Vamos a Valle!

Bariloche is a mid-sized town on the dry eastern rainshadow of the Andes. It sits on a large lake, surrounded by other large lakes, ski areas, and granite spires. It has become one of the outdoor adventure hubs of Patagonia, and its fun to sit at one of the outdoor cafes and match up the groups of eager young travelers with their countries of origin based on the gear brands of choice. Gear from Black Diamond, Patagonia, Outdoor Research--or the presence of tennis shoes--betrays a North American right away, with Canadians favoring MEC or Arcteryx backpacks. Meanwhile, Deuter and Mammut are big among the Europeans. South Americans favor a local company called Doite and slip-on shoes or converse all-stars. Israelis form their own traveling mobs with distinct fashion, language, culinary choices, and favored hostels, usually easy to identify by the size of the group and the fact that their clothes are none-of-the-above.
On the first day in Bariloche we ran into a couple more Brazilians (here comes trouble…) but these guys were sport climbers who had a large camp set up at an area 35 miles from town called the Valle Encantado (Enchanted Valley). We all quickly piled into a pickup and headed out to Valle with a bunch of food and climbing gear.
The climbs are mostly located across the river from the highway, but luckily the Brazilians had come equipped with a rubber raft called the ¨SeaHawk¨, a burly craft fully capable of shuttling dogs, climbing gear, cases of wine, and Navy SEALs into the most remote reaches of the globe. One problem with all these Brazilians is that I was just starting to regain some Spanish, and now I was hearing Portugese. A second problem – as relayed to me by my friend David who can speak Portugese – is that most of what these guys said was slang, nicknames, and cursing that even he couldn´t understand. Additionally, nobody seemed to have an actual name, with all 10 guys going by monikers such as Skunk, Monkey, Pollack, Fatso, Skinny, etc. It was a bit like living with the 7 dwarves, if only the 7 dwarves climbed 5.13 and talked constantly about women they had slept with, wanted to sleep with, or would only sleep with when drunk. Consequently all the Portugese I know is probably not something that should ever be repeated in the presence of someone´s mother.

These two pictures oare of David and myself working on an amazing .12c arete. A good photographer could leave Valle with some really great shots.

The climbing in area was awesome, with very featured volcanic stone and steep sport climbing on big pockets, cobbles, roofs, and constant sun.

Every night we would all gather at the camp, a spot stocked with 2 dozen bottles of wine and boxes of food. Even Obi, the offical dog mascot of the trip was enjoying the super cheap Argentine wine.

The camping was so plush that the Brazilians jokingly called it their ´Favella´, a local name for the ghetto in Rio de Janiero. Each night after climbing we would all gather around the favella and play music, joke around, and give excuses about why we did not succeed on a given route that day.

After a few days of damaging my delicate fingers on the volcanic rock and my delicate ears with Brazilian vulgarity we headed back to Bariloche to restock food and prepare for the alpine granite of Frey.


Patagonia... more than just expensive clothes

I am currently sitting in the store-wracked town of El Chalten Argentina waiting for some decent weather. I figured this would be a handy time to write a little bit about the trip.

I arrived in Buenos Aries on the morning of January 9th, and immediately I could recall the voice of my mildly-senile high school Spanish teacher drilling me on verb conjugations and useful phrases. All I could really remember was ¨Donde Esta el Bano¨, but luckily much of the rest just falls into places after clearing that initial hurdle. The airport was hot an sunny, a pleasant change from the cold and slush of Seattle.

Through one of those highly dubious friend-of-friend-of-friend-of-friend connections that climbers seem to revel in (and the general public disdains) I was able to stay for free for two nights in Buenos Aries with a guy named Rocco. While excploring Buenos Aires I came across Chocolaterias with chocolate, Pizzarias with Pizza, and this place, with...?

Rocco is a chic urban DJ to pay the bills, but a climber at heart. My broken Spanish formed the model of fluency compared to his more-broken English, but was had a good time together nonetheless and he made me a traditional Argentine barbecue called an Asado.

