Sunday, December 29, 2019

Patagonia, Part 6: La Botella (or what we called The Pillar Route)

Derek topping out the second pitch on the Pillar Route


Sunday was a nice day and at 10 a.m. I took Sheri out for the Condores Climbing Cliff Loop. The start of this loop is very steep and very sustained. It makes Sanitas look moderate. The angle wasn’t Sheri’s favorite, but once on top we enjoyed some great views. We could see all of Poincenot, but Fitz Roy remained in the clouds a bit. We knew it was going to out to play, though. We were headed into those mountains the next day.

We completed the loop and then walked around town a bit more, even going off Main Street! We went down to the bus terminal and I found three flyers for taxi drivers. We needed a taxi to take us 10 miles north of town to the Rio Electrico trailhead. Prices looked to be either $1500AR or $2000AR — $25-$30US.

Later that afternoon Derek and I went to climb the Pillar Route (6c — about 11a). Sheri came along too and watched us do the first three pitches. We didn’t much about this route. We had a photo marked with the route and we knew where the start was and the rating, but didn’t know the pitch breakdown at all. Derek had been leading the first pitch up to now, so I took the sharp end here. I combined the first two pitches into a 55-meter monster, using all 16 of my draws. I had trouble piecing together the route in two spots. I didn’t want to commit to the wrong sequence and fall off. Once I backed down off one option on the right and then traversed a bit to the left and up that way. All this wandering around made the pitches seem pretty hard to me, though there were many places to shake out an recovery. Derek made these pitches look pretty easy and didn’t hesitate much. We guessed the ratings at 10b and 10a.
The Pillar Route

Derek took the next pitch, which looked interesting. It traversed strongly to the left on a vertical or better wall, just above a smooth ramp. It didn’t look too bad until a blank-is section between the fourth and fifth bolts. Sure enough, Derek cruised up to the fourth bolt, which was a difficult clip, and then backed down a bit. He climbed up once or twice and felt out the holds and backed down to semi-comfortable stance, though still vertical and not a great rest. Then he committed and made a long reach off two bad pockets to a black dike. He pinched it and then grabbed the top. He was grunting hard now and found a good foothold in a scoop he had used for his hand earlier, though it was now a blind placement due to the overhanging nature. He tried to clip, but couldn’t reach it. He grunted some more and made another big reach higher, with his feet now just smearing. He made the clip and moved on a bit higher to the next bolt, where he could finally shake out. I cheered him on, but would find out on my turn just how hard this was.

Derek climbed the rest of the pitch without any other trouble, but it remained steep and he was pumped from the crux. After pulling out more than half the rope, he got the belay. My turn. I immediately found that the going wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be or as Derek made it look. Still, I got up to the fourth bolt okay, unclipped, and backed down to rest. I then executed Derek’s sequence, thinking I had at least a 50% chance of falling moving off the two bad pockets. I got the dike, hoping I was done with the crux, but it wasn’t that good. I got my foot in the scoop, but the wall was steep enough where this wasn’t great relief. I got the top of the dike, hoping for a jug, and was quite disappointed. I was going to fall, but the draw might be within reach. I deadpointed to it and got it. I pulled up on it and got some footholds. Hey, we were training for alpine climbing, where anything goes.
Derek starting up the crux pitch. The route goes up and left above the ramp to the left.
The rest of the pitch went smooth for me and Derek had no idea of my taint. At the belay I complimented his great lead and then asked, “What did you think was the crux move? I thought it was the deadpoint to the sling. You?” He looked at me quizzically, thinking “deadpoint to what sling? There were just bolts down there.”

The next pitch was easy, maybe 5.7, but circuitous. I found the belay at a nice ledge. I briefly thought about linking in the last, low-angle pitch, but figured I’d have too much drag. This was a good decision, as the pitch was longer and harder than it looked. Derek styled it, climbing really well, but I found two very thin, delicate slab moves that I’d rate 5.9. He used 12 draws on the pitch, so there was no way I’d have made it. Or been able to pull those slab moves with any drag at all. We hiked down to the south and back to the apartment.
Derek leading the final slab pitch. He's just done one of the crux moves. This pitch is harder than it looks.
As we approached the bridge, over the Rio de last Vueltas, that returns us to town, we caught up to a local walking his large German Shepard. Once we started across the bridge, the dog became agitated and started barking. You dog clearly did not want to cross the bridge. It's owner just kept walking and gave me a wry smile, clearly knowing what was coming next. The dog reversed off the start of the bridge, ran down the bank and plunged into the river. It swam strongly across, but the river was moving fast and it ended up downstream a ways. It emerged and sprinted north back to the bridge, bounding up some steps to arrive at the side of the bridge exactly when the owner got there. It was funny that the dog didn't like the bridge, but very impressive of how strong a swimmer it was.

Dog swimming the river. Couldn't rotate it, so turn your head to watch.
That night we packed for the mountains. Our loads were massive, at guess 50+ pounds each. We brought two ropes, a full rack, ice crews, two tools each, crampons, helmet, harness, mountain boots, tent, sleeping bags, pads, extra clothes, food for three days, etc. It was going to be a serious grunt getting to Piedra Negra, which Anton had told me was 3000 feet straight up. I didn’t hear back from any cab companies before I went to sleep, though. We’d figure it out in the morning.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Patagonia, Part 5: Loma del Pliegue Tumbado


Today was our worst day, weather-wise. It rained pretty steadily until 3 p.m. and lots of wind, too, of course. We hung out in the apartment chatting, reading our books, eating and drinking. It was disappointing that Sheri’s first day was so wet, but that’s the same thing that happened to Derek and I on our first day. If you are going to have bad weather, this is the day for it, since you are a bit beat from all the traveling.

At 3 p.m. all three of us went out to hike the Park HQ Loop. This went well until we started to hit the summits, then the wind hit us in all its glory. Sheri got to experience the legendary wind of Patagonia. It knocked us around pretty good, but we continued on to complete the loop.

After some resting back at the apartment, we walked the town so that Sheri could see all her dinner choices. A few of the restaurants were full and we settled on eating at the 24-hour restaurant at the hostel on the northern side of town. This placed served huge portions. Only Derek was able to finish his meal.


We had planned an attempt on Cerro Solo today, but the wind and moisture in the morning changed our minds. Plus, Derek has been fight a bit of a cold. So when Sheri and I headed out for a potentially long loop, Derek decided to stay and rest.

Sheri and headed out the door at 11 a.m. carrying a couple of harnesses. Yes, harnesses. Our plan was to climb Loma del Pliegue Tumbado — a popular hike starting at the park visitor center — and then descend to the west to the pass (no trail) and from there descend down to Laguna del Torre, where we’d use the harnesses to go across the Tyrolean traverse to the hiking trail and return that way.

We hiked up, seeing no other people for an hour. Then we saw a group of five coming down. They said conditions weren’t that bad up there, but were getting worse. We knew the winds might thwart our plans and had vowed to turn around when things weren’t fun anymore.

After hiking in the open for the first 90 minutes, we entered a nice forest. Before entering it, we could see that the forest extended for quite a ways up the slope. We figured we’d be fine at least until the forest ended. After one short break, we burst out from the trees and find reasonable wind, so we continued. A number of people were coming down now. The wind picked up considerably as we crested a knoll. I stopped to put on my shell in the lee of a 5-foot tall boulder. Surprisingly, this small boulder gave me nearly complete shelter from the wind if I sat on the ground with my back against it. Sheri arrived a minute later and we took another short break.

