South America, Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, San Valentin and Other Peaks, Northern Patagonia Icecap

Publication Year: 1971.

San Valentín and Other Peaks, Northern Patagonian Icecap. During the southern summer of 1969-70 the New Zealand Patagonian Expedition was on the Northern Patagonian Icecap, part of the same Pleistocene glacial remnant as the better known and larger Southern Icecap. It lies between 46° and 48° South Latitude, roughly to the west of Lago General Carrera (Lago Buenos Aires). Our party was made up of seven New Zealanders, A. C. Bibby, P. H. Gresham, C. R. Gunn, D. J. Launder, J. M. Nankervis, R. Vickers, Gordon Vickers as leader, and me and one Chilean, C. Lucero M. We used the approach route previously traversed by Professor Arnold Heim with a party from the Club Andino Bariloche in 1945. We came from the east via Río León, crossed the lake at the foot of the glacier by inflatable boat to our Base Camp at 1200 feet at its northwest corner and then forced our way through 2000 feet of thick brush to a rock and snow ridge leading to the glacial névé at 3750 feet. Camp I was established at this point to be used as a staging point for the ferrying of loads to the col (7150 feet) between Cerro Cristal and Cerro Mocho and under which we dug two comfortable snow caves to form Camp II. As our primary aim was to ascend San Valentin and some of the high unclimbed peaks adjacent to it, we were forced to descend to the icecap 2000 feet below, rounding Cerro La Torre to the northwest before heading back northeast up the glacier descending to the icecap from San Valentin. From Camp V at 8000 feet on this glacier we ascended the following peaks: San Valentin (12,717 feet)1 on December 23, 1969 by G. and R. Vickers, Gresham, Lucero from the south to a col between the north shoulder and summit; Cerro Silberhorn* or Tararua*2 (12,100 feet) on December 20 by Gresham, Launder via south ridge; Cerro Fiero* (10,600 feet) on December 20 by Gunn, Nankervis via north ridge; Cerro Pico Sur or Pamir* (10,200 feet) on December 24 by Lucero, R. Vickers via east ridge, Cerro La Torre (9000 feet) on December 23 by Bibby, Gunn, Launder, Nankervis via east ridge. (* indicates an unofficial name.) All these were ice climbs of varying degrees of difficulty. On two of the three climbing days the return to camp was complicated by storm conditions, causing navigational problems. We returned to Base Camp for Christmas and were fortunate that the storm for the next five days served to keep the horseflies down. The next part of our programme was to attempt to explore and climb in the ranges forming the eastern rim of the icecap and to visit the corridor to the north of Cerro Arenales, which had been traversed by Shipton and party. Consequently four members left for the icecap on December 30. On January 2, Bibby, Gunn, Launder and Nankervis climbed Cerro Cristal* (9000 feet) via the west ridge and Bibby, Launder and Nankervis ascended Cerro Mocho* via the southwest ridge from Camp II. They then set off south with sufficient food to make the following ascents: Cerro Hyades (10,100 feet) on January 7 by all four via north face; Cerro Cono Helado* (8200 feet) on January 6 by all four via west ridge; Cerro Siniolchu* (8100 feet) on January 8 by Bibby, Gunn via north face and west ridge; Cerro Turret* (7500 feet) on January 8 by Launder, Nankervis via east face. During this period R. and G. Vickers and Gresham ascended the rock spire Cerro Aguda* (8600 feet), which lies east of Cerro Hyades across the lake from Base Camp. Aside from previous ascents of San Valentin (from the west by Club Andino Bariloche members) and Cerro Arenales (by the Chilean-Japanese Expedition, this was the first attempt to do large scale climbing from the icecap. The weather by Patagonian standards was good, although we had our share of storms. Skis were essential to traverse the long névé slopes which softened in the heat of the day. For future parties the unclimbed spectacular granite and ice peaks of the corridor to the north of Arenales offer a wonderful field of endeavour. If approached from the east it would probably be best done via the Rio Soler to a col leading to the névé of the Nef Glacier.

C. Robert Gunn,

Tararua Tramping Club and New Zealand Alpine Club

1 The most commonly accepted altitude for San Valentín is 3876 meters or 12,717 feet and not 13,310 feet, which is apparently a less accurate figure. Since the other altitudes in this immediate vicinity were apparently based on this altitude for San Valentín we have reduced those given us by the New Zealanders by 600 feet.

2 Many of the names given here are not official. Many of them were given by Professor Arnold Heim and his expedition in 1945 and appear in his book, but they have not been accepted by Chilean authorities and apparently will not ever be. We reluctantly repeat them here only because they have appeared in print and will identify the peaks. One of the Swiss names is incorrect Spanish and should either be “Cerro Aguja” or “Cerro Agudo”. The New Zealanders have added further confusion by calling the peak the Swiss called “Silberhorn” after their club, “Cerro Tararua”. They called Cerro Pico Sur “Pamir” and Cerro La Torre “Torre Tobler”, although they already had officially registered names.