Thursday, 19 February 2015

The importance of self-rescue in Patagonia

In my most recent post about Patagonia, I snuck in a couple paragraphs about some unfortunate  climbing accidents that occurred in the Chalten Massif this season. It was brought to my attention that my sneaky couple of paragraphs may have come off a little whinny. You know the old, "I'm a sponsored climber, and poor me that I had to participate in the rescue of an injured climber, and it got in the way of my climbing goals" thing. Upon re-reading said paragraphs, indeed, it did come off in a way that was not my intention. I am supremely lucky to be able to participate in the adventures that I have, and by no means would I turn a blind eye to an injured climber, just so I could complete my own climbing objective. 

But, what I did want to get across was the importance of self-rescue, and self-reliance when climbing in the Chalten Massif. With the availability of a guidebook, and abundant online information, climbing in Patagonia seems like a quick step up from climbing in your home mountain range. I want to warn you that it is not. Patagonia is a big place, with mountains that require significant skill to travel in safely. 

The most important factor here is rescue operations are volunteer, and are not trained to carry out wall rescues. There is an incredible team of local people who volunteer their time to assist injured climbers; however, these people have other jobs, and responsibilities in El Chalten. To complete a rescue in the Chalten Massif is no small task. Minus a tiny handful of helicopter rescues, all rescues are completed by walking from town, and back to town. These approaches can take anywhere from five hours, to eight hours one way. And that's if you're uninjured, or not carrying a rescue litter.

I want to encourage people travelling to Patagonia, to arrive armed with the skills necessary to be self-sufficient and carry out self-rescue. Unlike climbing in North America, you cannot rely on the assistance of a formal search and rescue operation. A helicopter is not a satellite phone call away.

Yes, the weather is bad, and yes you must take advantage of every window of good weather offered up, but without possessing the proper skills, I don't think "going big" at the cost of everything else is a suitable mantra. Just like succeeding on your first 5.14, there is a pyramid of progression that is followed as you build the skills necessary to travel safely in these mountains.

Rolo Garibotti posted a thought provoking article on risk to his website, www.pataclimb.com. Here's a link to the risk management document he is encouraging people to read when planning their objectives in Patagonia.

Below are a series of images from two rescues in the Chalten Massif. The first happened during the 2013/14 season and involved two climbers who'd taken a fall upwards of 300 m roped together while climbing the Supercanaleta. Both climbers survived, but it was a heroic effort on the part of the two injured climbers, and those that participated in the rescue. It took a little more than 24 hours to carryout the rescue, and involved about 50 people.

The second team of rescuers arrive at Piedras Negras to meet up with the first team who'd stabilized the injured climbers, and carried them from the base of the Supercanaleta to Paso Cuadrado.

Using 100 m static rope, the injured climbers were lowered one at a time in litters down the glacier from Paso Cuadrado.




Then, the climbers were again lowered from Piedras Negras down the roughly 1000 m high Polish Hill.



The second incident occurred this 2014/15 season, and involved two climbers who again, took a fall on snow while roped together. The rescue operation was considerably easier than the one recounted above, but still involved numerous people, and a lot of time to carry out the rescue. 

Colin, myself, and two Argentine climbers assisting the injured climbers across the Torre Glacier...

...until we were met with the volunteer rescue team from El Chalten.

The climbers were assessed for injury and stabilized. One was carried out in a litter, while the other was able to walk with assistance. 










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