This hike has two destinations. The first is a viewpoint on the rounded ridge. It looks down on Laguna del Torre and should have given us an excellent view of Cerro Torre, but it remained hidden in clouds, as it has since we got here. The second destination is the summit of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. This is 650 feet higher up a steep, but reasonably good trail. As we approached the viewpoint the winds became so strong that it knocked us around and progress was made by leaning heavily into the wind. I stopped and asked Sheri want she wanted to do. She said, “This is stupid. Let’s just go to the viewpoint.” When I suggested going to the summit and seeing if we could descend the other side, she reminded me of my pledge to turn around if it wasn’t fun. I told her, “You believed that? I was just saying that to get us out the door.” The summit was so close, I couldn’t turn around without at least tagging it.

We agreed that we’d go to the viewpoint and then I’d take off for the summit and Sheri would head down, waiting for me at the start of the forest. Once at the viewpoint the wind was worse, if anything, and Sheri sat down to get some tiny shelter from the wind. I took off for the summit, hiking pretty fast, as the wind was mostly at my back. I felt like a sailboat, angling my backpack so that it would push me a bit up the slope, using my feet as a keel to maintain course. Once I intersected the trail I followed it. Going one direction I was pushed nicely and then struggled into the wind on the alternate switchbacks.

The trail was mostly dirt down below and smooth. I moved continuously, as I usually do, and perhaps a bit faster than normal to tag and get back to Sheri. I passed a party of two who were taking a break and then caught another two that were seated and resting. Just as I came upon them, they said, “Wow, you are amazing! You never stop and were way down there just a few minutes ago. We watched you climb up here.” That was a nice ego boost. I figure I’m the worst climber in El Chaltèn right now and maybe the slowest hiking climber, but I’m not the slowest hiker in the area! This couple was with the other two that I had passed and were from Georgia. Hiking mountains like this was unusual for them. Just continuing up in these winds was impressive. They just took lots of breaks and endured it.

I tagged the top and then explored the descent on the other side, just a tiny bit, to make sure our idea would go. I think it would and might try it before the trip is over. After a summit selfie I descended to find the Georgians about five minutes from the top, resting together. I bid them farewell and then did my first running of the trip. Well, scooting, anyway. I wanted to catch up to Sheri as soon as possible so that she wouldn’t get bored or cold waiting for me. I found here just inside the woods, sitting on a nice log in the sun, with her shell off, reading on her phone. Sweet.

We hiked two hours back to the apartment (5.5 total hours on this hike) and Sheri was pretty sore by the time we got there. She hasn’t done any hiking this long since her Colorado Trail trip in August. I cooked dinner for us all that night and we watched a movie on my laptop while eating it.

The weather is turning good. Tomorrow we will climb around town and pack up to approach Piedra Negra on Monday. We hope to climb the Brenner Route (6b, 5.10c) on the Aguja Guillamet on Tuesday, the best weather day. We are excited to finally be heading into the mountains for a major climb. Our loads will be heavy so we plan to start early (like 8 a.m.) so that we have time to get there, setup camp, and have time to rest. If the climb goes well, we could hike out on Tuesday as well, or spend another hike before hiking out. Unfortunately, the weather window ends on Wednesday. It would be a reasonable window to climb Fitz Roy, if any of the routes are in condition, but I suspect, after two weeks of bad weather, that most routes up there will be too snowy and icy. But it doesn’t matter, as we are not mentally ready for Fitz Roy. I know I had thought we might go directly for Fitz Roy, but talk like that is easy when you are six thousand miles away from it. In truth, we aren’t mentally ready for Fitz Roy, without any experience at the approaches and the climbing here. We need a smaller objective first.

The Guillamet is a major Patagonian summit, though looks almost insignificant next to Fitz Roy. After a glacier approach to a pass, we’ll do about 13 pitches of rock climbing (two of these pitches are long 5.10 crack climbing) before hitting the summit snowfields. We’ll carry boots, crampons, and an axe up the route for that part. We’ll then rappel the upper part of the route and then rappel down a snow/ice couloir to descend. At least that is the plan. Hopefully the cracks will be snow/ice free, but there is only one way to find out. Success is most definitely not assured.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Patagonia, Part 4: The Momster Cometh

Thursday, December 26th:

Sheri arrived today, so Derek and I spent most of the day cleaning the apartment…right? Well, no, but only because it wasn’t dirty. We did pick up the place and tried to make things look organized, though.

At 10 a.m. we headed north out of town on the trail to Chorrillo del Salto, a waterfall. The trail started out fine, but then descended and ended on the dirt road that also heads north. I consulted our map and, sure enough, the trail goes up the road for a ways. After a half mile the trail starts again on the east and then crosses back over the road to the west. The trail itself isn’t scenic or interesting and I figured I wouldn’t be recommending this hike to Sheri. Then we got to the waterfall. It was really cool and quite impressive. Lots of nice, grippy rocks in the water below allowed for some playful hoping. We hung out there for 15 or 20 minutes, just soaking it in.

We headed back to town and went to the Waffleria for breakfast of…waffles. Duh. They were pretty good. We had made friends with Fermin and Frederico on our first visit and they remembered our names. We have to go back. They are so friendly. And the food is pretty good.

We got back to the apartment at 12:45 p.m. Adrian was coming by to climb at 1 p.m. so we threw stuff into our packs. When Adrian arrived, he came with another partner, John. Since he was all set and Derek preferred to do a longer climb than to crag (always my preference), we went to climb the Karston Route, which ascends the Condores cliff directly above the bridge and heads for a prominent roof. We’d asked about this route before and heard that the roof itself was easy, but there was some hard climbing to get there. As we crossed the bridge with Adrian and John, we could see a party on the second, crux, pitch.
The Karston Route ascends straight up to the dark roof that is near the top of the cliff and just left of center,
Once across the bridge, Adrian and John went hard right, south to the end of the cliff, where Adrian and I had climbed before. Adrian was headed back to the 7c route (he would send). We headed up to the base of the route and flaked our new rope, which was tangled and quite twisted. It was good we were doing that here and not in the mountains. It was overcast and a bit breezy, but not too bad as Derek headed up the first pitch. The start is some neat climbing up these big holes. Some that ends, though, where Derek clipped the first bolt and then paused to work out maybe the crux of entire pitch. The holds got rounded and smooth and it wasn’t obvious how to proceed. After feeling out various options, Derek moved on up the pitch, pausing above at another tricky section that overhung.

I followed with similar difficulty at those two sections. The next pitch was the crux and relatively moderate climbing (5.8?) led up to the crux move. It was super windy here. We were both climbing with packs on our back and mine was really catching the wind here. I clipped a bolt right at the start of the crux, but the move was very difficult and a bit committing, as the fall wasn’t as clean as I would have liked. Not too bad, but there was a small stance you could hit if you came down right next to the wall. I fiddled with the moves for awhile. There are only two holds, both small and both bad. Off of these tiny holds you have to do a pull-up and get your left foot on a tiny edge. Below this edge was a more rounded foothold, but it was very bad. Also, the holds are at maximum reach, so it is very hard to start pulling. Both Derek and I solved this with a little hop, just to get the arms bent a bit. I did that and got my foot on the rounded hold, but couldn’t stand on it and couldn’t lock off. I slapped for this arete and came off. I was barely above the bolt and could sort of hop down and grab the draw. The wind continued to batter me. I decided to step in a sling rather than risk a nastier fall, once again erring on the side of caution.
Derek leading the first pitch (5.9/10a)
I stood in the sling and was then able to get my left foot on the small edge. I could then stand on it, barely, and move my hands up and then clip the next bolt. I rocked high onto my right foot and the climbing was then easy to a huge ledge. The woman in the team ahead of us was just a few feet above this ledge, dangling from the rope. I ducked low to make sure she didn’t land on me, clipped in, and started pulling up the rope. The wind really picked up now and with it came some moisture. Not a full-on rain, but a drizzle. The wind was the issue. I couldn’t pile the rope on the ledge as it would have been blown into the air and into a giant mess. I ended up flaking it over my tie-in, like at a hanging belay. I pulled out my gloves and zipped up my hood and sat down to belay Derek.

