Cerro Condor, First Ascent, and Other Climbs and Exploration
South America, Argentina, Central Patagonia
In mid-September, near the end of calendar winter, a group of 17 students and Jose Luis Troncoso, Pedro Binfa, and I, instructors from Patagonia Alpine Guides, mounted an expedition to several Chilean valleys, glaciers, and peaks that had had few, if any, visits and about which there was little information.
Spring took an extra month to arrive, with furious winter conditions persisting. Temperatures fluctuated between -15°C and 12°C, snow was generally dry, and snowshoes made for efficient travel. Approaching from the south side of Monreal Lake, we spent a month covering terrain, going past Aislado Peak, and popping into the far end of the Orqueta Valley. We started with 10 days of food and at Orqueta got a 10-day resupply, before going onto Peñon Glacier, east of Cerro Castillo. On our way to this impressive, narrow glacier tongue, we were distracted by a gorgeous 1,753m peak far to the northwest. We decided to try it and went with four days of food, caching the rest, intending to return and continue with the original plan.
On September 27 Jose Luis, Pedro, and I climbed Peak 1,753m, starting from the west, gaining the shoulder, climbing the south ridge, and gradually moving onto the southwest face and following it to the summit. The climb gained 3,300' of elevation, and, climbing unroped, we took three hours round-trip from camp. The last 1,000' had consistently 60° snow, with a small section of ice, taking us to the end of the ridge and a perfect summit platform. We named Peak 1,753m “Cerro Condor,” an admittedly popular name given to several other Patagonian peaks. On September 28, another perfect day, all the students and we instructors repeated the climb. This time we protected the terrain and simul-climbed throughout.
The following day we returned to our cache and continued on our original way. On October 4 we reached the New Zealand Camp, where porters brought us 10-days food and fuel. Here, instead of going through Cerro Palo Pass and looping north and down-valley, we camped for 10 days and got familiar with the area. On October 6 seven students and we three instructors climbed Peak 2,050m from the north (not likely a first ascent). On October 11, 10 of us climbed the southeast aspect of Peak 2,143m (probably the second ascent), another pretty mountain, with 900' of consistent 70° snow on the face we climbed. We broke through an 80-85° corniced ridge, gaining a beautiful knife-edge ridge, and arrived on the rocky summit. We did most of the ascent and descent under strong winds and cold snow, making the fire back at camp even more enjoyable.
On October 15 nine of us attempted Peak 2,237m, in front of Cerro Palo, retreating from 2,150m after seven pitches of 65-75° hard snow, with a 20m section of 60° ice. The final portions of the summit ridge, a mix of snow and loose rock, remained. On October 17 we left the mountains, thankful for a good trip and with dreams of future projects.