Ice Climbing in Patagonia

About this time last year we were in the Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. Having completed the entire central and northern sections of the Mount Fitz Roy area we decided to spend a few days with Fitz Roy Expediciones mountaineering school based in El Chalten.

Our guide was a cool dude from Bariloche called Luis. We enrolled on their intermediate class which was two very long and tough days. To maximise the time spent on the Glaciar Torre we're based at Fitz Roy Expediciones' private camp close to Campamento Bridwell for the two days. To reach the glacier we had a long trek through the forests to Laguna Torre, where we had to traverse the tyrolean crossing to reach the southern rim of the lake. This was pretty tough, as the tyrolean crossing was about 30 metres from anchor to anchor - not easy if you have an elephantine backpack with your supplies, crampons, ice screws, ice axe and ropes!

After crossing the river, we still had over an hour's walking up and down the sides of the moraine area. Getting to the glacier was exhausting. The luna landscape of the scree edge of the glacier was where we learned to walk with 9 point crampons. You quickly find that you're using muscles you never knew mattered, as you angle your feet according to the tranverse direction and terrain incline. Walking on a glacier is a little erie when you're on your own. Once you stop to look around you, we could hear the rumbling and groaning of the ice below as it shifts throughout the warming sunny day.

The experience of ice climbing is very different to that of rock climbing. Even though the ice axe may penetrate the serac ice by what seems to be a millimeter or two - you can in fact dangle your entire weight from it. This requires a little faith before you build up your confidence. Additionally, it may seem counter-intuitive but when resting your weight on the two points of your crampons, your heels should be below your toe level. This allows the flat area of the points to rest horizontally inside the ice wall. Raising your heels will cause the points to point downwards and increasing your chances of sheering away the top layer of the ice. So, no chalk and no stressed out fingers! Once you master these simple techniques along with solid and straight placing of the axes above you, the experience of climbing metres and metres using top rope is pretty cool!