Derek paused at the crux for awhile as well, but then he committed to the moves. He was able to get his left foot high on the edge and did it! I was impressed. That move felt 5.11 to me. It was harder than the 6c route I’d done the day before. But it was just five feet of climbing.
At the top of the third pitch (5.9?) and just below the roof pitch.
I figured the next pitch was hard since the woman had dangled so much on it (she also had trouble with the crux, but so did I). Derek figured it out quickly and made it look easy. Above he stemmed and traversed left to a small stance, finding the woman there belaying her partner on the roof pitch. We felt very much like Patagonian alpinists, climbing in such weather. In winds and rain like that it wouldn’t even be a question of continuing in Eldo. You’d bail for sure. Yet, we never thought of that. We knew it was ideal training for the high mountains. Plus, the party in front of us was going up as well. They were slow, though. They were on the second pitch as we had crossed the bridge. We still had to hike up, take at least 10 minutes to flake the dang rope, gear up and we still caught them on the third pitch. We waited 15 minutes or more at our somewhat sheltered stance, as we didn’t want to crowd them at the small stance above the roof. Plus, it looked quite nasty at that belay and I wanted to minimize my time there.
Looking up at the roof.
We waited until we could see her start to follow the fifth and last pitch. Then I took off up the fourth pitch, the super cool roof pitch. Indeed, this pitch is spectacular, but probably only 5.7, as big holds for your hands and feet abound. The belay stance just above the roof is quite nice. Or it would have been if it wasn’t raining and blowing a gale. Derek followed swiftly and scampered up the last pitch, probably 5.6, to the summit. I followed and, once back from the edge, immediately started pulling up the rope from Derek at the lip and coiling it. Our Argentinian couple just huddled next to a rock, as if they were going to have a picnic. Obviously locals, out for a climb on a relatively nice day for the area. Derek and I packed up as quick as we could and took off along the top of the cliff, headed south on the trail I scoped out the day before.

Once off the top, the wind eased, but it was still spitting rain. We went by the cragging area and looked up there to see if we could spot Adrian. I didn’t recognize anyone up there, but that’s a tough task at that distance without knowing exactly what he’d be wearing and what color his helmet was. We just headed back to the warmth of the apartment where we made an earlier dinner,  already planning on a second dinner when Sheri arrived.

Sheri was supposed to get here between 7 and 7:30 p.m and I got worried when it got to be 8:15 p.m. The shuttle she was on was packed and they had to make a lot of stops. Plus, they made a lot of stops to take photos on the way up, just like we had done. These are nice only to stretch your legs, as the views on the drive up are nothing worth stopping for. Alas, she was here. After we got her gear up to the apartment we went out for a second dinner. Like hobbits do with breakfasts.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Patagonia Trip, Part 3: Waiting on the Weather and Christmas

At Laguna de Torre. Cerro Torre is out there in the mist somewhere.


Rolo, Dylan, Adrian all checked the weather sites and confirmed the first window we’d have to venture up high was Sunday and Monday and maybe even Tuesday. We had to bide our time until then. There is plenty of hiking around here and various sport climbing and even bouldering to keep us busy. I wanted to get up to Laguna de Torre - one of the most photographed spots in the world - and then continue around a loop that would take us north to the approach we’d take for Passo Superior to climb the Californiana Route on Fitz Roy or the Austrian Route on De l’S. We started a little after noon.

While only a half-inch taller than me, Derek legs are 10 inches longer. His waist is just under his shoulders. Hiking behind him, it seems like my waist is about the same height of his knee. At least it feels that way when I’m trying to match his stride on the trail. Most of the time he lets me lead, as that keeps us closer together. We chatted all the way up to the lake, taking a bit under two hours. Our hiking map estimated the time at three hours. We might have fancied ourselves fit except that Rolo’s guidebook said it took 1h40m to get there. Seems like his approach times are similar to other very fit guidebook authors like Beckey and Roper.

We found the Tyrolean Traverse across the Rio Fitz Roy, just up from Campamento D’Agostino, and marveled at the huge iceberg in the lake, but it was cold, windy, and the views were nonexistent. After fifteen minutes or so, we moved on, back down the trail we had come and then north, climbing steadily up to a plateau against the mountains to our west. We hiked by a couple of lakes and then descended a bit to the trail junction that led up to Campamento Poincenot. We took a short break to admire the incredible spires to our west, Poincenot being the most impressive because the monstrous Fitz Roy is shy and shrouded in clouds. It is so often covered in clouds that the mountain was original called Cerro Chaltèn, which means smoking mountain. It was thought to be a volcano that was continuously spewing steam.

We completed the loop back to town, logging over 18 miles and 3000 vertical feet. Our first significant outing. It was a good to get our for an extended hike and get learn more about the lay of the land. All the terrain higher up looks so intimidating, with steep, loose moraines leading to steep, heavily crevassed glaciers, leading to yawning bergshrunds, leading to vertical walls thousands of feet high. We’ve set our sights on Guillamet for the first window, a common first summit in the massif. We need something to build our confidence and to get familiar with such imposing terrain.


Christmas morning I was up around 7 a.m. which is very late for me, but I’ve settled into this rhythm easily, as I never go to sleep before midnight. It doesn’t really get dark here until well past 10 p.m. so that day seems to just shift later on the time scale. I hung out eating some breakfast and drinking coffee. Today I wanted to get out and discover some moderate loops for Sheri to do while down here. I’m very excited that she’ll be joining us for two weeks on this trip and want to make sure it is a fun trip for her.

I headed off at 8:45 to explore a loop around the climbing cliff (Condores) where Derek and I had climbed a couple of days before. I went up the gully we had descended, looping a very steep, but very well defined dirt trail. This trail would be a bit slippery to descend, but it was fine going up. Sheri will not like the steep angle so much, but it makes a nice loop. On top, I was surprised to fid a lake up there. And glaciated mountains off to the east! Or maybe I was looking more northeast. Either way, I didn’t think there were such mountains that direction. They can’t be seen from town because of the cliff.

On top was a microwave or cell repeater on the summit, powered by solar panels. I found the descent trail to the south and followed it down to the trail that runs along the base of the cliff to the west and back to the bridge. The loop was around 5km and had more than a thousand feet of climbing. Perfect.

After some more reading and eating, I ventured out to find another loop. Derek was relaxing in his room, content to rest from our hike the day before and not as interested in these little hikes. I made plan to climb with Adrian at 1:30 p.m. and left Derek a note about it, along with a Christmas present, but he didn’t seem them. My bad. I should have told him the plan directly. Silly. I won’t make that mistake again.

My second hike was across the bridge south of town, the way we drove into El Chaltèn. Here lies the park headquarters and some hiking trails. I did a nice little lollipop to the summit of a couple of rocky hills with good views and made it back to the apartment just as Adrian arrived for climbing. Since I hadn’t prepped Derek about the climbing, he didn’t want to rush to get ready, so we headed out just the two of us. We hiked to the far end of Condores, where this is a number of one pitch climbs. I was surprised to see so many climbers here. There were three groups of 2-3 climbers each and all of them native English speakers: Canadian, Australian, and American. We added to that make-up.

