Sunday, February 3, 2013

Climbing the West Face of Cerro Torre - Getting Back

At first light we left our camp below the Col of Hope and descended the small glacier to where we made three rappels over the rock band we climbed two days ago. Another thousand feet of descending on snow and a couple more rappels over rock slabs brought us to the big glacier at the bottom. On the map this place is called Circo de Los Altares. To be surrounded by such magnificent mountains felt like I was inside the greatest of all cathedrals.

Circo de Los Altares
From Circo de Los Altares we followed tracks west out to the main Viedma Glacier from trekkers who had come in from the icecap. We had a long walk ahead of us north along the edge of the icecap for about 10 miles to where our route headed east over Passo Marconi. From the pass it would be another twelve miles down the Rio Electrico to the road head.

J getting onto the icecap
We stayed roped up walking along the icecap because I had fallen into a hidden crevasse up to my waist here here with Bill in 2009. It was beautiful but tedious walking along the edge of the icecap. Distances seem closer than they are when the view is unobstructed view for miles. We would walk for hours and Marconi Pass didn't seem to get any closer.

Trudging on the icecap
After reaching the pass we descended the glacier on the other side. This glacier used to connect easily with the Marconi Glacier at the head of the Rio Electrico valley, but climate change has caused extensive melting of these glaciers and they are now separated by rock slabs threatened with seracs. In 2009 Bill and I had found a descent route down the rocks that was safer. It was late in the day, so J and I set up camp in a sandy bottomed rock nook protected from the wind, and went to reconnoiter our descent for the next morning.

Camp off the glacier below Marconi Pass

Unfortunately I couldn't find the exact place where Bill and I had been able to down climb the rocks onto the Marconi Glacier. The place where we did head down cliffed out several times, forcing us to make several rappels. But we eventually made it down to the glacier which we descended to a small lake where we got off the ice for the last time. We picked up a trail to Laguna Electrico where we had to be careful not to walk out a dead end peninsula like Bill and I did in 2009.

Laguna Electrico

We had only one more obstacle, wading the Rio Pollone where it enters Laguna Electrico. It had taken longer to descend from our camp that morning, and in this hot weather the river would be getting bigger as the day went on. When we arrived there I noticed it had more water than when I waded it four years ago. We didn't want to walk the rest of the way in wet boots so we decided to cross in bare feet. So I had to go slowly and feel my way along the cobbly bottom for secure foot placements. But the water was painfully cold and I had to fight the urge to move too quickly. We had several channels to wade and between them we experienced the painful process of warming our numb feet. The final channel was the deepest and swiftest. J went first and it was up to his thighs. As I made my way across we couldn't hear each other because of the roar of the water so he motioned me to lean into the current to compensate for the water pressure against my body. I grit my teeth and slowly and carefully worked my way safely to shore.

Me wading the Rio Pollone (J Mills photo)

After the river crossing we followed a nice trail to the small settlement of Piedro del Fraile that has camping, cabins, and food for hikers and climbers. The last couple of days J and I had eaten very little and we had been talking about what we would eat once we reached Piedro del Fraile. When we finally reached our haven, the small restaurant was closed for the afternoon. I could see the caretaker inside and I knocked on the door, but he wouldn't respond. Afraid that we would have to walk the last two hours to the road head on empty stomachs, we went around back and were able to communicate in broken Spanish that we had climbed Cerro Torre and had no food. The caretaker seemed to light up when he learned we climbed the mountain and made us two nice, but very expensive ham and cheese sandwiches. That made us feel much better as we walked the final bit of our journey.

J and me at Piedro del Fraile


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