Mid July

Mid July

I’m now almost five months into my Patagonia trip; daylight hours are beginning to get longer now that we’ve passed the shortest day. I’ve mixed feelings about this, the shortest days have only about eight hours of light which in many ways is great because it allows me to set off hiking from my cabin at 8.00am and reach the centre of the park for sunrise rather than making a 4.00am start as will be the case in the middle of December. On the plus side in a month or two I will have much longer daylight hours and will be tackling lengthy hikes.

I’ve plans also to climb several local peaks including Cerro Solo, Cerro Electrico and Cerro Techado Negro. There will also be trips to O’Higgins Glacier, Glacier Torre, the Viedma and Perito Moreno Glaciers. I’m also intending to trek to Circo de los Altares to photograph Cerro Torre from the ice field which lies hidden to the west of the Fitz Roy range.

The weather is proving to be quite miserable at the moment; we’re getting our first heavy winds in weeks. The ferocity of the wind is so strong that I’m sometimes left wondering if my cabin can withstand the gusts. The cabin was built in an area of relative shelter yet it is still hit with gusts of up to 40 – 50 knots. Snow comes and goes, this is in truth a blessing, I’ve yet to need my snow shoes and am able to hike into the park without difficulty. Winter conditions will last right through into September so I expect plenty of opportunity to photograph snow scenes.

The cloud clears to show Techado Negro. I'll try climbing this soon

The cloud clears to show Techado Negro. I’ll try climbing this soon

El Chalten, it's only small but it grows year by year

El Chalten, it’s only small but it grows year by year

What a welcome

What a welcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epic Reconnaissance

Glacier Blanca in the distance

Glacier Blanca in the distance

A few months ago I was introduced to Sebastian a local climber from El Chalten, I’ve been so busy in the past five months that I’ve only just managed to get out and climb with him. I’ve been cultivating an idea to shoot Fitz Roy from Glacier Blanca, accessing the glacier is extremely difficult. It’s bordered by steep mountains on all sides, except the east where the glacier drops into Laguna Blanca. We set off just before sunrise with a plan to access a possible rappel below the summit of Cerro Electrico, however, once we reached Laguna Blanca we discovered that the lake wasn’t entirely frozen. Sebastian assured me that he wouldn’t cross the ice for all the tea in China, so rather than circuit the lake we decided to make an attempt to climb the glacial wall from the south. It was my first serious ice climb, the first time I’ve ever used two ice axes, and the first time I’ve ever been roped up to another climber. If either of us took a fall the idea is that the other climber could hope to arrest the fall with their ice axe. In reality this wouldn’t have happened, the ice was too hard and the snow too soft.

We began climbing at around 13.00hrs; it would be some four hours before we’d turn round and make the descent. We kept aiming for a boulder or other such landmark, telling ourselves we’d turn back once that point was reached; yet we couldn’t stop ourselves from pushing on. It was windy and bitterly cold; with my harness dragging at my trousers windblown snow found its way into my clothing but it would take more than mere discomfort to slow me down. I thoroughly enjoyed the climb; I was out discovering new possibilities and challenging myself more than I had done so for weeks.

It was only as we reached the half waypoint and as we were really close to the threatening blue ice that I began to question how well I knew Sebastian. For all I knew he

Sebastian introduces me to another edible food source

Sebastian introduces me to another edible food source llao llao

Initial route plan

Initial route plan

Our actual route

Our actual route

Sebastian happy to let me lead

Sebastian happy to let me lead

Some of that blue ice will make a nice foreground

Some of that blue ice will make a nice foreground

could have been the towns crazy climber, the one guy that nobody else would climb with. I had no idea how old his rope was, come to think of it I had no idea how old my harness was. I actually found my harness lying in the forest in Glacier National Park in Montana. I started to wonder how long it had lain on the ground with the suns UV rays stressing the webbing. Could I trust my own equipment, let alone my ability?

As we made our way higher and higher we were forced closer and closer to the huge overhanging glacier. Huge chunks of ice balanced precariously above us. Years earlier I once stood before Nepals Khumbu Ice Fall and I got the same feeling of awe but this time I was in the thick of it.

This one gives some idea of the climb

This one gives some idea of the climb

Finally at about 17.00 hrs we were forced to turn back. Sebastian was feeling the strain, he’s the same age as I am but he’s not been getting out hiking as much as I have. I would love to have spent just another half an hour climbing as I was sure we were at a position where the glacier levelled off. I was even tempted to unclip from my harness and just climb for another ten minutes on my own, but I knew that we were in an area of hidden crevasses. Retreat was essential, not least because we only had barely an hour of light left in the day.