We started on the far left, as they were the only routes open, on a 6c (11a). That’s not my warm-up grade of choice, but it is for Adrian. He cruised up the 30-meter route easily, barely pausing at the two crux sections. I elected to toprope it since that grade normally gives m some trouble. A bit conservative to be sure, as the route was protected with well-placed bolts, but I’m in a conservative mindset here. I fell off the first crux numerous times. It was a confusing sequence of bad holds and bad feet. I sort of did it before moving on. The upper crux was a very thin traverse to the left. I shuffled my feet across a tiny edge and had nearly nothing to grab with my fingers, but I made it across. I worked the crux a bit on the way down. I now have a project in Patagonia!

Next we did a route of similar grade to the right. Adrian took more time on this one, as it was a bit heady at the crux. I followed on TR again and found the climbing a bit easier (I didn’t fall off), but I also had the security of a toprope.

Adrian then tried a 7c (12d, I think). He made it up with just two hangs, placing the draws. I TRed that as well, climbing the 5.10 below the crux clean and then utter flailing (as expected) on the crux section, before lowering off. One of the holds Adrian uses is so sharp, it felt like deadpointing to a knife blade. I don’t have skin tough enough to use that hold. Or muscles strong enough to hold it anyway. Adrian took one fall on his second go. He’s sent it before, but not today. I decided that was enough for me. It was Christmas and I hadn’t spend any time with Derek. Adrian was cool with me cutting the outing short and we headed back.

Derek and I hung out for a couple of hours and then made the windy walk to the north end of town for a Christmas dinner of an omelette (for me) and a pizza for him. I did have a delicious Dolce de Leche milkshake and I’ll be back for another one of those. I told Derek all about the book I was reading on Greg LeMond. That guy should had an interesting career…

Monday, December 23, 2019

Patagonia Trip, Part 2: Hanging in El Chaltèn

El Chaltèn

We arrived late on Saturday in pretty good weather, at least in town. Sunday morning it rained steadily into the afternoon. Rolo checked the weather maps for us and the next weather window looks to be a week away. Oh well, we knew what the weather was like before we came here. That's why we came as long as we could -- Derek's entire winter break of three weeks. Even then we weren't guaranteed a weather window. But it looks like we'll have one in a week. That will probably mean we'll approach and camp high on Saturday.

If you look at the distribution of land masses on a globe you’ll immediately see that almost all of that mass is in the northern hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, at the southern latitudes of Patagonia (50 degrees and higher), this is almost nothing. Africa and Australia don’t dip down that low and Antarctica is much further south. So, you get winds that blow around the entire globe without hitting anything until they come screaming across the Patagonian Icecap and hit the Fitz Roy Massif. Cerro Torre, being to the west, gets the worst of it, but Fitz Roy, a thousand feet higher than anything else, lies exposed and is brutalized for it. Which is why one friend told me not to come to Patagonia to climb. He said it was only for pros, since it required a 2-3 month commitment for a reasonable chance of success. Even then, some peaks go unclimbed all year. This isn’t Yosemite. The weather is not conducive to climbing. Hence, it is reasonable to avoid this place. 

It’s the photographers fault, really. Well, their portrayal of what nature has wrought, anyway. We see these horrendous, terrible, beautiful, enticing, foreboding, scary places and the dichotomy is too much to resist. It might be enough to just come here and be near these peaks; to hike below them and around them. But I couldn’t come here without being prepared to climb. To possibly test myself against them if the stars aligned to bring weather, conditions, and mental fortitude into syzygy. If that happens, we’ve brought the gear with which to do battle.


The long, late Saturday night made for a rough Sunday morning. I initially awoke at 6:45 a.m. but felt like you’d imagine after a long day of travel and less than four hours of sleep. It was windy and raining outside. There was no need to get up. We had just planned to get the lay of the town today, check-in with the park, find the trailheads, do some grocery shopping, and recovery from the travel. I dozed and listened to my NYT podcasts until nearly 9 a.m. I then made some instant Starbucks coffee that we brought. The apartment has no coffee maker, but we’ll deal with it. 

I spent the morning listening to the rain and writing up the rest of this story. It’s been an eventful trip just getting here. I hope the events become more positive here. We haven’t seen that much of the mountains yet, as it has been overcast, though the ones we can see are still spectacular. 

I had some coffee and an omelette in the cafe under our apartment and waited to Derek to achieve total consciousness, like the Dali Lama (big hitter, the Lama) conferred on Karl after a round of golf in Tibet. Patience is handy in these situations and the weather helped: drizzly and windy. I made a trip across the street to the supermercado for some milk and eggs. 

We ventured outside in the late afternoon and crossed the bridge over the Rio de Las Vueltas. This river is wide and moves very swiftly, despite the flattish looking terrain in which it flows. It is much bigger and faster than the Rio Fitz Roy, which merges into it just south of town. On the other side we follow a trail below a 350-foot cliff. We are looking for some bolted routes that ascend this escarpment. We spot of group of three climbers starting up from the ground and hike up to them. It’s raining and none are deterred in the least. Only friendly Austino speaks English. He tells us about this route: 6c (11a) and so good! I mention the weather and how I am impressed they are going up. He says, “This is good weather for Chaltèn!” That might be true, but still I hope for better weather, to climb rock without it raining at the same time.

We continue around and find the one-pitch climbing area and lots of routes, some looking very hard and some that might be doable. All are rated 6 (10a) and harder. We backtrack and scope the middle route marked on our one photo.  It is the easiest one, at 6a, and climbs up to what looks like a clean slab with a single crack splitting its center. Agustino has assured us it is not a crack, but that the route is good and not very hard. “Not very hard” is a relative term and here in Chaltèn, I suspect it doesn’t mean that same thing as when we say it in the Flatirons.

We cross back over the river and wander the town. We find the climbing gym and ask about the local climbing there. We are directed to a short cliff north of the gym and find a pair of climbers there as well. Climbing in the rain. At least a couple of routes here are less steep and the gym guy has assured us there are easy routes here.

We walk the length of the town back to our apartment. Nearly every building is a restaurant or food eatery of some kind: burgers, pizza, bakeries, bars, supermercados, etc. There are couple of mountain shops too and we buy some fuel for our stove and a local hiking map. We both have a bacon/egg/cheeseburger with fries for dinner and I’m stuffed. We get back to the apartment near 10 p.m. and it is still light out, though growing dim fast. 


Windy here today. I’ll probably not bother to note that in a day or so. Just assume it is windy every day. If it is not, I’ll make special note of it. Hopefully by doing something significant.

Around noon I headed off to try and bag my first Patagonian summit. The big three of this area are: Cerro Torre, Cerro Fitz Roy, and Cerro Rosado. The latter looms over the town of El Chaltèn. No established trails lead to its summit and no one I talked to in town (all two of them) hadn’t been to the summit. I smelled a first ascent opportunity. Derek wasn’t interested, probably intimidated by the unknown, so I launched solo. I hiked back to the climbing gym near the bouldering area and then followed a trail up the hillside. This trail, I think, leads to Laguna de Torre, eventually, but it wasn’t heading to Rosado, so I went cross-country on hummocked hillsides and through the beech forests, winding my way on the clearest path.
View from the summit of Cerro Rosado, 
Steep, a bit slippery, grassy terrain led continuously upwards and with nearly zero bushwhacking. In a hour or so I was on the western summit. Cairns there defined me the glory of a first ascent, but the view of the Fitz Roy massif was a nice consolation. Indeed, it was impressive and intimidating. The spires were completely out of the clouds, though just barely. I took way too many photos, but couldn’t resist. Each time I glanced in its direction, it was more impressive then before, though the exact same view. It’s a tough site to get used to. I suspect it would take more than a lifetime for it not to stun. I descended to the saddle between the summits and then up to the eastern summit that lies directly above town. From there I could see people hiking on the Fitz Roy Trail below. I decided to forge my way down the other side, possible completely the first traverse of the Rosado Massif. Who says this range is climbed out?

