Tuesday, 17 January 2012

What the wind is telling me, and other sensory experiences

I travelled to Argentina in Jan/Feb of 2009, it was an incredibly motivating experience for me. Certain places around the world have a way of working me into a frenzy, cranking the mojo, getting me really, really psyched. Argentina as it turned out, was one of those places; however, in 2009 I was three years short on the life experience I now hold. I spent time climbing in both Frey, located near San Carlos De Bariloche, Rio Negro, and the Fitz Roy massif, located near El Chalten, Santa Cruz. In 2009 my psych was indiscriminate, I just wanted to climb, and climb I did. My experience in Argentina was not unlike that of a racehorse with blinkers on. I was running really fast, just trying to get to that finish line, and unable to pay attention to much else. We climbed several of the classic towers in Frey, and the normal route on Aguja Innominata in the Fitz Roy massif.  Here are a few photos, because who doesn’t love a few bad butt shots, and some random, indecipherable climbing pictures…

Climbers on Cara Banana in Frey
Look at all those towers!
Driving from Ruta 40 towards El Chalten with the Torre and Fitz Roy massifs visible through the clouds.
The Torres bathed in 6:00 am light as we slog up the 1000 m  approach gully to the base of our route on Aguja Innominata.
Jay leading up the final summit headwall of Aguja Innominata.
Sarah following with the Torre glacier, and our bivy spot  far, far below.
Another picture of Sarah following up the final summit headwall. 
Fitz Roy and Poincenot with a massive lenticular cloud (not a good meteorological sign) approaching from behind.
Gorging on cafe con leche y tres medialunas post climb in El Chalten at the Cafeteria La Nieve. I haven't showered in more than a week at this point!
The Torres and a massive Andean Condor, the second largest bird on the planet! We were being buzzed by this bird on the summit of Innominata while it rode the thermals surrounding our peak.
And here we are now, like I said, three years wiser, or was it three years more jaded? Either way, this time around, Argentina was a much more sensory experience for me. In particular the wind, oh the wind. For those of you that don’t know, Argentinian Patagonia sits at -49.3 degree latitude. The prevailing coastal winds at this latitude are completely unobstructed as they circle the globe from Atlantic to Pacific. The wind strikes land at the Patagonian Ice Cap, comes careening along that vast expanse of snow and ice and slams up against the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy massifs. It’s not uncommon for winds to reach 100 km/hr. Walking the streets of El Chalten, the jumping off point for both the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy massifs, one is often required to dodge large flying objects. These are mostly random pieces of construction material dislodged from one of the many construction sites speckled throughout this booming tourist town.

The wind can make you crazy, more than any other element, I think wind has the ability to induce insanity. Climbers sit huddled in their tents and apartments in town desperately waiting out the weeks of incessant wind that blasts through Patagonia. The sound of the wind buffeting the walls of the apartment we were staying kept me awake at night as I waited with baited breath for the walls of our little abode to come crashing down.  

But that same wind can be a warm Patagonian breeze that brushes the curls of hair off your face, and carries the delicious scent of grasses blossoming on the Patagonian Steppes. This wind spoke kindly to me, and I felt it’s warm embrace while laying in the daisy filled fields below Fitz Roy, watching the clouds swirl gently around it’s summit. Wow, what a feeling. Maybe it’s being older, maybe it’s simply a phase of life? My psyche for climbing is still there, I am still more motivated than ever to seek so completely the focus required to excel at my rock climbing, but this trip, I felt like the wind was speaking to me. Hmmmm, what it was saying, I’ve yet to decipher.

I unfortunately, broke the spell of good climbing weather in Chalten with my arrival. The weather was not ideal for climbing many of the bigger objectives Colin and I had, and we were thwarted on an attempt of Mermoz’s East Buttress (Kurt Albert’s famous Red Pillar). Still, it was an incredible trip, and I felt a pang of sadness as I drove away along the shoreline of Lago Viedma while the summits of Fitz Roy and Poincenot shrank smaller and smaller on the horizon. 

As a consolation prize, I spent almost two full days in Buenos Aires between domestic and international flights. BA is my most beloved international city, and spending time there only makes me cherish it more. What it lacks in shinning new infrastructure and smooth, paved roads, it gains in vibrance. This city is teeming with life and vitality. Here’s a little literary sketch to help you grasp just how “right” they have it in BA. As you drive along the wide boulevards it’s not uncommon to see cars parked under a tree along the grassy shoulder during the days siesta. The whole family is there, and someone is tending the BBQ. A national pastime in Argentina is the asado (BBQ),  and friends and families will gather to roast a cow and relax together from the hours of 12:00-4:00 pm. Now that’s perfection. Canada, we have a lot to learn!

So there, that’s it, my first blog post. Below are some photos of the trip, I hope it inspires you to visit Argentina...

