Success on Osorno and so much more
I am back in Puerto Varas after an excellent few days up on the mountain. Wednesday I set out alone with the goal of summiting and sure enough, I succeeded, and then some. I don´t know where to start describing the past few days. It feels like I have lived a year in the past week.
The stress of my decision to leave the group and not climb Aconcagua is gone and I finally feel free and eager to get to know more of Patagonia and Chile. Before leaving for Osorno, I shaved my beard. I thought it might be easier to hitch hike if I looked younger, cleaner and more respectable. Along with my beard, so too disappeared my stress. And I don´t know if it was the clean face or my massive pack, but I was able to hitch a ride to the volcano in only 13 minutes!
My days on the mountain were beautiful and full of hikes and picture taking. (Keeping my image sensor clean is impossible!) The weather was clear and warm. I did not pay for camping at the refugio–I camped illegally high on the mountain–and I was able to meet a partner/guide, José. I met José on my first day while he was coming off the mountain with a client. I told him my story and he offered to guide me up on Friday, but I declined. In case I did want to climb with a guide, José told me that his brother would be ice climbing the next day and that if I did change my mind, I should meet him and let him know.
On Thursday, I woke up and decided to walk to the start of the route on the glacier. If the route looked as easy as I thought, I´d climb it solo. When I arrived at the snow, I looked up and saw a glacier, crevasses and seracs, then a few steep pitches near the summit. Then I heard the voice of my good friend, Dan, in my head, “Good decisions, Steve! Good decisions!”
I decided not to climb alone and began descending back to camp looking for José´s brother on the glacier. Sure enough, halfway down the trail, I found José´s brother, Matias, a client and a small dog packing up gear after their ice climbing outing. We chatted and walked back to my camp together, making plans to climb the next day with José.
At dawn on Friday, José and I met at the top of a chairlift and began ascending towards the glacier. The conversation flowed easily and before we knew it, we were at the glacier. The climb was absolutely brilliant. It started with a traverse of the glacier over and around the crevasses, then finished with a few hundred meters of exposed, 45-55 degree snow. We reached the summit at around noon, had some lunch, then descended. As we came down, the weather quickly turned and the moment we left the glacier, clouds enveloped us. We arrived on safe ground at THE perfect moment.
During the climb, José and I became fast friends and he offered to let me stay at his house and business, Huella Andina Expeditions, for the night. I accepted and after the climb, we drove to town with Matias, José´s brother and business partner, Osorno´s park/climbing ranger, Iván and a girl. (I did end up registering and making friends with Iván. 🙂 He is very much a warm, caring “grandfather” of the mountain.) José and I enjoyed beer with friends and family at home on Friday night. I spent all day Saturday with José and Matias´family eating, drinking coffee, watching the rain fall and talking endlessly. Saturday night, José, his wife Sandra and I came back to Puerto Varas for dinner and drinks.
Condensing the past few days on the mountain and with José and family is difficult. I don´t have enough words to express my gratitude to José, his family and friends for welcoming me so warmly. The experience was so rich that I have almost forgotten about the mountain. We´ll be in touch and I am sure that I will see José and/or Matias in California in the years to come. There´s tons of great climbing in the Sierra!
José and I share the same passions of climbing, conservation and doing everything we can to make these passions our careers. José went for it and started his own guiding company, Huella Andina. (I highly recommend Huella Andina!) Sharing these passions and connections across cultures is immensely powerful and my experience has made me reflect.
This is why I´m here. This is why I quit a great job to travel. I left Aconcagua and some of my best friends behind because of the cost of the trip, but also because I came to Patagonia to learn, discover and listen. Conocer, the verb in Spanish for “get to know” is a powerful word and the only one that I can think of that fits the reason I´ve come. When people ask why I am here, my answer is “para conocer”. A covetted high mountain top doesn´t matter to me. Preserving this beautiful part of the world is what matters most. But before getting to work at Conservación Patagónica I need to get to know Patagonia and the threats it faces.
Climate change is melting the glaciers here, but there are other issues. José told me about hydroelectric projects further south that threaten to flood pristine valleys forever. It already happened on the Bio Bio River and power companies have the Baker and Futalafú rivers on their list of proposed projects. Salmon farming in the virgin fjiords further south is fouling water, upsetting ecosystems and ruining fishing for communities all along the coast. This remote part of the world that so many people dream of is experiencing the same environmental issues that we feel in the States. We are living beyond our means and no place on earth is immune to the effects of our insatiable hunger to consume.
With this in mind it´s time to continue moving South. Tonight I go by ferry to Chaitén, a small town recently destroyed by a volcano in 2008. Doug Tompkins and Conservación Patagónica have a park near Chaitén, Parque Pumalín. I´m going to explore and conocer the park for a few days, then continue south until I reach Conservación Patagónica where I´ll begin my work volunteering to help create a new park, Patagonia National Park.
I´m sad to leave my new friends behind here in Puerto Varas, but I can´t wait to see what lies ahead.