The going was easy and I descended grassy slopes, entirely free of the forest, down to the trail. I followed this south, back to town. In the parking lot I noticed a familiar face walking towards me with a bouldering pad on his back. It was Adrian, Sonia’s boyfriend, and Patagonian veteran. I’d had them both over to my house to milk him of as much information as possible before our trip. I knew he was down here and expected to see him at one point, but this was cool. He confirmed what Rolo had thought about the weather report: a possible mountain window on Sunday or Monday. He also thought tomorrow was going to be okay for local stuff, though slightly worse than today. Maybe I’ll bag another peak tomorrow. We bid farewell and planned to do some climbing together on this trip.

We hung out at the apartment, resting and reading, until I pushed us out the door to climb the wall across the Rio de Las Vueltas. The approach was ten minutes, door to the base of the route. Our spartan guide of one PDF sheet listed three routes on this very wide cliff band. We chose the easiest route, in the middle. It goes up lower-angled rock, heading for a smooth slab that tops the wall. There appears to be a crack splitting this slab, but our friends from the day before assured us it was not a crack. No matter, as we knew it was all bolted. Our guide rated it 6a (10a) but others, including Adrian, had told us it was easier than that. Perfect. We wanted it to be easier. We were looking for a confidence-building warmup route.
Cerro Rosado. The black building is the climbing gym, on the western edge of town.

Derek wanted the first pitch and off he went. He followed bolts up very solid and blocky terrain for about 40 meters to a two-bolt belay. We thought this pitch was about 5.6. I followed and then led up 30 meters of 5.4 ground to a big ledge and two bolts, but I continued up steeper ground, even placing a cam, and found another 2-bolt belay before I ran out of rope. This pitch was probably 5.7. Derek led a 35-meter pitch of 5.7 up and left a bit to sloping stance from two bolts before the “crack” and the final slab. The “crack”, which actually did have a few possible gear placements, was soaked and dripping water. I maneuvered carefully to keep my shoes dry as long as possible. There are considerable runouts here, but the climbing is easy and blocky. I was careful, though, not to do anything rash and slip off. The final section, with a couple or more closely spaced bolts, was probably 5.7 as well. And we were on top.  Obviously the guide we had didn’t have the rating right. We’re not ready to declare ourselves badasses or anything. It was a fun ramble of an impressive-looking wall. 

We found our way down to the north. A little traversing and down scrambling led to a steep gully and a faint path, which then merged with a very-well defined path further down. The descent took us 15 minutes. We hiked up to the base of the left route, rated 6b in our guide and Adrian concurred that it was maybe 10c at the crux. This route looks really cool and passes a huge roof above. That isn’t the crux, though, as the roof goes it 5.7, climbing out the wall on the right to skirt it. It’s next on our list at this crag.

We headed back to our apartment, then did a touch of grocery shopping for dinner, but then decided we were too lazy to make dinner and instead when downstairs to the cafe below the apartment and ordered a pizza. In the cafe was Adrian, drinking a beer. He joined us at the table for dinner and we chatted and made plans to climb together later in the week. Cool.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Patagonia Trip, Part 1: Getting There

Image result for fitz roy photo

I've always enjoyed climbing literature. I read about climbing for two years before I ever went climbing myself. Stories of Patagonian climbing were second in popularity only behind Himalayan expeditions, at least for the more exotic locations. Photos of mountains illicit an entirely different response to a climber than to everyone else. A non-climber looks at photo of a mountain and just sees beauty. A climber can't help but imagine climbing it. Instinctively and instantly, a climber scans the photo for possible lines of ascent. While a non-climber will have little reaction to a mountain photo, a climber's hands will sweat. If it appears dangerous, they might be slightly uncomfortable and apprehensive just looking at it, unable to not imagine there.  Show a photo of the Patagonian Cerro Torre to a climber and it invokes terror. Pure and simple terror. I might fantasize about having climbed Cerro Torre, but I have never seriously considered putting it on my list. It’s over my head.

Nearly as scary looking and slightly taller Fitz Roy, is the largest peak above El Chaltèn.  This is on my list and is the reason Derek and I headed south to Argentina once again. It and all the surrounding peaks, including Cerro Torre are known as the Fitz Roy Massif. We left the day after Derek’s last final (which ended at 10 p.m.) — he is a senior studying Electrical Engineering at CU Boulder. Most exciting about this trip was that Sheri would come join us for two of our three weeks. No, she wouldn’t be climbing anything, but she'll do some hiking, hopefully with us too, and have an adventure in a wild place.


I have a history of travel snafus. When I was younger I didn’t handle them well and stressed out over all the hiccups. When I started traveling with Sheri I eventually took a different attitude. I leave early enough so that I have plenty of time to get where I’m going and then if things come up, they come up and try to roll with it. Sheri took us and our four huge bags (and three carry-ons) down to take the 11:03 a.m. bus to DIA. After we said goodbye at the car, Sheri decided to wait until we got on the bus. That was good thing, as the bus didn’t come. We waited until it was more than ten minutes late. Our flight took off at 1:35 p.m. so we weren’t stressed about missing the flight, as yet, but we didn’t want to get stressed. We hauled the bags back up to the car, loaded them up, and Sheri drove us to DIA. The bus still didn’t show up for all of this. Must have been a mechanical problem.

Sheri dropped us off a bit before noon and we walked in and found no lines, but when we tried to check-in at a kiosk, we couldn’t. We went to an attendant with no delay and she spent 20 minutes on the phone trying to check us in. We had purchased the tickets through Aerolinas Argentinas, as our final flight destination was El Calafatè, but we actually flew on Delta clear to Buenos Aires. AA had sent us a notice of a flight change a week ago or so, but the time of departure had only changed by 15 minutes and we didn’t think it was anything more than that. Apparently that was a flight number change for Delta, but since we didn’t book through Delta we had a problem. The attendant told us we would have to call AA, but I knew that wouldn’t work. I’d tried to call them the previous Saturday to cancel this trip and no one answered after 70 minutes on hold.

Cancel the trip, did I say? Yes. Eleven days before leaving on this trip I did the Skyline (19 miles, 7000 vertical feet) for the 13th month in a row. I was doing it to train for this trip, but on this last outing I sustained an injury. I was sore the afternoon after the Skyline (on Sunday), but felt reasonable okay at the gym on Monday. Tuesday I was too gimpy to do Green Mountain. Wednesday I was in intense pain whenever I bent my left knee. I walked stiff legged and could only go down stairs by matching feet on each step. Googling around I thought it was bursitis, as the pain seemed to be on my kneecap. A trip to the doctor on Friday and he diagnosed it as quadricep tendonitis, telling me it would take 6-8 weeks to recover and my only chance for the Patagonia trip was PRP (platelet-rich plasma), a fairly new technique not covered by insurance that takes blood from your arm, spins it to concentrate the platelets in the blood and then injects that directly into the tendon. It cost $1000 and I made an appointment to have it done.

That afternoon I heard from my buddy Danny that another friend, Anton, had done this procedure. I contacted him and his experience wasn’t great. It sounded too risky. It would definitely set me back for a week or more before it would improve, but then it was supposed to be functional in two weeks, saving the last half of my 3-week trip. Friday night my knee was as bad as ever. After being able to bend it at work, sitting at my desk, I could not bend it without pain sitting on my couch. Hence, the next morning I tried to cancel the trip.

