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South America, Chilean Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, Cerro San Valentin, Ascent, and Hielo Patagonico Norte, Traverse

Cerro San Valentin, Ascent, and. Hielo Patagonico Norte, Traverse. Two of us, Tomasz Schramm and Andrzej Smialy, had as our goal to make a traverse of the northern part of the Hielo Patagonico Norte as well as to climb the highest mountain in Patagonia, Cerro San Valentin (4058m). We were asked many times if we were mad and were informed, by the way, that there are better ways to commit suicide.

After landing on the shore of Laguna San Rafael, we started our pilgrimage toward San Valentin on November 23, 1999. Because of nasty crevasses in the lower part of the San Rafael glacier, we proceeded on the rock of the glacier bed. This took six days, at which point we were welcomed by the crevassed surface of the glacier. We had heavy loads, so we were forced to walk the same distance several times, which is why it took us until December 4 to reach the main plateau. Our pulkas helped to turn our walk on the glacier into a pleasure. After we survived on a huge, steep, fog-covered, crevassed ice field, the way to the top of San Valentine was open. So we used it. We hugged one another on a summit after a nine-hour climb in a blizzard. Then we headed toward Cerro Cristal on the main ridge of the Andes. Unfortunately, “El Respiro” (our name for the blizzard on Hielo) had the same plan. We quickly made one another’s acquaintance and in six days of struggle we walked just over ten kilometers. In very poor visibility, we got lost a bit (our GPS was helpless—there are white spots on a map) and at lastwe stood on a pass between Mocho and Cerro Fierro (perhaps the first to do so). During the next two days we struggled with blizzards and gravity on steep snow slopes, ice and rock cliffs, making seven rappels en route. When we set foot on the flat surface of a glacier, we called our newly opened route down from the Hielo “Desperado Pass.”

A week-long trek back to human settlements led us through the rough and hazardous terrain of the Fiero and Leon river valleys. We crawled over house-sized rocks, through the green hell of Patagonian bush and across the Rio Leon at the end. Berries are common there, and we fed ourselves on them during the last days when our expedition food was gone. We spent 35 days on this walk (from Laguna San Rafael to El Pedregal farm) instead of the 26 we had planned.

Andrzej Smialy, Polish Alpine Club