Head in the mountains -Feet in the valley
I flew to Patagonia this winter, as I have done the last three years. Shortly before my departure, the weather window for which you should be ready to set off in El Chalten, appeared. I arrived there, and the weather was still perfect. Cerro Torre, Fitz Roy, and their neighbors were shining in the sun, and they were ascended innumerable times by Patagonian standards, while I sat in El Chalten and waited for my climbing partner Dani Arnold. Dani is from Switzerland and he was of course not late, the only thing is, he was supposed to arrive a week later than me. Thus, the first weather window passed, while I watched idly as several routes were climbed.
As soon as Dani arrived, we took advantage of a short weather window in order to install one gear cache at Nipo Nino, the base camp in the valley between Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, and one on the col between Aguja Saint-Exupéry and Aguja de l’S. As soon as the weather gods would be permitting, we were going to start. Our goal was the traverse of the Fitz Roy massif.
Three weeks would pass, during which the Patagonian storms would make climbing in the mountains impossible. We spent our time in the increasingly numerous bars and on the boulders around El Chalten. But as relaxing as it may sound, my thoughts were always in the mountains. Reduced to inaction, I had a lot of time to think about various details, trying to improve our strategy and tinkering with the gear.
I kept an eye on the weather situation, and my guess that no other sufficient high pressure would happen, seemed to be right.
But then, a mediocre weather window came up, and it seemed as if we could at least give it a try. We hiked to the Nipo Nino. We wanted to start the next day, but when we got to our gear cache, we saw that all our equipment was completely wet. There was enough water inside our shoes that a goldfish could have lived in it. The sleeping bags were soaked. Everything else was wet as well.
We had packed everything with care – it was unbelievable. We looked at each other and both knew that our chances of success had not only been drastically reduced, we wouldn’t even be able to try. We desperately tried to dry our stuff in the Patagonian wind, but it’s never on the climbers’ side – it’s either too strong, or like in this case, too weak. Our shoes and sleeping bags did not dry and all we could do was get our gear from the col and turn around empty-handed.
If mountaineering were a sport for which it’s clear that success depends almost solely on one’s fitness, preparation and execution, I would probably not climb mountains. The element of the unpredictable, the weather, the conditions and the unknown terrain give alpinism its appeal. Attempts are as much part of it as successes are. The best experiences are often those adventures that end with retreat. Often enough, I have not reached my goal in Patagonia, but each attempt was an enriching experience.
Consequently, the disappointment of this trip was not that we did not succeed, but rather that we did not get to try. This year, luck eluded us. Next year it could be different again...