But then a funny thing happened. My knee improved. A lot. I could walk normal on Saturday. Stairs were still an issue, but by Sunday I could do them pretty well. Monday I climbed at the gym and it went well. I couldn’t bend the knee too radically, but as long as I didn’t dip too low, it worked well enough. Tuesday I hiked Flagstaff with no issues at all going up and a bit of a hitch coming down. This was so strange. I’m old (40+17) and I don’t heal fast. I hurt my left thumb (everything on my left side is damaged: knee, thumb, elbow, and shoulder) in a fall on the Second Flatiron six months ago and it still hasn’t fully healed. Tendons or ligaments or something. I didn’t get it, but I wasn’t complaining. The trip was on. I did another short gym session on Wednesday and then did Flagstaff again on the Thursday morning I left for Patagonia. Here we come, Fitz Roy. Brace yourself.

The attendant solved the problem and got us checked in. That was a huge relief. If we had truly had to call them, the trip could have been off. Why AA doesn’t answer the phone, I don’t know. I sent an email that Saturday as well and never heard back from them. But they took our bags and we got on the plane. Derek watched 1.5 movies on the plane, while I read. Or at least tried to read. I read one page five times. I was so sleepy. It was just 2 p.m. I didn’t want to do any dozing, as I wanted a better chance of sleeping on the overnight trip to BA.

I got 100 on the test. No big whoop.

We had a 3-hour layover in Atlanta. Derek checked his Power Electronics final and found out he got 100. That'll do. Of the four classes he took this past semester, he has A's in three of them and doesn't know his score on the Electromagnetic Fields final yet. This keeps his lifelong streak of never getting less than A. Smart kid. He found out later he got a 98 on his Electromagnetic Fields final, so another perfect semester for him. One to go.

Derek got Qdoba for dinner, but I'd had that recently at a work lunch and opted for Arby's instead, hoping to get a Jamocha shake. Unfortunately, they only had vanilla (basically, the flavor dispenser wasn't working). I got my sandwich, took a bite, and then noticed my bread was moldy, right where I took a bite. Ugh. I went back there and showed the sandwich. The lady cringed and asked, "Refund? Or do you want another sandwich." My wife, who wouldn't have gone there in the first place (she had a bad experience with Arby's as a teenager and hasn't eaten there since), would definitely have taken the refund. I don't hold much of a grudge when it comes to food I like though, so I got a replacement sandwich. Sheri also doesn't like KFC much. As you'll see, she apparently has pretty good instincts when it comes to food.

Buenos Aires

The 10-hour flight to Buenos Aires wasn't too bad. Rows in our plane were arranged as 2-3-2 and we were in a 2-seat grouping, with me against the window. I sleep intermittently in my bed at home and expected a very rough flight. I brought sleeping pills with me and planned on taking a couple, but I forgot about them and didn't need them. After watching the quite bad Ad Astra sci-fi movie with Brad Pitt (bad story, bad acting, ridiculous scenes that added nothing to the story, but presumably they had extra money in the special-effects budget), I slept a good portion of this flight. The airline also fed us, but we'd just had the Arby's, so I was stuffed. I ate most of it anyway, but get this — it proves how stuffed I was: They gave us a small container of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream...I barely had half before giving the rest to Derek. Under normal circumstances, my wife would have probably taken me to a mental hospital after such an act. Of course, Derek ate his full meal and both his ice creams without much trouble at all. Youths have high metabolisms.


The airline attendants served us breakfast as well, but I didn't eat much of that either, mainly because I was getting some quality rest and so surprised that I tried to keep rolling with it, as it was going to be a long day. We didn’t have any trouble getting through customs, though it took an hour. Not surprisingly, our bags were already there by the time we got to baggage. We found a couple of free carts and made our way outside to a kiosk to get on the Tiendas Léon transfer bus service, because we had to switch airports here. The airports are supposedly 30 minutes apart. It took us 90 minutes, after waiting 30 minutes for the bus. We were glad to have a 6-hour layover between our flights. Buenas Aires, at 2.7 million people, is by far the largest city in Argentina (more than double the next closest), but the metropolitan area is about 12.7 million. The small part of the city between the two airports contains no highways, though some expressways have slightly less stoplights and are not cobbled. But our route seemed to be 90% small streets, probably due to an accident. We got our bags checked at our new airport (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery) with no wait at all. We found a great place to wait, near a Starbucks, a pizza place, and a KFC. We opted for the KFC. That would prove to be the biggest mistake of my culinary life.
In the airport medical center. I don't look too distressed here.
KFC had a deal of 5-piece mini-bucket, two Cokes, and two orders of fries. Cool. I had to wait forever to get it, as they cooked it up fresh, apparently not anticipating anyone would order fried chicken at KFC…What does KFC stand for again? The chicken was very hot and I was eating the first piece when I felt a bone stuck in throat. I was trying to expel it and Derek thought I was choking, so he started to do Heimlich maneuver on me, but I could breathe fine and told him so. The discomfort was great. It felt like the bone was propped across my throat and any swallowing caused sharp pain. I couldn’t dislodge it and went to the bathroom to try make myself hurl. Once there I put my fingers down my throat as far as I could reach, before my hand jammed up against my teeth. I did gag, but I could not hurl.

Since I could breathe fine, that indicated the bone was beyond my wind pipe and impossible to reach with my fingers. I left the bathroom and knew I needed help. I flagged down a maintenance work to help me located medical help, but he didn’t speak English. A passerby, seeing I was in distress came to my aid as a translator and then walked with me down to the medical office. People are so great. It was a small gesture, but it was so meaningful to me. I thanked him profusely. On our way, we passed by Derek and told him I was going for help and to wait there. I assumed the medical area would have some tong and they could just reach down there, grab it, and pull it out. It would be over in a few minutes. My medical bona fides are a bit suspect. In the past, I’ve diagnosed myself with sunscreen in my eye (actually retinal detachment), a pulled chest muscle (actually pulmonary edema) and bursitis (actually quadricep tendonitis). This self-assessment didn’t break that pattern.
In the ambulance
At the medical office, they couldn’t help me. It was now 1 p.m. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 3:20 p.m. They decided I’d have to go to a hospital to get relief. What? No tongs? They asked about my flight and got my passport.  Derek texted me to ask what was going on. If I was going to the hospital, I needed to go get Derek. It would be hard to describe how to get to the medical office, as it wasn’t marked in any way. I walked with an EMT back upstairs to get Derek and we returned. We waited for the ambulance. Eventually an Ear-Nose-and-Throat doctor looked at me and used a took to look down my throat. She couldn’t see anything. It was too deep.

A very nice lady, Evelyn, from AA came to talk us. She could speak English very well. She tracked down our luggage and pulled it off the plane (or out of staging to go on the plane). I still hoped to zip over to the hospital, get the tongs, and zip back for the flight. Alas, I didn’t know the there is no translation for the word “zip” in BA. They don’t do that. Derek described our bags, and she found them. She told us to come back to her when we were back from the hospital in order to reschedule our flights. She said we would need a doctor’s note that proved we had an emergency so that we wouldn’t be charged for a change of ticket.
Rom at the hospital. Denise is talking to me.
The ENT doctor told me I was going in an ambulance to a hospital for endoscopy. It was going to be 10-15 minutes. It ended up being more than an hour. Why? They had to find a hospital equipped to do it. There are seemingly countless hospitals in Buenos Aires, at least a hundred looking at Google Maps. They were trying to find a public hospital (~50% of people in Argentina use the public option for healthcare, while the other half, the richer half, use private hospitals) that had the equipment to perform an endoscopy. They asked us if we had travel medical insurance, which we did not. They asked us if we had a travel assistance company, which we did not. They didn’t tell us that we would be way better off going to a private hospital, though we’d would have to pay cash. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they thought we were poor since we didn’t have a travel assistant. Maybe they didn’t want to say how slow the public option was. It wasn’t their job to make decisions for us, but we didn’t have the knowledge to make the correct decision. So, we waited for them to help us. After waiting for a long time without much communication, we got our ambulance.
Waiting for CT scan

We  left for hospital at 2:20, got there around 3 p.m. It was only about 5 miles away, but going anywhere in BA takes forever. There seems to be an intersection every 50 feet. Obviously we weren’t making the flight that day. After a long, bumpy ride I get out and into a wheelchair, which is protocol, though I have no trouble doing anything except swallowing. I’m wheeled into a room that is more like a walk-in closet and similarly equipped except it had no hangers. It had also: a single sink — full of an unknown brownish liquid. There are holes in the plaster walls, chipped concrete floor marks all over the wall, a half-filled pee container on the one shelf. I sit on a table/bed on one side and an old man with an IV and a tube taped to his nose is in the other bed. He’s about two feet away from me.

