Extreme Backpacking in El Chaltén

We chose a two week climbing trip to Patagonia as our dream trip for 2016. There were dreamy parts (sport climbing and sunbathing) and then there were the memorable nightmares (heavy packs and calving seracs). We logged some reconnaissance miles and learned what the guidebook author means by: “a competent party will take 2 to 3 hours”. We worked super hard for the first half of the trip and then we experienced a rare thing in an alpine climber/mountain guide’s existence: a real holiday. We slept a lot. We climbed no more than a handful of pitches and rarely before noon.

We had a long list of glorious objectives for our two week trip. Whaaat? But we didn’t even get close to tickling the first one, which was the Ragni Route on Cerro Torre. I don’t need to give you a long list of excuses, but I will share the reasons we ‘failed’ in hopes that others can learn from our fumbles.

  1. Not enough days of food. This was the biggest one. We took three days of food. We needed 5-6. This was partially based on the guidebook description and mostly just not thinking our objective through carefully enough. If we had brought more food we would of at least attempted our climb, but we arrived near the base of our climb with basically one day of food! no one wants to climb with a HANGRY girl, especially not Tim 😉
  2. Underestimating the approach/descent. We didn’t ask the locals enough questions, we didn’t realize how challenging the approach was to Nipinino. This includes the fact that we kept looking for a trail when there wasn’t one, and we were always thinking there might be an easier way that we were missing, when we weren’t. Even coming out from Paso Marconi was way more technical than we realized. The local maps are missing a lot of information. We didn’t ask the locals the right questions. We made a lot of assumptions about what they were/weren’t telling us.
  3. Too heavy packs, possibly. I am very motivated to have absolutely the lightest gear in the future.

What we did right:

  1. We camped in sheltered, safe and comfortable places when it was timely to camp (before dark) – we were never suffering when sleeping.
  2. We realized our errors early in the trip and made the best of it.
  3.  We made a couple timely safe decisions that kept us out of the imminent danger of falling rocks and snow avalanches.
  4. Despite the harsh disappointment of ‘blowing’ our only weather window, we got mad/sad and then let it go and made the best of our Argentinian holiday.

We experienced a heat wave during our attempt. There were rivers running down rock climbs, slushy avalanches, rock fall and highly active seracs. This makes me only want to return to this region in spring/winter for alpine climbing.

We went up over Standhardt Col towards the ice cap and out Paso Marconi carrying two ropes, a rock rack, twelve ice screws, pitons, draws, axes, etc etc. We took 4.5 days.

We loved the local beef and malbec. We enjoyed talking to the other climbers and going rock climbing and swimming in the river on our down time.

Here are a few photos to summarize our experience. We would love to return for a longer period in a time when the cost of tourism is not so inflated. One last key piece of advice: Bring Argentinian dollars or US dollars. The bank machine charged us 8$ on every $100. We couldn’t take out more than $1oo at a time. My canadian bank then charged me another fee on top of that. Most places do NOT take credit cards in El Chalten.


The easy part


Looking for a non-existent trail with some other lost climbers


Finally the going gets easier


Up and up and up


Benign Seracs


Small Slots


Keeping us on our toes


Comfy bivy under Standhardt Col


Beautiful Sunrise


Cool Chockstone at the top of Standhardt Col


Timmy doing the heavy lifting


Rappelling down the west side


Down-climbing beside seracs and loose rocks, pick your poison


constant serac fall was very entertaining


looking at our route up to the ragni (you gain the seracs on the right!)



Elusive summits


beautiful vistas


great scenery for a backpack (heavy hearts)


Getting to the ice cap


tough decisions


door prizes


death march


serac centrale


a maze of rock slabs



a maze of crevasses


hideous toe of marconi glacier


not home yet, but friendly backpackers who gave us a kitkat when we were out of food


grateful to be showered, fed and watered (wined)


we are sport climbers! not.


the real holiday begins


El Chaltén

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Letting go of Lucy Girl


We killed Lucy today.

I feel dreadfully powerful and numb with loss, sorrow, confusion.

Hot searing grief tore through me within seconds of the injection.

Why did we get to play God? Did we break a moral code ?

Our vet, Mark comforts us with the words: If she was human, we’d be keeping her alive to the bitter end.

Logically this makes sense. Emotionally I am an infant not wanting to let go.

What is kind and what is selfish? I doubt my goodness.

For many months we have been dreading and hoping to find Lucy asleep forever. For an easy way out of ending her life. She’s a survivor and showed no sign of collapse.

She smells pretty bad. She recently started losing control of her urinary tract. She hasn’t had much control over her bowels for over a year. We have been up in the middle of the night for her every night for over a year. But we didn’t mind: A small price to pay for Lucy’s kind, loyal and gentle presence.

We chose today. We could of waited. Some might say we’ve waited too long.

I’m grateful for the rain, the wind, the time in Invermere, Lucy’s home. Being with Lucy’s papa and family veterinarian friend. It could have been worse. It could have been a traumatic death or heart-wretching disappearance.

She’s survived living with bears, wolves and fast driving tourists for the past year. Our new puppy, Snowpatch tormented her and added spice to her life for the past couple months.

She waits in the car while we go hiking and climbing. She used to come with us. Last Christimas she ran on the ski trails with me. One of her last real runs.

She doesn’t like her lack of mobility. She makes the best of it. She tolerates us lifting her in and out of the car. She doesn’t like being in her own poo and pee. She keeps a brave face. She lets us put her diaper on. She found the heart to give us love even when she was in pain. We kept her around for us. I fell deeply in love with Lucy the past couple years. She has such a kind and loving soul.

She wants to be remembered galloping on the trail and frolicking in the snow.

Today I gave her bacon. It was a small offering for her devotion.

We found a special place to make her fire, next to a beautiful tree that we now call, Lucy’s tree.

November 13, 2015 in Invermere with Tim and Snowpatch.


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