Third times a charm: El Chaltén, Argentina

Looking back from over a year later, it was an outstanding season. It was my third visit to El Chaltén in four years, and truth be told, I hadn’t been planning to go. I was going to school to learn Finnish and working, with plans to sit the season out. But life has a way of throwing curve balls, and this one took me back to Patagonia’s iconic Fitz Roy Range.

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I can think of worse places for life’s curve balls to take one to. Photo by Lauri Hämäläinen.

Due to some lame technicality, I was abruptly kicked out of my Finnish course. After fighting the good fight to be cool and stay in school, I concluded that it was no longer a viable option. My focus then shifted to the next best (better?) thing, chasing those snowy summits.

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Going up!

I asked my main expedition partner, Tess, to join, but as it was quite last-minute and herself fresh off an autumn expedition to China, she had to decline.  Fortunately, my past seasons of experience in Chaltén had endowed me with some contacts for other partners. In the end, I was fortunate enough to team up with two Finnish hardmen, Lauri Hämäläinen and Sami Modenius, for their 4-week trip. Following that, I had the pleasure to spend a week+ climbing with Adrian “The Wizard”, a good friend of mine from Colorado.

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Adrian the Wizard prepping for battle on the upper pitches of Fitz Roy’s Pilar Goretta.

There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle that made this season such a success. First and foremost was the strong, competent partners that I was lucky enough to share a rope with. Sami is a IFMGA guide (the highest level of guide certification in the world), and Adrian and Lauri are stone-cold crushers who had both already ticked the two biggest peaks in the Fitz Roy range, and a slew of others. No doubt, I was the weakest and least experienced climber of either group, and that was okay. Even so, on almost all our missions to the hills I felt I still had something to offer and contribute to the team, and it was a real treat to learn from the big kids how to get it done in the big mountains.  I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to join in the fun.

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Ohh, so that’s how it’s done. Sami showing the way on St. Exupéry’s lower mixed pitches.

Another huge factor in our highly successful season was the climbing experience everyone had in that specific range. This was Sami and I’s third season climbing there, Lauri’s fourth, and Adrian’s fifth. For each of the two teams I was a part of, we had well over a collective year of full-time climbing experience in the Fitz Roy range. It was the first time in all my visits there that I really felt like I knew the rules of the game, where the pieces all started to make sense. If the weather forecast is A, the conditions B, and the weather-window length is C, then we should try X climb. Each and every time we set out, we were able to achieve our objective and make it down before the weather closed in. My time in the hills was at about a 80/20 ratio of fun-in-the-moment to suffer-fest. In past seasons, these numbers have been reversed.  It was an odd sensation to be practically laughing one’s way up and down these mighty peaks, and even the arduous approaches (okay, only sometimes, and rarely on the descents).

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Lauri on the summit of St. Exupéry.

On the flip side, we never were able to summit any of the taller peaks in the range. Mostly, the weather windows were just too short to safely attempt them. My dream of climbing Fitz Roy is still just that, even after getting heart-breakingly close to its completion on the last weather window of the season. That one pained me, and still leaves me with heavy doubts on if we should have went for it. I suppose even great seasons must have their darker moments.

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It’s a long road home sometimes. Photo by Lauri Hämäläinen.

The world is a strange place these days. After sitting out this past season, I do intend on making the pilgrimage to El Chaltén again this coming January. Of course, with all the unknowns its hard to say if this will actually come to fruition. What I do know though is that if I don’t plan and prepare for it, it certainly won’t happen. So with that, training has already begun in earnest and I’m doing what I can to keep the fire stoked for the next opportunity to climb in those magical mountains.

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An unedited, unenhanced sunrise photo from our bivy ledge, half-way up Fitz Roy.

 

 

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