The doctor on duty, Denise, spoke English. She was feisty and dressed in floral tights. She ordered blood taken and do a CT scan. She could see I was in a distress and said, as she left the room, “Don’t worry, you’re not going to die.” Before blood was taken I laid down for the first time and then I had a strong cough and immediately the poking in my throat alleviated. Initially, I felt it was completely gone. I felt so silly about causing such a big deal that a cough solved. We missed our flight and would now have to spend the night in BA, all because I couldn’t eat chicken properly. And didn’t think to cough. Jesus…
CT scan showing chicken bone

When Denise came back I told her that the bone didn’t seem to be in my throat any longer. Could I just go now? She insisted her previous plan of action regardless. I’m not sure why they drew my blood. Maybe they tested it for something, but I in that facility that didn’t seem possible. Or maybe just topping off the local blood bank, 10cc’s at a time. I’m wheeled in a rickity chair with only had one foot pad so I had to drape one foot over the other, into an uneven alley with rain puddles to another building. I felt like I’d tip over at any point and could easily walk. Just silly, as I walked all over this place later. I was wheeled into a check-in room for the imaging and placed under a cold fan. I waited 20 minutes, just sitting alone in my chair. Then I get the CT scan. Gestures tell me that when I hear the lady talk to me, put my arms over my head. On my first pass through the machine I notice it is missing bolts securing the carapace. On the second pass the lady says something in Spanish and I raise my arms. I’m back in my closet around 4 p.m. and Derek is there. He’s been carrying around our three carry-on bags. One roller and two backpacks.

At about 5:40 p.m. a different doctor reads the scan and immediately contradicts my post-cough self-diagnosis. I have as much natural ability to be a doctor as I have to play guitar, but I keep trying to do both. She can clearly see the chicken bone. I need to go to a hospital that can do an endoscopy. Wasn’t I already there? No. What was the hour-long wait at the airport for, then? They put an IV in my arm to prep for the trip to next hospital and then nothing. For hours. I needed to pee and asked for the bathroom. I was directed down the hallway to a tiny bathroom with a toilet and a shower basin but nothing else - no curtain. Below the sink was puddles of fresh blood. The door didn’t fit in jamb and could not close. There was no toilet paper. I just peed. This bathroom made a US gas-station bathroom look like the penthouse suite at the Luxor. I felt like I was in sub-Saharan Africa, instead of the capital city of Argentina, which I had thought of us a modern, first-world country.

Derek and I felt trapped. No one would update us. It seemed like we could be there for days. I finally tried to get some answers and walked around with my IV pole. A helpful lady translated for me, but she just told me that this is the way things are in public hospitals. I told her about the bathroom. She was nonplussed. I thought about asking what she does without toilet paper, but dropped it. We were at a very low point here. I was very close to pulling the IV out of my arm myself (they would not do it) and leaving for the airport and the next flight home to the US. Derek supported this plan. At some point we would have done it, but we wavered, stuck in a horrible limbo of no information and indecision. My situation wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. It is not Argentinian’s responsibility to speak any English. I am a foreigner there. The problem wasn’t their lack of English. It was my lack of Spanish. I was receiving free health care from people doing the best they can. Still, I was in trouble and was not confident I could get relief in this country.

I needed to use the bathroom again and wouldn’t go near the first one. I walked myself to the other building, through the rain-puddled alley, toting my IV pole and bag, bending it down to get through doorways. I went past the imaging area, searching for a bathroom sign. I found one and the bathroom was much better. Two urinals, two toilets. Zero toilet paper. This lack of toilet paper became emblematic of the situation here. When Venezuela descended into chaos among the things making the international news was their lack of toilet paper. Yet, here in Argentina, it is just normal at the public hospitals.

At 9 p.m. an ambulance arrived to take me to the second hospital. Finally, something happened. It had been eight hours since I swallowed the bone. I sat upright in the ambulance, holding my IV bag and trying not to bend that arm too much. Blood pooled in the line, as it did whenever the IV was more than 3/4’s empty or when I held it too low. Why I needed this IV six hours before an operation is baffling. They said when the ambulance gets here it leaves immediately if you aren’t ready to go. It arrived at 9:02 and we left at 9:17. On the very long trip (45 minutes) to the next hospital I finally had the idea of contact Rolo. At that point he told us the name of private hospitals and told us to go to one of them, as they will take good care of me, though I would have to pay. If we had had this information at 1 p.m. it would have changed everything, but at this point we were almost there and the driver and nurse (who sat in the front and had no interaction with me whatsoever) didn’t speak any English, of course. During the course of the day we tried to use multiple translator apps. Most did not work very well or at all. Google Translator was surprisingly bad. Derek speaks Spanish somewhat, but not enough to give either one of us confidence of what was going on.

We got to second Hospital - Hospital Muñiz, built in 1824 and looked that way — past 10 p.m. It didn’t look bad from the outside, though it still didn’t look like a hospital. The inside felt a lot like the first hospital, though it had an elevator (dirty, chipped, worn down) and we took it to the second floor. It was very quiet here.  The only people there was a nurse and the doctor - an endoscopy specialist. The doctor looked at the scans (we were given them at the first hospital) and was told my symptoms had been relieved some (after the cough). He said there was a chance the bone could have passed down into my stomach, which would not be good. He ordered another CT scan. We couldn’t understand the doctor very well and this place looked little better than the last place. I was nervous and wondered if we should leave and go to a private hospital.

I called Rolo and he and the doctor talked for quite awhile and then Rolo assured me that I was in good hands. This place specialized in foreign objects in the esophagus, and had lots of experience. I felt a lot better after hearing that. The CT scanner was in another building, only 400 meters away, but we drove. This was a much nicer CT machine. They had to unlock the door to enter the scanning area and a cat ran in. It was apparently is the hospital cat, as no one reacted to it darting in there. Maybe it was a therapy cat like Avista does with dogs, though they are on a leash. And they are dogs. Cats don’t do therapy. Maybe they kept the rat population down.

The doctor came over and looked at the scans immediately. He rode back with me and used his translator app to tell me bone was still high in my esophagus. He was a very nice guy and told me he had relatives in the US and he used this app to talk to them. He would have to operate to remove the chicken bone. Is that the right term when there is no slicing open of the body? I had to go under general anesthesia (propanol and fentanyl), so very similar to a colonoscopy, only from the different end. I asked how long it would take and told it depends. Much like Sheri’s gallstone operation. She was unlucky and it was brutal. I was lucky and it only took 19 minutes out of a projected range of 15-60 minutes.

In the operating room. Derek took this photo from the office, where he waited.
Back at the doctor’s office, a second doctor, Ignacio, had arrived. He was there to assist the operation. He could speak English a bit. I went into the operating room around 11 p.m. It was right next to the office with the desk and the room looked no different except that it has a table and a light above it and some equipment. I put on a paper smock (just my front side) and kept on all my clothes, including my shoes. I had a paper hat over my hair. The doctors were similarly clad, over their regular clothes. Nothing over our shoes. Ignacio put an oxygen tube just barely into my nostrils and then had trouble getting the electrical probes onto my chest. They were reaching down the smock and then under the neck of my T-shirt. The machine kept beeping a warning. I asked if there was a problem and was assured there was not. I wondered if they needed to take off my shirt or shave my chest. These electrodes would still be on my chest when I arrived at El Chaltèn! They didn’t take them off and I didn’t notice them, despite the metal bumps on the sticky patches, until then.
Post surgery, inspecting the culprit.

I asked Ignacio if he was an anesthesiologist and he didn’t really answer. I suspect not. But he’s probably watched some YouTube videos on how to apply the gas. I was definitely nervous. This was happening so quickly and so casually and so different from the US. Ignacio told me he was going to start the Propanol and to count backwards from twenty. I started and went quickly. He told me to slow down. I went very slowly. I wanted to remember how far I got so that I could tell Sheri. I got all the way down to zero and was still awake.I was thinking I should make sure they knew I wasn’t under but then don’t remember what happened next.

It was a pretty unique experience. After waiting for practically 9 hours without much happening at all at the airport and then the first hospital, it was actually quite pleasing to be doing things. After the doctor talked with Rolo, the ball started to roll. The CT scan only took about 15 minutes, and when Pops got back, he was practically pushed directly into the operating room. I had planned to run an email by him that I was writing for him in response to a writer for Marmot, but had no time. 

I know why Pops was nervous, and when I texted my mom a picture of the operating conditions, she said she was nervous too. But I wasn’t. I was happy things were happening and Rolo and Ignacio had given us confidence that they knew what they were doing. 

I barely had time to start watching a show on my phone, and eat about 10 Lays Stax before Ignacio comes out to show me the chicken bone. I took pictures and then was recruited to wake up Pops. Ignacio was yelling “Wake up! Wake up!” And slapping gently on his face, but to no response. When I got in there I said “Cmon Pops time to get up! It’s over now!” And almost immediately his eyes flickered open, and he tried to form words. He was way out of it though and it was clear he was very tired — a combination of the long day and the anesthesia. Ignacio and I pulled Pops’ torso into a seated position, and we tried to ease off, but Pops fell right back into us. We held him up until the other nurses helped get him into the wheelchair. He was starting to talk at this point, asking every ~20 seconds “Did you get it?” Or “Is it over?” Once he became a little more competent in his speech, he began to ask “It would’ve killed a regular man, right?” or “Was it the biggest chicken bone you’ve ever seen?” He was very funny. This is probably the only time I will ever see my dad display behavior of utter inebriation. A brief relapse had him asking if it was over again, and by this time I had the entire video of the operation on my phone, so I showed him. We were also given the bone in a little cup as a souvenir. 

We bid our doctors goodnight and were taken by Walter (Pops by wheelchair) to another building where we would stay the night. We got out and entered the Women’s Ward (Sala de Mujeres) — I took this as the answer to my dad’s earlier questions… Pops had his own room with a bed and I tucked him in. I asked the nurse if I could have a bed too and so she just took one from one of the unused cots in the other room. I settled in as well and sent some final updates to the family, who were following the events of the day. By this time it was 1am and we got some sleep. I turned off Pops’ alarm for 5am. At about 1:30, a dude in a T-shirt came in holding a needle full of brownish liquid. He told me in Spanish that it was anti-inflammatorio for the throat. I gave my permission and he spiked the IV bag. This medication seemed to work until late the next day, when it probably wore off.
My overnight room and Derek's mattress.
We are take another 400-meter drive to another part of hospital to sleep. Our private room has it own bathroom, but again the door doesn’t close and there is no toilet still had no toilet paper. The room was spartan, concrete floor, stained walls. Lying in a bed was great though. I still had an IV in my arm. It wasn’t a hospital bed in the US sense. It was really a cot. They pulled a mattress off a cot in another room and Derek slept on the floor in my room with no sheet or blanket, I had both.


I slept pretty well until nearly 8 a.m. I haven’t slept that late, without some special circumstances like going to bed at 3 a.m. or later, in at least a decade. But I guess these were special circumstances as well. I woke up feeling well. They didn’t allow me to eat or drink anything after the operation, letting my throat heal a bit. Not that I wanted either. I just wanted to sleep then. I was surprised and glad to see my doctor/surgeon before 9 a.m. I thought we might get the next shift, like at the first hospital. He told me to drink a cup of water and asked how I felt. I said fine and he said okay, we’ll discharge you. Cool! Another guy helped us with the discharge, which was easier and way faster than Sheri’s discharge at Avista. And no charge. Obviously that is a big topic of debate in the US.

We walked outside and I installed and tried to set up Uber on my phone. It was taking so long that Derek hailed us a ride. The ride was far away, so I hailed another one. Derek’s driver cancelled on us. Then my driver did as well. Derek’s second driver picked us up and another tedious ride put us at the airport. Uber worked very well and only cost $10 for both us to ride not many miles but around 30 minutes.

In the airport we quickly found Evelyn, who had taken care of our bags the day before. I was so pleased to see her working on Saturday, as she knew our full story. She went with us to get the bags and then took us to the VIP check-in (airport was very crowded today) and got our bags checked and boarding passes. So very nice and helpful. Booked, we went back to the exact same chair and table (comfy, nice view) where we were 24 hours earlier. We ordered pizza this time. And Starbucks. The flight was smooth to El Calafate except for just a minute or so when we started our descent. It was crazy bumpy, but we passed through it quickly.
Waiting for our flight to El Calafatè
The El Calafaté airport is nice and reminded me of the Bozeman airport in size and ambiance. Gonzalo helped us at Las Lengas shuttle service. Derek had coordinated with them during the ordeal. We had to show proof of the medical emergency at the airline and the van service, but our documentation was sufficient and had no trouble getting both re-booked without any fees. We did have to pay $3600AR ($60US) for our three extra bags to/from El Chaltén, but that’s what you get for being a climber. We got some food at the airport restaurant and only had to wait an hour for the shuttle, which left 30 minutes early since we had all the passengers. The drive to El Chaltèn was supposed to take three hours, but it really just two hours. We stopped three times for short photo breaks and still made it to our accommodations by 10:15 p.m.
Derek catches up on sleep on the drive to El Chaltèn

Vanessa, the daughter of Isabela, the owner of the apartment we were renting for our stay, met us at the van. She was obviously waiting for us. She showed us to our apartment, which was quite nice. It is on the first floor (second floor in the US), above a baker. We have a small bathroom, kitchen, and two bedrooms, both with two beds. The master bedroom has a small armoire and a tiny deck overlooking the porch at the front of the bakery.

We were very impressed with everyone we met. I know they are all somewhat in the tourist industry (save the hospital staff, of course, and they were nice, but quite different, as the business is very different), but they seemed exceptional nice and friendly. They make a great first impression of their country. We were so excited to be there, that we didn’t go straight to bed. We unpacked completely. Derek wrote some of this report.

Around 11:30 p.m. a group sat at the table on the bakery porch, directly below me and talked loudly until at least 1 a.m. I was practicing my Spanish to nicely ask them to be quiet before I decided to just put on my headphones and watch a movie, which I did until 3 a.m. Also, someone in the next apartment was snoring so loudly that I could clearly hear him after the movie ended. Sheri will need her best earplugs for this place.