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|
|J getting onto the icecap|
|Trudging on the icecap|
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.
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.
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.