Two taxis arrive to take us to the trailhead at Rio Electrico. From the trailhead we walk a few hours through a forest to our camp at Los Troncos. You have to pay a small fee as you pass over private land but on the plus side there is a small cabin where its your last chance to get food and drink. We did treat ourselves to one last bottle of wine but I could not pursuade the others to one last pizza!
The next day we move on to camp at La Playita (the beach). Here we stay put tent bound for 4 days due to rain, snow, rain and high winds. One night we even get flooded, we wake to find the floor of the tent like a water bed, immediate action is taken by digging channels around the tents to drain the water from around our tents. There are a handful of other teams stuck in the same position as us waiting for a weather window.
The team - Neil, Richard, me and Michael
Finally day 5 that weather window arrives. We have a late set off because it was still raining at 9am but the skys turn blue, we pack up and head off up the valley towards the Marconi Glacier, allowing the other teams to get ahead of us. Summer in Patagonia = wind but this years weather was more unsettled than in previous years. To get to the Marconi Glacier you have to cross horrible moraine and carrying a backpack as heavy as ours, being as small as me and with the wind battering you, you WILL fall. I did on numerous occasions, luckily never seriously hurting myself, but the strength it saps from you is incredible.
Me on the Marconi Glacier
Onto the glacier we go, up towards the serac barrier. This is a dangerous section because the seracs are almost continually falling down but usually you can avoid most of it. Also this section is heavily crevassed but this year most were snowed in and safe. We rope up and head up the steep section to the icecap. We are walking straight into the wind which slows our progress even further. Whilst taking a short break 3 rope teams of 2 Argentinian guides come raceing past us, thanking Richard for breaking trail for them. They have light sacks on and are moving fast on a training mission with radios. Then all hell breaks out. What feels like hurricane force winds hit us face on, any tracks left by the other 3 ropes vanish in seconds. We only manage to move a few steps at a time before we have to dig ice axes and walking poles into the snow and brace ourselves for the next gust which tries to rip us off the planet.
Me getting blasted by the wind on the steep section above the seracs
We have to keep going, we are beyond the point of no return and safety lies ahead of us not behind us. Non of us have ever experienced anything like the 36 hours that that we lived through. Words can not describe what the 4 of us went through and a special bond will be with us forever, our team became one and only the 4 of us can talk about it. No matter how we try to speak to others, unless you have been through something similar you can not and will not understand. The hours pass and we seem to be getting no where, thats a white out for you, daylight is running out, our energy is running out and we need to make camp. We spend the night in Chile!
With just a little day light left we start to dig down into the snow and build snow walls to protect our tents from the ferocuious winds. One little bit of luck, the winds abated enough to enable our tents to be put up in relative ease. Nobody ate that night, too exhausted to think about food, its all we can do to drink. The wind returned at full force sounding like a train coming at you. The snow is being picked up and dumped on our tents.
I wake and find that we had been virtually buried, thankfully our tents have 2 entrances and I manage to crawl out of a tiny hole at one end to go start digging the tent out. Every hour after that I have to dig us out. Richard is so physically exhausted after breaking trail most of the day and mentally exhausted after navigating us through the white out (his navigational skills are exceptional) he is unable to do much but support.
Our tents on the icecap, our orange one is nearly buried
When daylight arrives again and we take stock of our situation, which is no better than yesterday, we make the decision to retreat. We have no other choice. So now the wind is on our backs which presents different challenges, at one point all 4 of us are picked up and thrown onto the ground. We eventually make it safely down to the Marconi Glacier, still getting battered by the wind and back over the moraine to La Playita camp.
We are greeted by a group who apparently had been 2hours behind us yesterday, spent an awful night below the seracs and retreated back to the camp the same day as us. The Argentine guides were so happy to see us, they said they had been concerned for us. Nice to know someone was watching out for us without us knowing. We must look in a bad way because lumps of cheese and meat started turning up at our tents for us to eat. People can be so kind, a small gesture like a lump of fresh cheese is like heaven.
Me trying to stop the wind knocking me over again
The next day, guess what, the weather is good, the other group head up to try their luck again and we pack up our rucksacks and make for El Chalten via the cabin at Los Troncos where we have a well deserved beer and pizza. You can now arrange for the hut to take your rucksacks to the trail head for a small price, so we happily hand them over and have an almost pleasurable stroll out to the trailhead. We meet our rucksacks and the man who had driven them out by quad bike and trailor, he then drives to an estancia to phone for a taxi to come pick us up. After half an hour we can see a trail of dust approaching and our taxi pulls up and drives us back to the warm and welcoming hotel Confin Patagonico.
Having a rest before a beer and pizza at Los Troncos on the walk out
Khyra's Mom: I think I can only come up with one word to sum up this post: WOW!!! Thanks for sharing this experience - I'm thinking Khyra might find this a bit too 'khold'