Posts tagged “Cerro Madsen

Cerro Madsen

Cerro Madsen

Through recent email, I came to realize that my father is following my blog. With that in mind I have to wonder; when there are times of risk or danger do I tame down my blog entries for his sake or do I keep it true and miss nothing out. I decided on the latter. So dad, if you’re going to get worried you probably shouldn’t read this report.

Ok with that out the way I will continue.

I’ve always wanted to climb Cerro Madsen, with a few free days I decided to give it ago, the weather reports looked favorable so on the 29th I took off in the afternoon. I hiked fast and reached Laguna de los Tres in good time.

A quick shot of the lake on the way up

A quick shot of the lake on the way up

The lake is usually a morning shot, however, in the late afternoon, the waters looked emerald green. Cerro Madsen towers above the north shore of the lake. The route to the summit isn’t particularly technical, mainly lots of rock hopping. There were a few stretches of deep snow where I found myself ‘post-holing’ which is to say I’d sink to my thighs with every step.

There were a few stretches of steep, smooth, solid rock but otherwise, it wasn’t too challenging. I made it to the summit just as the sun was dropping to the right of Fitz Roy. There wasn’t time to set up a tripod so I took a few hand held shots.

The summit itself is quite exposed; I could see the light was already looking impressive. A huge lenticular cloud had built behind Fitz Roy, below it there was a definite clear gap, you tend to find when you have a clear gap at the horizon there’s room for the sun to light up the underside of the clouds. I felt sure I was going to get a great light show.

Laguna de los Tres from the summit of Cerro Madsen

Laguna de los Tres from the summit of Cerro Madsen. Note the second lake that isn’t visible from the shoreline

Choosing the best composition was difficult, amazingly there was very little breeze on the summit, however, every now and then a gust would blow through which would clearly upset any panoramic work. I decided on a composition that allowed some shelter from the northerly breeze. It was dangerously exposed to the south and the west but sheltered from the north. I considered climbing around a steep rock buttress, which might have afforded a slightly better view, but the risks tended to outweigh the benefits.

Setting up the tripod with a full QTVR panoramic head was no easy task. It would be all too easy to drop something. Thankfully I was able to fire off several bracketed panos. I was literally that close to Fitz Roy that I was able to shoot at a focal length of around 24mm. The light show was fantastic. I couldn’t help thinking how unlucky I’d been on my previous trips to Patagonia. Sometimes I’d go a month without even seeing the mountain, yet these past weeks have been nothing short of mind blowing.

A single image from the summit

A single image from the summit. I’m working on the panorama

Once the vivid sunset began to die away I crawled to my backpack, but not before leaving my tripod set up for what could be a great night or sunrise image. When I first made the summit I hadn’t had time to think of a place to shelter for the night. Looking around me I realized I didn’t want to drop much lower for fear of rocks landing on me in my sleep. There are no comfortable places to lie down on the summit of Cerro Madsen. The rocks are all jagged and sharp much like Mount Fitz Roy. In the rapidly failing light, I set about shifting the sharpest rocks to one side, wedging a few to stop me rolling down the slope. It seemed no sooner would I move one rock then I’d find an equally sharp one below. I carry a good durable Gore-Tex bivvy sack and an Exped down filled mat. The sleeping bag is a specialist down bag rated to -33C so I felt pretty confident I’d be warm. Of course, all it would take would be one sharp rock to pierce the mat and I’d be in real trouble.

Glacier Blanca far below. I've got plans to shoot from the glacier. Accessing it won't be easy.

Glacier Blanca far below. I’ve got plans to reach the glacier, it’ll be tough. That’s one for another day.

A bivvy bag is no bigger than those body bags you see on television. Once it’s zipped up there’s no air supply. That’s fine on dry evenings but it’s very unpleasant when it’s wet.

Around midnight the wind started to get up, it was very hard to tell just how strong it really was. The wind can very easily howl through craggy rocks giving the impression it’s windier than it really is. I decided to play on the safe side and climb back up and remove my tripod. I cautiously weighed down my bivvy with several heavy rocks so it wouldn’t blow away.

Climbing back up to the summit in the dark was a scary prospect. I had to traverse a ledge that lay at about 40º. If one were to slide off the ledge the fall would not be pleasant. It would be one of those falls that allowed you time to think of your mistake. In other words, you would fall considerably more than 100’, time enough to bitterly regret your actions. A lesser fall of 20’ might be even worse; you would very likely survive only to have to lie in agony dying with a broken leg and nobody to help. Surely a much ‘nicer’ fall would be around a hundred feet. If you’ve got to fall then I tend to think of this as being the ideal height.