Hiking in to climb Cerro Solo, an easy day trip from El Chalten.  The tallest mountain in the photo is Cerro Torre. It sure is pretty!
Another view of the Torre valley from Cerro Solo. On the left is the Torre massif, on the right, the Fitz Roy massif. Colin's photo.
El Chalten is visible in the valley below. Colin's photo.
Colin and Sarah on the summit of Cerro Solo. Colin's photo.
Adventure no. 2, an attempt of the East Pillar on Mermoz. Cheapest way to get to the trailhead, a 20 min car ride from town, is to hitchhike. Colin looking tremendously bored waiting for a pick up.
Piedras Negras, our bivy site for climbing on the east face of Mermoz. Colin, a babbling brook, Paso Marconi, and the Patagonian ice cap in the distance.
Wow! Sunrise as we approach Mermoz. Colin's photo.
Pitch no. 3, amazing, splitter granite, but it was freezing cold! This is me trying to warm my hands on my neck halfway up the pitch. Colin's photo.
Sarah "rudolph the red nosed reindeer" Hart. I did a very bad job of rubbing in my sunscreen, obviously! Colin's photo.
It was a busy day on the Red Pillar. A French team was climbing above us....
...and a British team was climbing below us. Seriously though, look at that crack! Colin's photo.
Then it happened, the clouds came swirling in from the west, and slowly engulfed us. It was time to bail.
More bailing. Rapping over a massive bergschrund at the base of Mermoz's east face. It was very big hole, and I have a rather unhealthy fear of large gaps in snow! Colin's photo.
Just another vibrant little barrio in Buenos Aires.

Cafe Tortoni. Lonely Planet told me that some very old, very famous Argentines used to hang out here. 
This sums up my time in BA, cafe con leche, tres medialunas, agua con gas, and of course the Spanish dictionaries. 
Oh, and the view from our apartment window in El Chalten. That's Fitz Roy on the right, and Poincenot on the left.
And, this is what the world's best Alpinists (and I'm not referring to myself) do for fun while waiting out bad weather in town.


  1. Parry Sound is proud of you! ....Well The Ryder part is for sure! Keep safe Sarah <3 xx Mike, Jane, Joel and Naomi

  2. as it happens ---- are you kidding me.
    bam. send dispatch.
    I love it.

  3. Your mom gave me this address to check it out. We work together and discuss the outdoors together.
    This is beautiful and truly amazing.
    I grew up in California and my closest circle were rock and ice climbers
    it reminds me of my youth and days at Yosemite and slide shows of ice climbing in Washington state. My friend had his instructor and a fellow student leave us on Mt. Rainier and the students were stuck in a snow cave on the mountain until the weather improved so they could be rescued.
    Be happy and be safe and enjoy the beauty of the world.

    1. Hi Sandi,

      Nice to meet you. I'm glad the blog brings back some good memories. So you spent time in Yosemite, that's very cool! What years were you there? My boyfriend, Colin, is a rock/ice climber from Seattle, so I am spending more and more time in the mountains down there. Very impressive for sure. We are planning on climbing Liberty Ridge on Rainer this summer.

      Perhaps next time I'm in Ontario we'll meet in person!



  4. Love the Blog Sarah Hart!

  5. The region of Patagonia features a glacier-dotted mountainous interior, unique coastal wildlife and amazing Andean national parks. The mountains and lakes in Patagonia are also some of the most beautiful of all found in the world. I just loved it, I wanted to stay there for ever. I though that I was in a magical place. Landscapes are amazing and I had the opportunity to experience real adventure! There are thousands of things to do there, you just need time to do them all!
    Then I headed BA, where I had my buenos aires apartment waiting for me. I visited the Recoleta Cemetery, the Palermo stores, Abasto Shopping, La Boca and a soccer match... Everything!
    I would like to do it all again!

    1. Carla,

      I couldn't agree with you more! Patagonia is a very inspiring place. I cant' wait to return again this year. Hopefully you have plans to return again soon too...



  6. Hola Sarah!
    I like your blog a lot!
    I'm living in Buenos Aires and your stories and pictures bring me good memories from the ranges in my Bolivian hometown.
    I too, was in Chalten last season, and was blown away by those granite spires. Not much climbing for me unfortunately, I was volunteering in trail restoration in the park. Hopefully I'll make it again this upcoming season too. :)
    I love to hear more rebellious women are becoming full time climbers. Congrats, you rock. Keep it on!

    1. Muchas gracias Adriana! I'm so glad you like my blog, and I'm so glad it brings you memories of the mountains close to your hometown in Bolivia!

      I will be travelling to El Chalten again this Dec/Jan/Feb, with a break somewhere in the middle to do a 4 week Spanish immersion program in Bariloche -- another Argentine city I love very much.

      Perhaps our paths with cross sometime in the future? Do you have plans to travel to Chalten/Bariloche in these coming months?