December was pretty tough. (Moods of Patagonia, my last post sums up the first three weeks) After the Poincenot adventure, we left Lago de Tres with our broken tent and wet souls. We had to return for the rest of our gear the following day. We had become quite familiar with this trail and had hopes of changing the scenery. We sat by the road hoping to catch a ride to El Pillar to hike in a different way. Our timing was off for a ride, Argentine siesta, so we headed back up the 10K Fitz Roy trail for the seventh time. The weather cooperated, and we had a lovely hike back to our cache. We decided to hike out the trail to El Pillar. Juan had hiked out this way the day before and said it was shorter, but you need a ride 17K back to El Chalten. We stopped at El Pillar restaurant at the end of the trail. Turns out our waiter, Joaquin, knew Juan and also shared the love of skiing, so one beer turned into two. The restaurant was cozy with the fireplace crackling and we spent all our pesos on a romantic dinner. It ended up being a fairly expensive hike out as we had to get a taxi back to town, but it felt good to finish that chapter with a happy ending.
The weather remained bad in the mountains through Christmas which allowed us to spend the holiday with our gringo friends. We had an amazing dinner with homemade whole wheat Empanadas and tons of fresh salad dishes. We weren’t climbing in the big mountains, but we were climbing and connecting with friends and enjoying the fruits of life.
It seemed that our luck was changing… At our hostel, Lo de Trivi, the manager told us we needed to change rooms because our room had a reservation. We packed our bags and Chino handed us a key to another room. I thought it was a bunk room key, but the door opened to a beautiful private suite with its own bathroom. It was Christmas Eve and raining. Chino was smiling as he saw the looks on our faces as we opened the door. We spent two nites here with no extra charge and it was quite suspicious as no one moved into our tiny connex room. The sun came out in all its glory on December 27th. We went up to the Rosado cliff and climbed a pitch with Condors flying all around us. The upper pitches were wet, but it was magical.
The forecast called for a weather window in the coming days. We decided to head up to Nippininos on the Torre glacier. My friend Leo told me that the glacier had changed big time since my last trip there 9 years ago. The trail on the left side had fallen into the newly extended lake due to the massive recession of the glacier and landslides. He suggested we take the right side to avoid the giant hanging boulders on the washed out trail. Uncertain of conditions, we decided to bring both ice and rock gear. The window looked short and we brought only 3 days of food. Our packs were heavy. We botched the approach and went too high. We had to put on gloves, helmet and descend a super shitty slope back down towards the lake and glacier. We met up with other climbers who had to get in the lake to negotiate around a big boulder. With a heavy pack, walking on unstable boulders mixed with a concrete dirt side hill was tiring physically and mentally. Embarrassed to say, the approach took us almost 9 hours from town to Nippininos. After the punishing time on Poincenot and now almost twice the time that a “competent climber”, according to Rolo’s book, I was feeling a bit down on myself.
My partner Tim, is definetly stronger and more fit and I was missing the teamwork I had with my girlfriends in the past. I felt like I couldn’t make Tim’s Patagonia dreams come true and I was just slowing him down. When we arrived in camp, there were tents everywhere. Tim had dreamed of climbing Exocet. Several parties were already gunning for it. Ben and Jess suggested we climb Domo Blanco and Marcian gave us a topo of the cool ice line. The rock climbs looked pretty snow covered. We set our alarm for 1:00am, as the approach was at least 3 hours. At 1:00, the wind was blowing and lite snow. We went back to sleep. We woke up at 8:00am from a deep sleep induced by the stressful hike the day before. I stepped out of the tent (generously loaned to us by Israel from Spain who was on Poincenot with us and saw our devasted tent). The entire camp was empty, the sky completely blue and very calm. Aliens must have come and abducted everyone….. “Uh Tim, we should probably go climbing. Everyone is gone.”
We walked up to Media Luna, the closest and shortest climb in the area. Another party was on it, but our timing was good and we could follow them without being directly below. The upper pitches were magnificent! We caught the other party and it was my friend, Diego, who we had met in Peru, on the crux pitch. It was wet and Tim took his only whipper of the trip. He pulled it off with the biggest stem on his next try. I latched on to the number 4 and pulled, as there was no way for me to stretch like that and the lie back was too slippery!
We shared the summit ridge with our friends! It was little, especially looking up at the Torres, but it was special. Our first real Patagonia summit together. Climbing light with no shoes, perfect weather, and excellent stone.
When we returned to camp, we gave Ben all of our ibuprofen, he had been hit in the back by ice while belaying on Exocet. Others returned discouraged by poor conditions on different routes, and we were surprised with our luck. We spent the evening sharing mate and stories with Diego and his Argentine posse, watching the sunset over the Fitz Roy range.
The weather the next day was splitter again and we sadly hiked out because we didn’t have enough food to stay. We hiked everything out. I told Tim, I would never do that same approach again. We found a better way through the last part of the glacier and hugged the lake for the exit.
The entire way out, Tim kept talking about the Cordero in the window. We dropped our bags at Lo De Trivi, took hot showers and headed to the lamb in the window. It was New Years Eve, and the restaurant was packed. The hostess told us they were closing in 30minutes, so it was not possible to wait for a table. We sadly walked out, but I did notice a man sitting at a table alone. “We can eat pasta” I said. Tim’s face frowning,”I don’t want pasta…. I want Cordero”. We turned back and I asked the solo guy if we could join him for dinner. He seemed pleased to have company and soon we were sharing climbing stories. Augi, from New York City, had just been guided up Guillamet. He had a grand adventure and offered to buy us all a bottle of wine to celebrate. It was certainly a special occasion! It was a set menu for the evening and the waitress hurried us to get our orders in. At midnight, champagne was poured and we toasted to the New Year. Augi spoke Spanish and handed the waitress his credit card at the end of the evening. “I’m buying your meal”he declared. We volunteered to leave the tip. When we looked at the bill, we realized we didn’t even have enough money to pay for our meals! 2016 was off to a good start.