Published on 27/02/2024

I have always felt like a climber but the world of climbing and mountaineering, with more and more rules and conformism, is a bit tight for me. I want to clarify: I love climbing and I love this community, in recent years, however, I have felt more and more the need to go a bit further, the sporting aspect certainly matters but for me it matters also and above all to discover new things. If I think about who are, or who have been, the best mountaineers I find that they all have one thing in common: imagination and the desire to go outside the box, and these are the people who have always inspired me.

Hielo Norte for me encapsulated all of this, after several seasons in Patagonia I was itching to go to new places, and for a few years I put all the energy I could into it.

Luca Schiera Hielo NorteThe first time was in the austral summer of 2018-19. With Paolo Marazzi we climbed Cerro Mangiafuoco, an impressive pinnacle of rock that peeks out by itself in the middle of the ice.

We reach the summit in a brief window of good weather, and only then do we realize the size of Hielo. We are tiny in the midst of a boundless glacier, seeing far away the Pacific Ocean, the San Valentin, San Lorenzo, and so many huge mountains and walls we can't even name.

We set the ropes to rappel down with a promise to return.

The following year we devoted ourselves to the southern part of Hielo, the idea being to climb an eight-hundred-meter granite tower seen perhaps only by Shipton back in '64. Access is complicated because in recent years the glacier, especially to the south has receded quite a bit and created a lot of crevasses. Three of us left, this time joined by Giacomo Mauri, directly from the Pacific by boat and then we go up the Steffen Glacier.

After several dozen kilometers and an endless series of ascents and descents trying to get around the biggest crevasses we gave up. Not to mention the fact that we are 13,000 kilometers from home, in an extremely isolated area with no possibility of rescue, we are way over the safety threshold, plus we can't get through.

We returned again in 2022, this time with the idea of making a north-south traverse on skis and sled, stopping to climb when weather permits.

Before even accessing the glacier, however, we found the first snow slopes too unstable and were forced to lose precious days waiting for the snow to improve.

We still managed to climb a rock face and make a long loop on the glacier where we saw in the distance, too far to reach in one window of good weather, other incredible walls.

It didn't go badly but deep down we both knew it was a fallback and we would return another time.

This year the approach was simple: we look for the most convenient access and climb the biggest wall there is namely Cerro Nora Oeste. As every time, despite planning and a good knowledge of the area, things do not go as we would have liked.

As soon as we arrive we find out that the only way to get there is through the Nef Valley and not the Colonia Valley, so the road is much longer than expected but above all almost unknown. We will have to do many more days on foot carrying gear which will cost us a lot of time and energy. We set off on foot following the gaucho's horses that carry us some of the gear. After three days, when the terrain gets more complicated and just as it starts to rain Don Aguilino says goodbye to us and goes back. Now it is just the four of us (friends Andrea Carretta and Giovanni Ongaro are with us this year), and our gear. 

We spend the next few days hauling gear through the dense forest amid problems with orientation, heavy rain and midges. After one last snowfall that leaves us soaked and cold, a window of a couple of days without precipitation seems to arrive on Hielo, the only problem: we do not have time to reach it except by leaving some food and material to be retrieved later and staying as light as possible. We opt for this solution, we may have no other option given the huge distances, and after two more days on foot we split up.

Paolino and I speed up trying to go see the wall, Andrea and Gio will join us later to get some images. After eight days of approach we finally see the huge south of Cerro Nora, which is, however, in winter conditions with ice and snow stuck even under the roofs and on the slabs.

When a few hours later we also see the north face which is in worse condition we lose all hope about success because having seen how long the approach is we do not know if we will have any more chances before we have to go back. As we are about to turn back however we catch a glimpse of a possibility on the west ridge that divides the two walls, it looks like an easy route but it is not clear to us whether we can pass between the large snow mushrooms at the top.

We dig a trench at the base of the wall and stop thinking about it. At night the wind drops and we start climbing quickly up to the rock edge, which we pass without any problems.

We find the passage between the snow mushrooms just as the day turns very hot, from there an easy walk up the icy ridge takes us to the top of this mountain in what to us is the most incredible place in the world.

The return trip will be long and full of contingencies with long days of walking, more forests, moraines and rivers to ford before we start paddling on the small inflatable raft we have carried in the bottom of our backpacks for almost three weeks.

 Together with Paolo over these last years we spent many weeks there, walking, climbing, and especially waiting in the wind-shaken tent.

When we were not physically there we always thought about the walls we had seen and the ones we wanted to see, spending five years dreaming and planning the next trip.

Now when I look back at the conclusion of this last trip I realize that something has really changed. We have more experience and knowledge of this glacier, but most importantly we have realized that even our own passage, albeit to a small degree, has taken away some of the mystery that was initially the very impetus to get us going. So perhaps this chapter is closed, the ideas in our heads are too many, and it is probably time again to devote ourselves to something else.


Article and pictures by Luca Schiera, February 2024.

Luca Schiera, Grivel athlete since 2017. He is an alpinist and rock climber based in Erba (Italy).
Favorite Grivel product: Wire Lock TAU K12L carabiner.