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South America, Argentine and Chilean Patagonia, Cerro Barros Arana, 1990

Cerro Barros Arana, 1990. In December, 1990, Doug Tompkins and my wife Barbara flew two Cessna T206s to Patagonia. Doug and I reconnoitered unclimbed peaks from the air. We originally thought of trying Cerro Castillo, but when we flew close to the summit, we saw rock of poor quality and a cairn on top. Farther north we saw tempting summits and chose Cerro Barros Arana in the Río Milta valley. With Cado and Josh Avenali, we drove down the Carretera Austral, a road opened in 1988, until we could see the peak from the road, 13 kilometers north of La Junta. Although we were at sea-level, timberline on our mountain appeared to be a two-or-three-hour walk away, had there been a good trail. An estancia owner said, that, to the best of his knowledge, no one had ever been to the base of the ice-draped peak, We smiled when he said he doubted we would make it to timberline. The approach took 2½ days as we thrashed our way through primeval rain forest filled with chasms, waterfalls, bamboo and leeches. Whenever we encountered bamboo, we knew that within 100 yards we would be crawling on our bellies with 60-pound packs through a forest that seemed impenetrable. In a fit of ecological passion, we had left machetes behind. The weather stayed poor. After waiting out two days of storm, our party of four headed up snow slopes that led to a glacier on the north side. In a whiteout we climbed a steep couloir with crampons and exited onto 5.5 rock that brought us to an easier ramp above. Higher on the ramp, we began to find ice over the rock. Then we came to a notch below a 200-foot headwall of verglas and 5.8 rock that Doug led in crampons with zest. Josh and Cado decided not to climb the ice. As Doug and I climbed higher, the mist parted. The corniced ridge leveled out and in a few hundred feet we were on the 7560-foot summit. At the top, we wondered about a 360° sun halo before we hurried down to meet our friends in the notch below the technical difficulties.

Galen A. Rowell