Ice Climbing in El Chalten, Patagonia, by Tomas Roy Aguilò
Published on 05/01/2021
This very particular year, with the pandemic that surprised everyone, I was left in quarantine at the best time and place to enjoy one of the best winters that I experienced in Patagonia.
At the end of May, the snowfall began and the temperature dropped. By early June the mountains were all covered in white, and we were skiing very good quality snow. At the end of June the temperatures in the town were around -15 degrees C. Everything started to freeze!! Really everything! Even the water in the houses ...
At the national level, Argentina was in totally strict quarantine, but in El Chalten, being a small town and without positive cases, there was greater flexibility. But since the borders were closed, we could not go elsewhere, and we could not receive tourists or clients either.
We had been skiing for a whole month of spectacular powder! Low temperatures and the inexistence of the famous Patagonian wind, conserved the snow, but this also brought an increase in the risk of avalanches. Already the "conservative" skiers began to be at the limit of acceptable risk, and it was a sum of factors that made me sharpen the ice axes and crampons, and start climbing!
El Chalten is only 450 meters above sea level, despite being very close to the Andes Mountains and the Southern Ice Field, its temperatures are not usually very low. The strong storms that hit from the Pacific, added to the great contrast of temperatures between the mountains and the steppe (more "desert" area to the East) produces strong winds, during most of the year. With the exception of the coldest months.
This year, we found ourselves with very low temperatures, a lot of precipitations and no wind!
I have known El Chalten since 2006, and I have never seen so many ice falls in town. According to locals with more years of experience here, in 2000 or 2001 was the last time it was so cold for so long.
The first waterfall that I climbed was the one that caught my attention the most, of course, in front of the town walking about 25 minutes, a delicate and fine line that was formed in the Paredon de los Condores, where in summer you climb on multi-pitch rock.
As the ice was forming on top of the wall, we rappelled to the point where the ice began. Since the rock underneath is not of good quality, and does not allow any type of protection. A nice line of 50 delicate meters, it was a good start to the season!
After a few days of skiing I returned to the ice, this time to Cerro Electrico, a sector with several waterfalls, but 1 hour and a half away. We climbed the classic waterfall to warm up, and then I went to a mixed line of Dry -tooling and hanging candles, equipped for many years but never I had never completed it.
The first try took a long time, but I manage to finish it! I returned to the town and was really happy, already planning the next lines ...
The next waterfall, a classic one that is La Vela de La Florida, we crossed the river with the truck, and walking 40 minutes we reached a 100-meter waterfall, very beautiful and aesthetic, with its last 20 vertical meters.
The next day, some friends were motivated and equipped a new line in the summer climbing sector called La Platea. A route of 25 meters, quite sustained with the last 7 meters well collapsed, completely in Dry. So, the next day I went to try it, after a couple of attempts, the sun shone on us, and we returned early the next day, completing this beautiful line!
A few more days of skiing in between, and this time we decided to explore a new sector of waterfalls that no one had gone before, which we had seen skiing at another time, located in Laguna Rosa, on a south face completely in the shade.
The place exceeded all expectations! Everything was more vertical and longer than it seemed ... that day we climbed 3 waterfalls, about 350 meters, all new lines. And there were still more. Then I returned to this sector on several occasions, and it became a classic for local climbers, which is not a very large community, but with a lot of motivation.
A well-known place to visit in summer is the Chorrillo del Salto, a 40-meter waterfall just 5 minutes away. Of course I went climbing there! Not exactly the main waterfall because a lot of water runs and it does not freeze completely, but a lot of ice had formed on the right ... the magical place! With a lot of potential. In short, it was a very “harsh” winter! there were excellent conditions for ice climbing and skiing… it was difficult to stay in the house resting… so much to do!
Article by Tomas Roy Aguilò, pictures by Leo Gambella.
Tomas Roy Aguilò is a 35 years old mountain guide, in the Grivel team from 2018. He grew up in Patagonia, Argentina, where he practices Alpine Climbing, Sport Climbing, Ski Touring and Running.
Favorite Grivel products: G20 PLUS Crampons, North Machine Carbon ice axes, Alpha Captive quickdraws, Mountain Runner 20 backpack.