Hi everyone! After 34 days in the mountains, I am now back in the town of Coyhaique, Chile. I had an absolutely amazing experience on my NOLS Patagonia Mountaineering course! This post will just give you an idea of what my month was like. [Photos in this post- Cam Soergel]
I left the States in early January for Patagonia with nothing but a 40L backpack and a ready-for-anything mindset. After a relatively easy series of flights, I had about 3 days to just chill in Coyhaique. I was able to meet most of the other 16 expedition students in those days. We had a great time walking around the town and starting to get to know eachother, as well as speculating on what the next month would entail for us. Do we have the right gear? What will the weather be like? What food will we eat? None of us really knew what to expect, but we were eager to leave the frontcountry for the Andes.
With a break in the weather, we moved out of the dense lenga forest and to our first on-snow basecamp. From there, we summited our first peak, Cerro Negro. We spent hours practicing self arrest techniques on the snow and learning more about glacier travel, practiced setting up snow anchors and rock protection, and also worked on rappelling techniques . We planned on staying there just a few days, but a new storm rolled in, this one much worse than the last. While in the process of ferrying our third ration of food to a new cache, a violent wind began to muffle our voices as charcoal colored clouds began to cover the bluebird sky we woke up to. It was this point in the trip where the group coined the term “tent life”, because we were, effectively, tentbound for what seemed like a never ending storm. When the wind and rain didn’t let up after a couple of days, we resorted to building a snow classroom and snow kitchens covered with tarps.
When the weather got so bad that even the tarp covered snow kitchen was no longer an option, we learned to cook all of our meals in the vestibule of our tents. Each day we wondered if the cola de la tormenta [tail of the storm] would arrive, most of the time with exceptional optimism. Eventually, the weather and overall uncertainty began to wear all of down a little bit. It seemed as if reaching our destination glacier camp would never happen. Somewhere around the 7th day of the storm, the rain and sleet turned into snow. After about one more day, the raging weather from the Pacific Ocean and Patagonian Ice Fields finally lifted. It was time to move to the glacier!
We roped up in teams of five and crossed our first glacier. Huge crevasses surrounded our path as we made our way to the new glacier basecamp that would set us up to have a ton of options for climbing, and we made it there in one sunny day.
The days living at this camp were some of the best on the trip. We learned about crevasse rescue, pulley systems, and glaciology. Even though yet another bad weather system rolled through, it was short lived. From this camp, I travelled with a small group and led a rope team across another glacier, around a ridge, and to the summit of Cerro Dedicado.
Crossing the glacier was a huge challenge that time, because some clouds settled right on the glacier, limiting visibility to nearly whiteout conditions. I probed almost every step in front of me to avoid falling into a crevasse. After gaining some elevation, we emerged above the clouds and climbed some steep snow pitches to reach the summit. I’m at a loss for words to describe what it was like to sit at the top of Dedicado. All of the waiting in tents, enduring the weather, the heavy packs, suddenly became 100% worth the struggle.
This is mountaineering. You wait. You struggle. You do everything you can to stay safe and healthy. You hope for the good weather window. And if all of the stars align, you get to experience climbing some of the most incredible mountains in the world.