Published on 13/03/2020
Patagonia. The name echoes a quantity of the most disparate legends .. Mountaineers like us, at the mere thought, already feel the whipping wind on the skin and the weight of the backpacks on the shoulders. The mind rushes to the names of those who left their signature on those walls, names known because they are close to us or because they are famous, and names that are more unpronounceable because they originate in those countries of the east of which nobody speaks the language and whose mystery fosters charm. The eyes are filled with images: perfect granite pinnacles, snow mushrooms that crown the peaks, ridge lines with an unequivocal profile .. All colored with a bright light, the light that the sun of the southern latitudes emanates and that the white glaciers reflect. But the legends about Patagonia certainly do not stop at mountaineering .. Who among us has not read at least one story by Chatwin or Sepulveda? Who among us has never even imagined reaching the far south of the continent: a tongue of earth so thin, where the two great oceans of planet earth meet?
For all these reasons, the collection of legendary tales that surrounds this area of the world has fascinated me and my boyfriend Stefano Ragazzo too. When we bought tickets to Argentina for the first time three years ago, the trip marked a big change in our lives. We decided to leave to get away from the reality that surrounded us and immerse ourselves in a completely unknown adventure, driven by the desire to live a more .. powerful mountaineering, I would say. We had known each other for a few months when we decided to leave our job office in the city and flew overseas, already confident that our life together would have been even better than we could have imagined. The experience was magnificent, but in its own way also a little burning, so much so that for years we have remained far from the thought of that land. But time, a little at a time, only the beautiful memories resurface and the desire to return to play in that crazy playground has been revived.
So here we are, ready to return to Patagonia, conscious of having acquired greater awareness and experience and, thanks to these, determined to achieve precise and more ambitious goals. Unfortunately, in Patagonia the statement "time wants what it wants " is an imperative: half a sunny day is not enough to do something, not even a full sunny day if there is wind, or vice versa a day windless but cloudy. In practice: all the various meteorological factors must be adequate, otherwise a very long approach in vain and a return back with your tail between your legs awaits you at 99% probability!
El Chaltén is the reference village for climbing the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre massifs. The village was born in 1985 precisely to give technical support to mountaineering expeditions, which otherwise had 300km away from the first possible place of supply (El Calafate, where you land by plane). Over the years, the village of El Chaltén has grown dramatically. It has been able to grasp the tourist potential by promoting itself as the destination of the Andean trekking and mountaineering par excellence. From year to year new hostels, guesthouses, bars, restaurants, shops arise, now managed mainly by Argentineans "outside". On the other hand, who like us would still like to taste what was the mountaineering reality of the first Patagonia, is disappointed by this aspect. With the right nose, however, you still meet the first villagers and you can share long talks with the flavor of mate. While what is now the great advantage of this development is the fact that we have all the services we need "just" a day's walk from the walls. In addition, another even more positive aspect is that on waiting days down in the village we come into contact with many mountaineers from all over the world and the resulting network of relationships is a potential for friendships and remarkable information!
We landed in Patagonian land exactly on Christmas day and after a couple of days of setting, we were able to enjoy a first long window of good weather, the so-called “ventana”. The weather was perfect but unfortunately it had been a bad weather for a month, so nobody had gone up before then and nobody was able to give us some information on the conditions of the walls. In any case, we started under the weight of the damned big packs headed for the Niponino camp, a base for what was our main project, with many options to play with depending on the conditions we would have found. The rock walls actually turned out to be very dirty with snow and ice, as expected, but we still managed to get our hands on a beautiful rock. We reached the summit of the Aguja Medialuna, climbing the Via Rubio y Azul: an excellent solution in case of recent rainfall because it is an itinerary on the edge and at lower altitudes, it cleared from snow very quickly.
After this New Year's Eve at the foot of Cerro Torre, we return to the village light because we leave all our bags at the camp. From this beautiful ventana to the end of our journey, unfortunately, there have been no more ventanas. Every 4-5 days there was a single sunny, but however either there was strong wind or the walls were dirty or the residues of the previous disturbance were prolonged beyond the forecast or, on the contrary, the disturbance that followed anticipated the time expected.
Our month and a half of Patagonia has thus resulted in several climbs on peaks of less importance than the main ones and with often difficult conditions. The landscapes seen during these fast adventures were however magnificent, some rock pitches turned out to be spectacular and satisfying, and that sense of feeling emptied of fatigue once we went down to the valley has always accompanied us!
We enjoyed the cumbre of El Mocho along the Voie de Benitieres, an itinerary with characteristics similar to the ones described above, which offers a couple of very satisfying pitches: a perfect and homogeneous dihedral of 6b with exit on a Yosemite-style pulpit, from which a second pitch starts, characterized by two linear cracks in the middle of a compact slab, separated from each other by a meter and a half of nothing where all the thrill of the 7b is played.
We then attempted an enchainment of two peaks which ended in the middle because we were hit by a hellish wind that blocked us on the wall for a couple of hours, unable to descend because the ropes jammed everywhere and remained suspended in the air, and that forced us to retrace the entire ridge from which we came to try to descend on the opposite side from the wind (via Pippo Frasson on the Aguja Guillaumet and NS ridge of the Aguja Guillaumet).
And finally, an itinerary not at all advisable on the Aguja de l'S, on a day when the walls were entirely covered with snow and to enjoy the beautiful sunny day, we reached the cumbre de l'S passing without a precise criterion from a crack to the other, where it seemed that we could frame sometimes ice axes and sometimes protection devices!
I regret not having lived a beautiful long adventure on those much-contemplated walls from below, a long climb that requires bivouacs and organization to perfection, to then reach the phantom cumbre. Who knows, maybe there will be other more fortunate occasions .. When you decide to travel over there you put it in mind that the initial plans will undergo continuous changes. In no other place like in El Chaltén do you make and undo programs every 6 hours when the weather update comes out and in no other place like in El Chaltén your day is marked by the flow of these phantom 6 hours in which you hope that bad weather will come thrown away by an unexpected wave of high pressure!
When the time available for the expedition ended, the only aspect of Patagonia that I gladly left behind was the obsession with the weather and changing the program continuously! While already at the airport I regretted the light-heartedness and lightness that distinguishes South American culture, so contrasting with the slew of western men and women dressed in an elegant and serious manner who flock to check-in. And already the desire to go back to climbing vertical granite walls in another place in the world, maybe with an easier climate .. makes its way in our programs!
Article by Silvia Loreggian, pictures by Stefano Ragazzo and Silvia Loreggian, February 2020.
Silvia Loreggian, born in Padova in 1990, lives in the Italian Dolomites and has been part of the Grivel team since 2016. Alpine guide, rock climber and mountaineer, has repeated itineraries symbol of climbing in the Dolomites and Mont Blanc areas, up to the 9th grade and 8th flash in sport climbing. She has made expeditions to the most beautiful places on earth, including Patagonia, Morocco and Nepal.