We must have upset the weather gods. Unlike previous trips, this time Patagonia threw everything it had as us weather wise. Like other Argentine groups we sat for 3 or more days at La Playita campsite waiting for our chance to climb onto the icecap. During that time we were nearly blown away in gale force winds, got snowed in and once when flooded, had to build drainage diches in the middle of the night to allow excess water to escape.
Reaching the icecap as the sun drops low in the evening sky
A brief weather window arrived and some parties made it to the Garcia Soto hut beneath Gorra Blanca. Others turned back below the seracs on the Marconi Glacier when that weather window unexpectedly closed.
Caught well above the seracs when the weather turned, we fought against high winds and cutting spindrift in a bid to reach the icecap before nightfall. The shelter provided by the Garcia Soto refugio was too far away in worsening conditions. We headed for the open icecap. Half an hour after crossing the Paso Marconi we prepared our snow walls and erected tents just as the light vanished. During the night, tents had to be repeatedly cleared of snow to prevent burying or collapse.
Kiersten Rowland climbing above the seracs on the Marconi Glacier
Damp and drained and with no improvement in conditions, next day a decision was made to retreat. We had a severe navigational test finding the entrance to the serac barrier as we were blown over and battered by the strong winds. Eventually we made it back to La Playita and hence to El Chalten. Myself and Kiersten suffered some uncomfortable snowblindness as a consequence and all had a touch of frostnip in the fingers.
A week trip to do what normally takes us 2 or 3 days. Was it a disappointment? Certainly, we didnt achieve the objective of the icecap traverse this time. But we did have a hell of an experience! We survived in arctic conditions in one of the most inhospitable locations on the planet when the weather is poor. We bonded as a team and pushed our limits. I dont believe any one of us would, with the benefit of hindsight, change the experience we had.
Here is a short video we managed to salvage from the Icecap....
As mountaineer Ed Visteurs said......
"The climax is not on reaching the summit, it's the coming back from a dangerous place"
Rest stop on the Marconi Glacier
I would like to say what a priveledge it has been to share a rope with Kiersten Rowland, Neil Sandoz and Michael Bodiam over the past weeks. Thank you all for your help, teamwork and shared experiences.
As is bound to happen, we spent the last few days trekking and photographing the majestic peaks of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre in glorious calm weather. Such is life in the mountains.
Our eyes constantly looked up past the towering mountain spires to the white expanse of the magnificent icecap beyond. We shall be back, that is certain. There is a feeling of unfinished business around. We have agreed to return and renew our acquaintance.