American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Argentina and Chile, Southern Patagonia, Argentina, Chalten Massif, Various Ski Descents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Various ski descents. In the fall Bean Bowers, Ben Ditto, and I completed a ski mountaineering circumnavigation of the Fitz Roy massif. Christened the “Southern Patagonia Ice Cap Expedition”— SPICE Tour for short—we traveled 65 miles, completed several ski descents, used traction kites for high-speed glacier travel, and endured some of the most notoriously bad weather on earth.

Starting from El Chalten we walked and horse-packed up the Rio Electrico valley, then shuttled heavy loads up talus slopes and crevasse fields to the edge of ice cap. After establishing a camp on a rocky ledge, we endured a four-day wind, rain, and snow storm, with steady winds of 40-50 mph and gusts of over 70 mph.

After a break in the weather, we ascended the nearby Gorra Blanca Peak and made a ski descent from the mushroom-capped summit down the southwest face to the west ridge.

During this descent Bowers made an airborne variation near the summit and survived a serious fall that took him over a 50' cliff, before he miraculously stopped, unhurt, on a steep ribbon of powder. After regrouping, we used traction kites to fly downwind to the Circo de los Altares, where we established Camp 2.

Basing out of a camp located in the middle of the cirque, we spent the next week making day trips to nearby couloirs. We warmed up with a descent of what we called Effecto Venturi, a short, south-facing corner/couloir on the western flank of Cerro Rincon, then moved on to ski the steeper and more committing Col de Bloque Empotrado Couloir on Torre Egger. After enduring another storm, we skied two more couloirs, which we called The Shark’s Fin and Sacrificial Virgin. The former was a prominent south-facing arete on the western flank of Cerro Rincon, the latter a north-northwest-facing couloir on the ridgeline leading west from Cerro Adela Norte. The final and most spectacular descent in this area was from the Col de la Esperanza on Cerro Torre, which was first reached by Bonatti and Mauri during their 1958 attempt on the peak.

We then kited over to the Mariano Mereno mountain range at speeds up to 30 mph, while towing our heavy sleds. This area had less skiing potential and more bad weather, but we accomplished two more ski descents of remote peaks (shorter, likely unnamed subpeaks near Dos Cumbres), before running out of time.

Andrew McLean

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