Cerro Ladrillero, from the northeast. In the austral extreme of the Americas, nature becomes savage, with steep geography that includes a labyrinth of islands, fjords and mountains, glaciers, deep forests of incredible colors, and land that’s difficult to travel. Definitely an ecologically rich countryside, but also characterized by extremely unstable weather and high humidity, cold temperatures, and especially strong winds.
For these reasons, many mountains remain unclimbed, and information is scarce. Patagonia requires, as Eric Shipton said, a dose of stoicism, and also experience, time, and patience— a lot of patience.
For information on Cerro Ladrillero (1,705m [various reported altitudes]; first ascent from the south, see AAJ 2005, pp. 302-303) we visited the Instituto de la Patagonia de la Universidad de Magallanes and studied aerial photographs for possible route ideas.
The next step was to get there. Cerro Ladrillero is located in the western extreme of the sparsely populated Riesco Island, which has only one road. The road ends at the last remaining estancia, Estancia Rocallosa. There was more than 50km of inaccessible terrain between there and our base camp, a seashore on the inlet of Estero Riquelme, at the south end of Seno Skyring [Skyring Sound].
“Navigation is very difficult in this sea, Seno Skyring. The problems are the streams and the strong wind. Once I went to fish and remained there for ten days,” said the first fisherman whose boat we tried to hire. Finally we hired someone with a Zodiac and courage to take us to Estero Riquelme. On Thursday, November 13, after two hours of good sea conditions, the Zodiac dropped us on the beach.
Behind us was a deep, dense forest with wild animals and no passage made by human hand. Much reconnaissance was necessary to find the way, which we cleared with a machete. We headed southwest from the beach, eventually reaching the northeast part of the glacier.
A couple of exhausting days were necessary to carry our gear and reach our advanced camp, in the rocks below the glacier. We only needed one good day, with visibility, to face the enigmatic glacier and attempt the summit. Finally, on November 22 we got a spectacular view, verified our planned route, and started up the northeast slopes. Near the top we wrapped around to climb the final headwall from the east-southeast. The last part to the summit was 40°-50° and we fixed ropes. The climb—and the Patagonian wind—did not disappoint.
The last members of the group returned to base camp at midnight. We expected to leave the island the next morning, but the weather forecast was bad. The five members of our group who went in the first rotation spent 4.5 hours navigating a brave sea with strong winds. This compelled the others to remain on the island. Two days later we left base camp and returned to civilization.
We left a copy of Juan Ladrillero’s navigation notes on the summit, and as we ventured again into Seno Skyring, leaving Cerro Ladrillero behind, we felt wonder and humility toward the great navigators who discovered these lands, and we felt satisfied with our achievement and our beautiful route. It’s dedicated to Juan Ladrillero, and to all the explorers who tread on these wonderful lands.
Lt. Col. Alberto Ayora Hirsch, Spanish Army Mountain Group