The Season Opener

Colin and I arrived to our little Argentine apartment on Nov. 16. It felt strange to be back in El Chalten after only leaving on Mar. 18, the previous Spring. Certainly, for Colin it must have felt even more strange. Mid-way through summer in Squamish, on Aug. 20 he flew to Argentina for a solo Austral winter trip to the mountains around El Chalten. In all, Colin spent from Oct. 1 -- Nov. 15 back in North America before boarding a plane again, bound for southern Patagonia.

Strange feelings aside, we are back in a place we both love. I am a little surprised at how much Spanish has returned to me after a week in town. Phew. All that money spent last year studying Spanish in Bariloche was not a waste! There are already quite a few climbers mulling about town, so we've been doing our share of socializing. 

Cozy in the apartment.

And beautiful view outside.

The spinning wheel of death. You can literally sit for 10 minutes just waiting for your email to load. It kills me every time!

It's awesome to reconnect with those people who became my friends last season. I figure this is the perfect opportunity to introduce you to some of them.

There's Sebastien, the owner of Aylen-Aike, one of the local hostels. It's almost exclusively full of climbers once the season gets underway, and somehow Sebe is sympathetic to the needs of the dirt bag. But, Sebe has his own humorous quirks too. He's obsessed with heavy metal and every time you open the door to the hostel you're greeted with the sounds of Slayer, Korn, or Pearl Jam blaring from the stereo. That, and Sebe's signature welcome, "HELLO YOU F%^KERS!". I'm sure you can gather exactly what it is he's exclaiming. Here' s a little bit of beta for those of you considering a trip to Patagonia in the future. Stay at Aylen-Aike. The Hostel feels about as much a home away from home as possible. And everybody seems to finish their stay at Aylen-Aike best buddies with their fellow hostel-mates, and of course, the King of this little Kingdom, Sebestian. Here's a link to the Hostel's website. 

The King of Aylen Aike, Sebastien.

Then there's Cecelia and Fernanda, the women who run La Senyera, hands down our most favourite restaurant in town. Cecelia and Fernanda open the doors of La Senyera early October, and it remains open every single day until the end of February. They work 150 days straight and yet are the most gracious hosts, serving up beautiful smiles and delicious food. I think Colin and I might have eaten there every day of our last stay in Chalten, save the times we were in the mountains and maybe a handful of other days where we managed to motivate enough to cook a meal at home. More Chalten beta, go eat at La Senyera. Look them up on Facebook, and tell Cecilia and Fernanda that Sarah sent you! 

My other buddies, aren't buddies in the traditional sense, they're dogs. To mention my friends in Chalten without a mention of the dogs seems wrong. Chalten is FULL of dogs. But, somehow every dog seems to have an owner and is domesticated enough to not bite at your ankle as you ride past them. I'd hazard a guess that every household in El Chalten might own a dog, which is a lot of canines to stir up trouble around town. The family who we rent our apartment from is no different. Lilly, has 3 dogs, 2 cats, and a bird as far as I can tell. And, two of her dogs, Lobito, which translate to little wolf, and Simone are my two best doggy buddies. Lobito is a 3 year old German Shepherd and has figured out how to open doors so can let himself in and out of the house at will. Simone is a small poodle of some kind. His long white coat is all matted giving him the look of a Rastafarian. Simone is incredibly shy, but is still curious enough that sometimes he just can't help himself from visiting us.

Now that's a good doggy. Lobito and Colin.

Despite all the socializing, there have been a few days scattered here and there that haven't completely sucked for adventures in the mountains. Our first venture in the hills was just a few days after arriving, on Nov. 20. Feeling a little eager we decided to attempt a day trip to the West Couloir of Val Biois, a small 2550 m spire along the Fitz Roy skyline. It was still very wintery down here, and an ice line seemed like a fitting objective for the amount of cold and snow. So, we saddled up at 1:30 am and were dropped at the trailhead by 2:00 am in a windy downpour. It was depressing to say the least. But, as we walked, the weather abated and by 6:00 am the skies had cleared as we arrived at Laguna De Los Tres. My mood lightened with the rising sun. 

As we slogged up snow slopes to Paso Superior it became increasingly apparent that we were going to have to work hard for every metre of trail we broke on our approach to Val Biois. We were the first people to make the approach to the east side of the range after the few days of bad weather that had proceeded our arrival. And slog we did, for 11 hours in total. We broke trail in waist deep snow while Fitz Roy's immense east face smirked at us. Finally, 150 m before the base of our route, and at 1:00 pm, we could slog no further. Exhausted and sun burnt, we turned around and retraced our now fading track. Oh well, it was great to gain some fitness, and enjoy a few lovely views in the process.

