South America, Chile, Central Patagonia, Cerro Largo, First Ascent, Northeast Ridge; Cerros Hyades, Turret, and Escuela, First Winter Ascents

Publication Year: 2008.

Cerro Largo, first ascent, northeast ridge; Cerros Hyades, Turret, and Escuela, first winter ascents. After making the first winter crossing of the Northern Patagonia Ice Cap in July 2006, we wanted to climb mountains on the northeast side of the Ice Cap, increase our knowledge of this vast glaciated area of Patagonia, and experience this unknown area in winter. Club Aleman Andino and Club Andino Universitario members Camilo Rada, Mauricio Rojas, Nicholas von Graevenitz, and I left Santiago on July 6 to enter the Lake Leones sector. After days of transport by horses and Zodiac, we reached the foot of the Leones Glacier, the easiest access to the northern sector of the Ice Cap. Three days later we gained Cristal Pass, the entrance to the plateau, where an intense storm, quite infrequent in winter, pinned us for eight days in our igloo. We then enjoyed eight days of good weather, and traveled 12km on skis with pulkas, going past San Valentin and to the base of Cerro Hyades (3,100m). This colossus, the primary target of our trip, had only two ascents (New Zealanders in 1969 and 1973), neither in winter. From the north on July 29, half the time on skis, we climbed the 1969 route, mostly on the west face but spiraling around to the north and finishing from the northeast. Accompanied by the sun, and with the Pacific Ocean at our backs, everything seemed perfectly in place. We skied a great part of the descent, with the best snow but also some crevasses that forced to remain roped the whole way, limiting the pleasure of the ski.

The next day we left in the middle of a gale with zero visibility. After six hours—thanks purely to the GPS—we reached the foot of Cerro Largo (Long Mountain) and built another igloo—exhausting work that made us sweat, turning our layers to frozen armor under our parkas—rather than try to set up tents. Two days later, July 31, we left the igloo for snow-covered Orange Peak, a satellite of Cerro Largo, and skied up it, enjoying a golden sunset on the summit. We had an unforgettable ski down, not only due to the scenery but also the good snow.

Cerro Largo extends almost 15km from north to south, and was the highest unclimbed mountain on the northern Ice Cap. The only possible route seemed to be the northeast ridge, though it was guarded by huge overhanging seracs. Camilo and Nicholas left very early the next day, and after 10km of uphill they reached the mountain’s first steep slopes. A few hours later they reached the huge overhanging serac, which had a solid 14m of glacier ice that overhung 40°. Camilo aided through it, using all of our screws. Nicholas jumarred, and after eight difficult hours (MD) they were the first to climb Cerro Largo (2,800m), and in winter—the most technical Chilean ascent in the Patagonia Ice Cap. They returned to the igloo late, as happy as exhausted.

Good weather followed, so the next day we all went to Cerro Turret (2,285m), ascended its small summit, and continued to nearby Cerro Escuela (2,100m), reaching its summit in late afternoon, both ascents from the north via easy terrain that was perhaps previously climbed. We returned to the igloo after more then 22km of travel and two first winter ascents in that long day. Two days later we descended the long and smooth Nef Glacier and camped by the impressive Cerro Cachet. At noon the next day we left the Ice Cap to enter the humid Patagonian forests of lengas and coigües trees.

We exited through the Soler River Valley, with three days travel, under heavy loads, bringing us to the shores of Plomo Lake and our boat ride to civilization. On August 12, after our 36-day expedition, a carnivorous dinner in Coyhaique marked the end of another Patagonian winter adventure.

Instead of the long days and nicer temperatures of summer, we prefer winter’s predictable long spells of clear days with no wind. Although we have only nine hours of daylight, and temperatures sometimes to -30C°, in the long run we can climb a lot more. Also, the special winter light makes an unforgettable scene in this vast, unexplored area.

Pablo Besser, Club Aleman Andino and Club Andino Universitario