Leeches, carnivorous bees, hacking through thick bamboo jungle on the approach: these are not what come to mind when you talk about Patagonia. But the mystery and secrecy surrounding the many hidden granite walls of the Turbio IV valley (which I also have heard called Valle Oscuro) piqued my interest, and in late January 2011 I found myself in Bariloche. Argentina, with Josh Garrison, preparing to go in with directions from a decade-old, hand-drawn map.
After waiting several days for the river to go down from recent flooding, we began a difficult 60km horse ride with our gear to the junction of the Turbio tributaries. We made our first trip into the Mariposa Valley. The trail finding was desperate, through dense forests of cane colihue jungle and over sketchy Tyrolean crossings, but, after a mid-approach bivy while hopelessly lost, we reached the open Mariposa meadow, which became our base camp for the next 14 days. We had lots of heavy rain, but in between did the second ascent of the Brazilian route, El Palito (550m, 5.10+), on La Oreja, and simul-soled a Royal Arches type feature we named the Earlobe (900m, 5.6), to the east of La Oreja. We attempted a new route on a feature we called El Diente (200m, 5 new pitches), and another on the northeast pillar of La Oreja (400m, 9 pitches), but were thwarted on both by closed-out, vegetated cracks. While we found the rumor of “10 Half Domes” to be true, most of the walls are capped by large glaciers that sweep the faces.
After a final resupply at the Turbio junction, we moved camp into the Pirita Valley. Pirita Right has seen action from two different teams in recent years (AAJ 2009, pp. 200–202), and for good reason: it has the cleanest and most spectacular granite in either of the valleys. Days on end of heavy rain confined us to our tarp-shanty, as we grew anxious and began slimming down our rations.
At last, with four days left, our window arrived. We left camp under a cold and clear sky, and reached the bottom of the approach slabs by daybreak. The approach to the main wall is long and involved, kind of like the Death Slabs with pitches up to 5.10. By late morning, we reached the bottom of our intended route in the center of the face, and climbed pitch-after-pitch of clean, rope-stretching, laser-cut cracks, sometimes connected with heady slabs and traverses. We topped out at dusk to a brilliant orange sunset, sweeping from the Pacific Ocean (only 30 miles away!) to the snowy flanks of Monte Tronodor, before settling in for a very cold, full-moon-lit, open bivy. In the morning we descended for seven hours down the shoulder and slabs, for a camp-to-camp time of 33 hours, having established Under a Southern Star (460m, V 5.11).
On February 22, we loaded all of our gear into two lightweight packrafts and descended the Rio Turbio to Lago Puelo in a long, relaxing day, finally able to let the river do its share of the work after 34 days in the alpine.
This was by far one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life, and Josh and I would like to thank the American Alpine Club Mountain Fellowship Grant, Sterling Rope, Alpacka Rafts, Montbell, and our gauchos Cholo and Mikol for helping turn this trip from pipe dream to reality.