A Town Alive

Over the last month, the large majority of my time has been spent in and around El Chalten. I have developed a love/hate relationship with this town. While there are many qualities that I find less than desirable, one of my favorite aspects is the feeling that overwhelms this place when good weather is on approach. Below is a short narrative about such occurrences.

Like most tourist towns, El Chalten is a melting pot. Trekkers, tourist, and climbers all gather here in an attempt to fulfill whatever it is that drives them. While the objectives might be different, one hope is shared, and that is for the weather. Every visitor to El Chalten wishes for a fine forecast. Be it just to see, to hike by, or to climb these peaks, favorable conditions must be had. These weather windows can be hard to come by, and many a visitor have spent upwards of a week here to never even see the granite monoliths.

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The view of Fitz Roy on a rare, clear day.

The climbers take this to the extreme. At least twice a day (and often much more), the weather report is updated. During the long periods in which the weather is insufficient for climbing, a general malaise falls over this group. Lots of eating, drinking, and mindless chatter often ensue. When the report of promising weather finally does arrive though, watch out. Roused from their semi-hibernation, the change in the climbers can be drastic. The war rooms are filled. Lengthy and heated discussions ensure. What day is best head out? What routes are to be climbed? Teams are picked. Decisions are made. Kits are packed. The town comes alive and a nervous energy, a buzz, can be felt everywhere. People walk faster. Empanadas, the climbers’ fuel of choice, are sold by the hundreds. In twos or threes, they head to the hills. Those who remain are often anxious, waiting for the return of their friends. Who will summit, and more importantly, will everyone come home okay?

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Adrian and Tess considering if the weather will hold.

As time passes, fate unfolds in the mountains. The window closes and our climbers return. Doors open. Eager faces look up to see who has come home. “How did it go?” they casually ask, really meaning “Did you summit?!”. No matter the answer, no matter the outcome, congratulations and praise are handed out in earnest. Even to attempt a climb here is something to be proud of, and every safe return is cause to celebrate.

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Tess heading home, summitless but safe.

 

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