We made our descent trying to follow our footsteps, in places these had already been obliterated due to the heavy windblown snow. Two rappels were necessary, at one point Sebastian used an ice screw to force a narrow tunnel into a block of ice. Through this he threaded some parachute cord, using this as a rappel point before we dropped off a near vertical 100’ ice sheet. Sebastian asked if I knew how to rappel, I’ve rappelled twice, once as a boy scout and once on an indoor climbing wall about ten years ago, how hard can it be! Sebastian went first, I didn’t want to even look at the anchor point; we trusted our lives with little more than a bootlace.

The lights fades fast on the descent. Only another 7 hours to go

The lights fades fast on the descent. Only another 7 hours to go

When we reached the bottom Sebastian told me he was too exhausted to make it back to town. He suggested we make our way to El Pilar where he assured me we could access some abandoned house and sleep the night. I didn’t argue even though I knew I could make it back to town on my own, if I were to head off quickly on my own I’d likely make home in under 3 hours, even with snow on the trails.

It would have been incredibly foolish to split up and I never seriously considered it. I just went along with Sebastian’s plan. The decision began the start of a marathon 5-hour hike that would leave us 16 km from town rather than a 3-hour hike back to the comfort of our own homes.

By the time we reached Laguna Blanca it was dark, with a moonless night, it was also snowing hard and we were well off trail. I’d never been in this area of the park before and although I kept my thoughts private I really began to question the decision. As we left the lake we were forced to navigate our way through huge boulders, some the size of small houses. The boulders were extremely slippery covered as they were with snow and ice. I had offered to carry Sebastian’s heavier backpack whilst he took mine, I cringed each time he scraped my blue barrel along a rock. This was an easy place to take a fall and break an ankle or worse. I had brought my VHF radio with me but it was of very limited use, any emergency team would have to come out on foot, there’s no helicopter rescue so it paid to be extra cautious.

Sebastian looks exhausted but happy to find the glacier viewpoint

Sebastian looks exhausted but happy to find the glacier viewpoint

We finally made it to Laguna Blanca viewpoint yet we still had a lengthy hike to the abandoned sheds. It was wonderful to be on the trail, however, once we had sure footing we were both suddenly aware that we were utterly exhausted. We’d not had more than a five-minute break all day and had been on the move for 15 hours. Typically I won’t bother taking food with me into the park, this day had been an exception, I’d brought with me a Cliff Bar which had provided me a whopping 240 calories. I was planning on hiking the 16km back from El Pilar to town but when we arrived there just after midnight I realised it was too far. The snow was falling hard and there was almost certainly no traffic on the road.

Finding one of the empty old sheds we scrounged some soggy egg cartons, which we lay down on the concrete floor for insulation. The roof did a great job of keeping the snow out but there was no insulation whatsoever and neither of us had a sleeping bag. Sebastian somehow fell into a deep sleep leaving me to listen to the sound of his snoring; I stayed awake all night shivering on my egg carton bedding. Every so often I’d do a few dozen sit ups just to try to keep warm, there was little else I could do, I felt like a prisoner in a Siberian gulag.

During the night I constantly checked my watch as the hours dragged on, we’d agreed to leave at 8.00am so at around 7.30am I dragged Sebastian from his deep sleep. The guy told me he’d been dreaming, lucky him I thought as I pulled on damp boots. All night I’d listened to the sound of snow falling on the sheds tin roof, outside there was about 6 inches of fresh snow. Sixteen kilometres of dirt road was never going to be fun, we just had to put our heads down and get on with it. Thankfully after hiking for two hours a truck came by and picked us up, we were back in town within half an hour, both exhausted but happy and still exhilarated from our climb. I’ll definitely be making a return trip.

The actual GPS route on Google Earth. We were close to the top of the glacier but still a long way from the ideal shooting location

The actual GPS route on Google Earth. We were close to the top of the glacier but still a long way from the ideal shooting location

Our next approach from the summit of Cerro Madsen. If this fails we might drop down off Cerro Electrico to the north

Our next approach from the summit of Cerro Madsen. If this fails we might drop down off Cerro Electrico to the north

An approach from Cerro Electrico, my least favoured route but looks viable

An approach from Cerro Electrico, my least favoured route

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Torres del Paine

I just add this image as proof that I have been shooting in Torres del Paine. I’d gone to this location with a client, we’d been hoping for some dramatic wave action but by sunset the winds died off. With the preconceived idea of wave shots in tatters I decided to take my camera down to ground level. I shot this image as a nine image focus stack. The water was barely a metre long pool yet of course at ground level it looks far greater. I’ll be getting back to Torres del Paine very soon.

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