you ride bikes back downwind. One of the first buildings in the town is the Chocolateria, which was built by climbers to serve excellent chocolate and coffee in a comfortable place with a view of Fitz Roy.
We got to walk on Viedma glacier for a couple of hours, wearing spikes on our shoes called crampons. Once you get used to them, it’s almost easier to walk with crampons on ice as compared to shoes on dirt, because you don’t slip. The experience is like nothing else on the planet. It feels like a different world. The sheer size of the glacier and the incredible tortuous shapes of the ice as well as the many (potentially dangerous) crevasses made for an unusual adventure. We had perfect weather that day which made all the colors of the ice, sea and rocks stand out.
It was interesting that small rocks on
the glacier surface sink down into the ice because they absorb heat and transfer it to the ice, but larger rocks sit perched on the ice surface because they shade the ice below them, slowing it’s melting. At the end they gave us drinks cooled with 500 year old glacial ice.
We also took a couple of 20 kilometer hikes into the mountains to get a closer look at the peaks, starting one at 5:30 AM to see the sunrise illuminate Mt. Fitz Roy and friends. We were at a lookout when a condor, soaring on an updraft, flew within 10 yards of us, startling Char who was looking through a camera lens.
The area has been of interest to rock climbers for quite some time, and there are a couple of interesting stories about the early climbers. Until recently it took a serious expedition just to get to the vicinity of these peaks.
One story is about a Frenchman named Aguia Poincenot, who led the first successful ascent of Fitz Roy in 1952. He then drowned while crossing the river. This is remarkable because the river looks like it would be hard to drown in – it’s only about a foot deep. Some say he was shot by a jealous husband.
Another story is about an Italian named Cesare Maestri who claimed in 1959 to have successfully climbed Cerro Torre with Toni Egger. During the descent Egger was swept away by an ice avalanche, along with their only camera. Many people questioned the veracity of Maestri’s claim, because his descriptions of the route were vague and because subsequent climbers found no trace of his passage. After years of controversy Maestre returned to settle the issue by climbing it again, but he brought along a gasoline air compressor to power a drill. He drilled holes and placed bolts all the way up, and then left the air compressor at the summit as proof of his ascent. This was in the 80’s when most climbers were pursuing “pure” climbing without the use of bolts. The climbing community discussed whether to remove the bolts, but in the end it was decided that they should be left in place. Then, just a few years ago, a couple of American climbers independently went up and removed all the bolts. The community of El Chalten was really angry and threw the two in jail until they realized that no laws had actually been broken and they were released. Nevertheless, everyone put up posters saying that the two were not welcome. Evidently their independent action was seen as a typical American arrogant act, particularly since the topic had been debated and resolved.
A movie called “A Snowball’s Chance in Hell” was just released in January 17 about a young climber making the first un-aided climb of Cerro Torre. The preview is here. We haven’t seen it yet.
Other favorite photos are below: