What better way to recover from the Patagonia Expedition Race, than a little alpine climbing? At least that was the idea. (Don’t worry, the race report, videos, and images are all coming!!!)
One thing that I forgot was that South American countries are large. Very large. The bus ride from Punta Arenas to Bariloche took 36 hours. Luckily I was wearing my compression socks from Swiftwick, and we had lots of free food handouts from teams that didn’t want to take their food back home on the plane.
We spent the night in beautiful alp-esque Bariloche, and then the next day hiked into the the soundstage from the Sound of Music.
Where else can you take a bus (1.60 USD) from a rustic chocolate filled downtown to a world famous ski resort; and then hike for 3 hours above a beautiful deep blue lake and end up in a spire rimmed cirque more perfect than Disney himself could have imagined. Oh, and at the rim of the cirque, right next to another pristine lake, is free camping and a stone hut Refugio that serves pizza and beer. Welcome to Frey.
Water was taken right out of the lake or a mountain spring, and there were little campsites scattered all about, ringed with rock walls to keep the wind at bay...not that there was much wind when we were there. It really was hard for us to imagine what could be done to improve the place. There were no crowds, and no human waste (thanks to a strict policy of using the maintained outhouses), and climbing a whopping five minutes from our door-, uh I mean, tent-step.
Our next four days were spent climbing amazing spires, including Torre Principal – at 2405 meters high – the tallest point for hundreds of kilometers.
The climbing started out a bit scary, as Chelsey and I had both anticipated having severely swollen feet after the race, and thus had brought shoes (thanks Evolve) a full size to big. But since our feet had been cold and wet almost the entire race, the swelling was minimal. So we were left with loose shoes….
After failing miserably on a runout and blank 6c (5.11), we spent our time climbing super classic and often improbable looking 5.9 and 5.10 cracks and corners. We met a couple of solo climbers named Jason and Sophie and joined up to form two teams of two for our climbs.
We climbed Sifuentes-Weber with Sophie, and it had all of us squealing with delight at the final headwall, complete with a stout looking final overhang that had a huge chicken-head perfectly placed for optimal jug hauling.
Our climb (with Jason) of the 6 pitch Clemezo on Torre Principal, led us to exclamations of “this must be off route,” or “there is no way this goes, must be an old aid climb,” on almost every pitch. The 5th pitch saw us climbing out of a huge cave, stemming onto a huge detached blocks and eyeing the old wooden pitons with disbelief. We ended on a ledge, shared with giant condors – one which landed mere feet from Chelsey and eyed her hungrily. We’d heard tales of them carrying away baby sheep, so Chelsey was a bit freaked out. I imagined a crazy scene with Chelsey being plucked off the climb, only to still be tethered to me via the rope and belay. The condor struggling to fly away with a great meal, me trying to reel in my new fiancee.
We made it down just before dark, and did the hike back to camp via amazing moonlight.Each day was incredible, and the nights were too. The starry sky rivaled that of the best planetarium.
As luck would have it, our food supply (still surviving on left over race food and marvelous Alpine Aire meals) ran out and we headed back to Bariloche less than 12 hours before the quake struck.
I am releived that it struck at 3:30 AM, so no climbers were out on the rocks. I can only wonder if that classic climb Clemezo – with it’s precariously stacked blocks and flakes still exists. Perhaps the members of Team YogaSlackers will get credit with the last ascent?