Monday, January 08, 2007


El Chalten is a still-small town on the edge of Glaciares National Park, at the base of the world famous FitzRoy range. A controversial and gruesome climbing history, extremely challenging technical routes, and ease of access to the base camps makes it a very popular place.

We headed up into the hills... hikes here are not like in the Cascades. There is no sloping green foothills dotted with lakes. From town, (only 600 ft. above sea level) we followed a river gracefully snaking up for only 3 hrs before reaching the campsite (at 1800ft) at the base of a glacier. The overcast skies dropped only a light rain and the peaks surrounding the glacier-green lake were still thick with snow: spactacular but not unlike glacial lakes in the NW. We set up camp, drinking straight from the milky glacial waters rushing furiously by our site. We stayed warm in the afternoon snow flurries by strolling the rim of the moraine holding back the lake at the base of the glacier and gazing at the small icebergs blown across by the strong winds.
After an encounter with a childhood neighbor of Tamara, we went to sleep at 10pm in the dusk light.

I awoke early , ready for the clear morning, but even tho sun shined onto our tent from down-valley, heavy snow flakes hit my upturned face as i leaned out of the tent. We went for a walk, cooked oatmeal inside the tent (to shield the pitifully weak argentine stove from wind) and got ready to leave.

The climbers were more active than the day before and the primarily american dudes chatted about the rising pressure while grasping the barometer. We headed down and stopped halfway to bask in the emerging sun. Sitting on our packs, we looked at each other. You know, it seems like the weather is moving. We could see more and more of the fowing glacier. 15 mins later, a serrated ridge revealed itself. The 8000 ft. range was engulfed and partially liberated by furious winds. One, two peaks were visible. After and hour and 2 cheese sandwiches with radishes, we actually began to believe: the clouds were lifting from Cerro Torre and her 2 sister spires. This was the prize the climbers had been waiting for! (¨In two months, weve seen the top only one time,¨ they had confided in subdued tones.) Clouds rolled over the ridge, but were swept away even quicker by the powerful winds. Just watching the weather change was moving experience. The dynamism of nature: ¨complet calm is death; our beauty lies in movement,¨said Pascal.

On our windy hill, we sat for hours watching the range thru the frame of steep peaks running the length of the valley. Then, piercing the clouds, we saw the 10,000 foot peak of the Torre spire - improbably high; impossibly connected to its base so far below.
We stayed an hour longer and our patience was rewarded. The sharp ridge was clear and bright and lower peaks on either side of Torre broke through. Then, as the wind swirled and moved the weather still clinging to the spire, the Cerro Torre was revealed in its entirety! It was stunning, stupefying. Surreal like a movie backdrop; nearly unbelievable. From the blue glacier, the rock spire rises directly heavenwards undeterred by gravity or glaciation. Mesmerizing in its majesty, like a god-hand sculpture or, rather, a divine muse!


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