Having safely retrieved the tripod I settled back in my bivvy bag. Despite the cold and the rocks below me, I was relatively comfortable. It wasn’t long though before the wind increased in volume and I heard the steady patter of snow falling on the Gore-Tex shell of the bivvy. Now I was forced to zip up the bag with only an inch gap in which to breathe. I suppose I had no sleep that first night, it’s too hard to sleep when you have to keep your head precisely in one place and quite annoying when flurries of snow blow inside your mouth.

By morning the conditions were no better, in some ways I was mildly relieved not to have to make the return climb to the summit. It was treacherous enough when dry, with the dampness of snow and the added high winds it would be far more dangerous.

I decided to wait, telling myself that perhaps by mid-morning the storm would blow itself out. There was nothing to gain by heading out in a storm so I just waited and waited. I could read my Kindle inside the bivvy but even holding it upright was tricky as there’s so little room. As the day wore on the conditions deteriorated, I had no water and very little food but I felt I could hang on for another night, maybe longer.

That second night was the worst, my breath made my sleeping bag damp which in turn began to freeze. If I opened the zipper huge flurries of snow would force their way in but if I kept it closed I would struggle to breathe with no fresh air.

I would shift around from time to time which allowed the snow collecting on my bivvy to settle below me. In time the snow built up underneath giving me some level of comfort.

On the morning of the 31st, I knew I had to brave the conditions and get down. I had a pounding headache, certainly not from the altitude as I was below 7000’ it was likely caused by lack of water. I ate a little snow but snow is so aerated that you’d have to eat a lot to get any kind of hydration, and of course, it cools your body down a lot.

I knew that in order to get up and on my way I’d have to be very quick and very careful. I couldn’t afford to let something blow away in the wind. I had no ice axe but I did have crampons. I considered long and hard about putting them on. I knew that once my hands were cold there was little hope of strapping on crampons. Yet the snow should be fairly soft and there would still be lots of exposed rock. I decided to go without crampons.

My boots were the first priority; they were buried in the snow. Once I had my boots on I dragged my sleeping bag from the bivvy and shoved it into my barrel along with my camera and spare lens. Everything was damp but there was nothing I could do. The bivvy and mat were hastily squashed into a large dry bag and tied to the pack, all in all, it was easier than I’d expected.

On my way up the mountain, I’d used my GPS to create a breadcrumb trail. Now for the return, all I had to do was follow it. Unfortunately, I don’t know quite why but I made an error. It was probably lack of sleep but I ended up descending the wrong side of the main ridge. I was sinking waist deep into deep powder snow. With no gaiters my shoes quickly filled with snow, maybe it was the adrenalin but I didn’t feel the cold, I only wanted to get down safely.

Having realized my error there was nothing I could do, I was committed, I’d dropped a couple of hundred feet down a 45º slope, returning would be immensely difficult. As is so often the case the slope gradually got steeper. At one point I was staring directly into a crevasse. Somehow I ended up face first in the snow, moving back to my feet was very tough, any small slide would very likely result in a fast and unstoppable fall. As I approached the crevasse I realized thankfully that there was a good snow bridge. I let myself slide over it barely glancing into the icy depths of the crevasse. The ground leveled off for a bit but it wasn’t long before I again found myself looking down a steep gully. The snow was my savior here, it was just the right consistency, and it gave me the confidence to attempt slopes that seemed quite impassable.

Laguna de los Tres on my return.

Laguna de los Tres on my return.

Gradually the waters of Laguna de los Tres became visible below me. I had to decide, should I continue heading down on my current course or traverse to the left. If I continued down I would get to the far west of the lake. This would require crossing the southern edge. It’s a route I knew was passable, I believe the climbers use that way. Instead, though I chose to traverse over to the left for no other reason than it looked quicker.

It was tough going, several times I got ‘cliffed out’ but somehow I made it to the bottom in one piece. I turned around to look where I’d just come and I really could scarcely believe I’d descended the way I had. All that remained was a 10km hike back to town.

The right way and the wrong way.

The right way and the wrong way.

Cerro Madsen

_ACW4487-Edit-copyFrom a relatively high altitude Cerro Madsen offers spectacular views of the Fitz Roy range. As usual I had to make several visits to this location before capturing anything worthwhile.I share here some other images taken in the vicinity: