The Alpine Ambience of Chalten

Every few weeks a spell of dangerously calm and sunny weather ominously parks itelf over the Patagonian spires of Fitzroy, Cerro Torre, and a dozen other granitic giants. During these times, climbers impulsively engage in masochistic bouts of intense physical activity known as alpinism. The behavior insprired by such weather can result in mental fatigue, physical injury, and even death. Luckily such weather is brief, allowing visitors from across the globe to again resume normal life camped in the Patagonian outpost of Chalten. Reached via a several-hour bus trip from the nearest town, Chalten brims with adventure and those who have come to seek it. In my fourth week here I have only now begun to appreciate the urban adventure potential all around me. Prolonged stetches of wind and rain – coveted ´weather windows´ -- provide conditions highly amenable to urban exploration. A two-week span of just such weather has been heralded by alpinists as one of the best in recent memory, allowing for unprecedented amounts of card-playing and iPod listening. And with additional storms forecast, the most ambitious and daring climbers are even considering a second read-through of their remaining paperback novels.When so many of the world´s top climbers are concentrated under such conditions, the prevailing mentality really encourages ´getting after it´ with internet kiosks and campgrounds abuzz over whose tent has recently flooded or gear cache has been blown away.
The recent weather window has also allowed me to test a full array of outdoor gear while pursuing cutting-edge objectives such as navigating potholes along the .75 miles of paved road, or fleeing from the ex-con local gaucho and his flock of equally aggressive chickens. The sprawling terrain of our youth-hostel bivy is frequented by stray dogs drawn to the bony detritus of recent barbecues. Yet my gloves and jacket have proven more than adequate protection against the social scorn resulting from frequent cultural faux paus and mistranslations. My climbing partner and I recently agreed on the bold goal of hosting a cordero, a traditional Patagonian lamb-roast. Unfortunately we had misjudged conditions, severely underestimating both the time needed to thaw our lamb, and the scale of the event which we had set in motion. An Argentine team (comprised of our dreadlocked hostel warden and his 5-yr-old son) arrived with innate local knowledge and more food in time to prevent any loss of appetite or party enthusiasm. Though no new technical terrain was covered on this adventure (we know of several prior corderos to have been held in this location) we feel that the event is notable for marking the first link-up-dinner comprised of American-style popcorn, Argentine roast lamb, and the Chilean specialty of red wine with Coca-Cola.
Faced with a forecast of steady rain, and rumors of chorizo prices at near seasonal lows, American Alpine Club president Steve Swenson also ´went for it´, comiting to an Argentine barbecue and fiesta of his own. Swenson and partner chose the light-and-fast approach, and would provide nearly all the meat themselves, relying on speed and efficiency rather than a set of fixed supply caches to keep partiers fed. Abandoning their basecamp at the southeast corner of town, the climbers quickly overcame the inital resistance offered by ¨La Candelita¨, the local brothel located next door.

Alaska and Patagonia veteran Mark Westman had reported the presence of tied-up horses and bad-tempered gauchos at this location earlier in the season, so safe passage through such terrain provided an obvious morale boost to the duo. Approaching from the opposite end of town, my partner and I recognized the fiesta objective as a worthy one. My balaclava barely prevented frostbite on my ears as we narrowly avoided crashing our brake-less bicycles into soaking mobs of German hikers or swimming-pool sized puddles. This particular fiesta contained sufficient levels of meat and wine for everyone. But by eschewing the traditional methods such as potlucking or BYOB climbers leave little margin for error as they aim higher in these endeavors. As the damp grey forecast stretches on and folks continue to push the urban envelope, there is no telling what encounters with local culture, marathon card games, or thrice-read paperbacks will be next to make news. And though a change of weather might be nice, I can already feel myself atop Fitzroy under sunny skies, longing for my next run-in with the neighborhood gaucho.

Sport climbing in the Madsen boulders, 2 minutes from town...


My friend Beckett... onsighting


1 comment:

  1. hey Blake!
    sounds like a great time; next time just do chicken! say hi to Steve Swenson for me and everyone, stay safe!
    Hugs ~Patsy