Like many residents of Buenos Aires, Rocco had a verdant rooftop garden where he grows trees, flowers, chives, mint, and herbs of a slightly more potent variety. Rocco´s apartment is in a neighborhood called ´Caballito´, which is Spanish for ´A Little Horse´, a apt description of one´s status after spending two days shouting at homicidal local taxi drivers.

I spent two nights in Buenos Aires with Rocco, which was two more than I had originally planned, and one more than I was told after arriving on the first day.

This delay was succinctly explained to me in a word: Brazilians. My ride from Buenos Aires to the mountainous Patagonia region was with Andrea, a Brazilian friend-of-friend-of-friend, and the 3rd link in my four person chain to Rocco. I soon learned that to Brazilians, a time zone is more a state of mind than it is a state of the minute hand. Eventually the two Brazilian women (Andrea and Simoné) arrived,
and we took of at what they called the ungodly early hour of 8:30 AM for the 18 hour drive to the mountain town of Bariloche, in the Andes near Chile. My climbing partner David had rented a hostel room for us all in Bariloche and I was eager to arrive and get some sleep.

However, my longing for expediency was thwarted at every turn by the Brazilian desire to relax, take random scenic side trips, and indulge in their sudden Maté addiction. Maté is a type of loose-leafed tea that all of Argentina is crazy about and I think looks (and tastes) like the hay bales I used to buck and stack for summer work. People carry thermoses full of hot water all day to take Maté breaks on important occasions such as the top of every hour, half hour, or odd numbered minute. Adding mate (and subsequent bathroom) stops to the baseline Brazilian slowness resulted in our arrival in Bariloche at 6AM, 22 hours after starting the drive. Since then I´ve had a whirlwind of excellent trips, climbs, and new friends. And since the weather in El Chalten doesn´t look much better in the next few days, I think I´ll have plenty of time to write all about it.



After 36 hours of bus-riding exciting, I have arrived in Chalten. The granite peaks of Cerro Torre, Fitz Roy, Pollone, and others are coated in fresh snow, and my creaky joints are moving slower than the satellite internet here in town, but we are glad to be here.

The last two weeks have been spent in some amazing places in northern Patagonia, particularly sport climbing along a river in ¨Valle Encantado¨(the Enchanted Valley) and climbing alpine granite spires near the town of Bariloche, the best of which was a 9 or 10 pitch 5.11 route on the ¨Cerro Principal¨ we were accompanied by the ever-present Andean Condor and had an amazing time. More pictures and news to come, if I am ever able to get an internet connection at non-glacial speed.




Breaking Trail

Last Bit of Winter for Me!

After a brief stop in Leavenworth to babysit the house and cats of some friends, I took a short trip to Stehekin. Leavenworth was eventful in a few ways, mainly in that the pipes in the cabin had frozen, which necesitated a distinctly un-fun phone call to the out-of-town owners of the home. However, we also got in a little skiing, ice climbing, and scrabble playing.

Stehekin is a tiny community located 55 miles up Lake Chelan from the driveable "downlake" city of Chelan. No cars can make it to Stehekin, and in the winter there is only a single boat which runs every-other day. The community is in the heart of the North Cascades, with 9,000' peaks rising from the valley floor.

My girlfriend Allison and I skied 7 miles up to a cabin through some of the hardest trail-breaking conditions I have ever seen. The day up took nearly 9 hours ot go 7 miles, with lots of headlamp illuminated skiing. My legs were cramping and I was completely beat by the time the snow-covered roof of the cabin came into view. Then ofcourse we had to shovel out enough snow to open the front door, start a fire, get water going, and all the other tasks that needed doing before we could relax. It brings to mind the Thomas Carlyle line - Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak. It was entirely worth it though, and after a day of playing scrabble and messing around, we skiied the 7 miles back to the car in a leisurly 3 hours.

I'm off to Buenos Aries tomorrow, via Sea-Tac and NY city!