Cordón Granito, various new routes. Ice avalanches roared into the big gorge looming in front of our base camp. The immense Cipreses Glacier, which forms one of the largest ice plateaus of the Andes outside Patagonia, forces its way through this 100m-wide gorge. Worried, we studied the gorge and its flanking walls. We had to find a way through, in order to reach the glacier plateau above, where virgin rock awaited.
Five days earlier, in December 2005, we landed in Santiago, bought food for five people for three weeks and arranged a 4x4 jeep ride to the entrance of the Cipreses Valley. We were a party of young Dutch climbers (Ruben van Walen, Michiel van de Ent, Michiel Engelsman, Menno Boermans, and I), eager to venture beyond the well-known Alps. Chased by armed mine guards, we reached the entrance of the Rio de los Cipreses National Park, where we arranged for mules and two gauchos to transport our loads into the valley. It took two days of trekking, river crossing, river jumping, and swamp walking to reach the end the valley, where we established base camp. The gauchos and their animals left and would return within three weeks.
Immediately we scoped possibilities for reaching the upper glacier plateau. Our only navigational helps were prints from Google Earth and photos taken by the Chilean expedition (thanks to Jose Ignacio Morales) the previous year. With luck we discovered a series of ledges on the right side of the gorge, which led us directly onto the glacier with only one rappel and almost no objective danger. We named this passage Dutch Alley. We spent the following days ferrying loads to the glacier, made an exploratory trip over the glacier plateau from an intermediate camp, and finally made our camp high on the upper glacier. This camp was opposite the Agujas de Palomo (see AAJ 2006, pp. 260-261) and beneath a small group of granite peaks that we called the Agujas Maxima. Immediately we started climbing, using only natural protection. On the Agujas de Palomo we established one route of average-quality rock up the west corner of Punta 3,970m: A Steady Diet of Nothing (200m, not to the summit, UIAA VII-). We then attempted the next peak directly south, failing to summit due to dangerously loose rock. We called our route House of Cards (150m, V+). Although disappointed, we turned our attention to the pillars and faces of the Agujas Máxima, immediately above our camp. Here we found perfect granite and established South American Aphrodisiac (250m, UIAA VII) on the east pillar of the main summit (3,980m) and Percolator Addicts (300m, VII+) on the east pillar of the north summit (3,960m).
Since establishing camp took longer than planned, we had few climbing days left. We also ran out of food, so we headed back after three weeks. But not before we climbed (hiked) the Volcan el Palomo (4,850m), which dominated the view from camp. We reached the summit by crossing a little pass through a row of peaks running north from the Agujas de Palomo, then continuing by moderate slopes of scree and snow. We were probably the first party to the summit from the northwest. At base camp we welcomed the gauchos on the arranged day, and with only one energy bar per person started the one-day, 55km trip back to the park entrance, as images of beer and burgers dragged us back to the relative luxury of the small farming village.
Eelco Franz, Netherlands