Fitz Roy and company lighting up as we arrive at the lake.

After a 1:30 am start from town, it's nice to see dawn approaching as we arrive at Laguna De Los Tres.

But, still very chilly.

Colin crossing the still frozen, Laguna De Los Tres, with the east face's of Poincenot and Fitz Roy in view.

Looking back at the lake as the sun rises.

Let the trail breaking begin…

More trail breaking as we make our way to Paso Superior with Cerro Madsen visible behind.

Now I'm breaking trail, with Glaciar Piedras Blancas visible on the left.

Arriving at Paso Superior, with the east faces of Mermoz and Guillaumet visible behind.

Our intended route is the pencil straight line of snow/ice on the east face of the left most peak in the photo. Apparently, the chimney is only one metre wide in some parts!

With the pass behind us, we're still trail breaking. But, now we've got company as four Slovenians catch up to us to help share the work. 

Frig' still trail breaking, and STILL a long way to go until the base of our route. Colin sure looks small below Fitz Roy's wickedly steep east face!

There she be, the east face of Fitz, and Colin.

Taking a break from the trail breaking. 

The best part about all the new snow though, was that once we turned around, we got to butt slide down a lot of what we'd just spent hours slogging up. Here's Colin completing one long butt slide.

A few days later another window, barely identifiable on the meteorgram, appeared and we made plans for another adventure in the hills. This time, we'd head to Aguja Guillaumet. Colin wanted to solo an ice route that appeared to be in condition on the east face, and if I was willing to wait for him to do this, he promised me he'd let me drag him up the Amy-Vidailhet. Pretty much one of the easiest routes to any summit in the range, but for me, it was a great feat because we climbed the route in wintery conditions. I only removed my crampons for one pitch, and I was forced to bust out my ice and mixed climbing skills. Which, as you know, are effectively none existent. So, one small step for the seasoned alpinist, one giant step for Sarah! Hooray!

Naturally, Colin managed to pull off something pretty cool with his solo, so if you want to read more, you'll find the report here. I'm very proud of him. As for my little prize, we didn't start climbing the couloir until 11:00 am and were cozily stuffed back into our tent below Piedra Negra by 8:30 pm. All in all, it was a super fun and engaging day for me. I learned a couple more things about Patagonian alpinism, and was stoked for the opportunity to drag Colin up something. Thanks Darling!

Colin posing for the camera from our bivy at the big boulder just below Piedras Negras.

Yours truly ready to spend the next few hours hanging out by herself at Paso Guillaumet while Colin soloed his route. May I add, it was very cold out, and the majority of the time I spent wearing all of my clothing, plus Colin's down jacket, and puff pants, huddled in a little cave. Jeez!

That's Colin leaving for his solo adventure. This is now the second time I've experienced the weird sensation of watching your loved one walk away across the glacier by himself to go climb a mountain in complete solitude. I'm getting better at not worrying so much.

There he goes. El Chalten, and Lago Viedma are visible far below.

A lone figure on the horizon.

And here's a photo of what Colin got up to while by himself. A self portrait as he nears to top of the Beger-Jennings on Guillaumet's east face.

Success! On the tippy top.

And then, just like that, the lone figure appears above the bergshrund. By the speed at which the figure was down climbing the steep snow to the 'shurd, it became apparent to me that it could only be one person...Colin! Thank god!

Here's a photo that Colin took as he returned to Paso Guillaumet. The tiny red dot is me huddled in my icy cave to escape the cold wind.

After a speedy turnaround, we were marching back up to the base of Guillaumet's east face. This time, I was in the lead.

In the guts of the Amy couloir with a party leading above me.

Colin following up the last pitch of the couloir.

At the top of the couloir, is where we met the party that had been climbing above us. Two American's, can't recall their names, but I remember their snack. It was a full sized sausage, and a giant slab of cheese. They kindly offered some, and let me take a picture of their feast.

Then I busted our my mixed climbing skills, which I might add, are none existent, to climb the remaining pitches on the ridge to the summit.

Colin following in crampons.

Crampons off, and climbing cracks in my boots with the Piergiorgio and Pollone groups visible behind.

Colin following, with the Piedras Negras bivy far below. 

Colin and Piergiorgio and Pollone. Look at that smile.

Me aiding up the crux pitch.

Colin following.

Finally, ropes off and climbing snow to the summit. Gorra Blanca hidden by the clouds in the background.

Giving the summit a tap. It's a bit of a boulder problem to sit on the top, so I opted to give it a hand slap, rather than drag my butt up there sketching out.

Colin O.G. Haley and Fitz Roy.


Rapping back to the Glacier.

It's pretty easy to get off this mountain. All the raps are well established.