Days passed. The somewhat epic nature of our last foray into Patagonia seemed to be confirmed.
The emotions generated by the grandiose scenarios compensated for the frigidity of the southern weather. Faithful to this guarantee, we moved to the northern reaches of the Los Glaciares National Park, in search of the solitary and unlikely coziness of El Chaltén.
The most recent village in Argentina was built in a hurry, in 1986. Buenos Aires saw the urgency to reclaim a vast undefined surrounding area before its Chilean neighbor could.
The objective was guaranteed, but the controversy associated with the partition of the territory would only be appeased 12 years later, when the two countries crossed the imaginary dividing line over the highest peak of the homonymous mountain – the indigenous people called it “smoky” in their dialect tehuelche.
Since then, the passionate interest of travelers and climbers in the region justified some investments, but the pseudo-population has changed little.
The Night Arrival to El Chalten and the Miraculous Weather in the Morning
We arrived from a long journey, almost all at night on a winding road, from crib wet and slippery to match. We found the final stop deserted, untidy, windy and dusty, like any border post lost in nothingness.
No one visits El Chaltén for its sophistication or for the beauty of its avenues and monuments. The big attraction is, and always has been, the Fitz Roy Mountains.
It makes up an imposing section of the Andes not so much because of the altitudes, just over half of Mount Aconcagua (6962 m), the roof of South America, but because the tectonic movements and erosion there have carved out some of the truly eccentric peaks on the face of the Earth .
“Look, they either spend a lot of time there or they'll need luck to see them,” the ominous natives of El Calafate warned us. "These mountains are only discovered 20 or 30 days a year!"
It's eleven at night. We feel like we're on our toes. An unavoidable photographic anxiety forces us to peek again through the inn's cramped window and freeze our faces once more.
We let ourselves be carried away by belief. In spite of the furious wind, we interpret the huge moon and the clear sky as signs of a worthy dawn.
When the day wakes up, some of the visitors curse the clouds and the rain having just disappeared upon their departure. We, rub our hands, celebrate the ephemeral satisfaction. We close our backpacks and head out into the yellow-green forest of slogans and southern beeches.
Trek the Trails and the Breathtaking View of Mount Fitz Roy
We have 10 hours of natural light to walk but we reach the small promontory of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado in no time.
From there, the unexpected sight of the granite spiers of Mount Fitz Roy against the blue sky takes us by surprise. It gives rise to a perplexed and lingering contemplation.
We continue to the base of the colossus and reach the vicinity of the Piedras Blancas Glacier.
We then cut to the south and cross a drenched meadow that leads us to the banks of the Lagunas Madre and Hija. Soon, we return to a dark forest and descend towards the D'Agostini camp and Laguna Torre.
At the end of this last steep stretch, we glimpse for the first time the other majestic peak of the mountain range.
Cerro Torre: Monte-Agulha Challenging and of All Controversies
Considered among climbers and climbers the most difficult in the world, Cerro Torre is the apogee of a descending sequence of four mountains: Torre Eger, Punta Herron and Cerro Stanhardt.
It reaches 3133 m of altitude. Nothing special, feel like finishing. But its summit juts out into a gigantic needle of rock dotted with ice. It forms a challenge that the best climbers and climbers cannot resist and that has already put an end to several lives.
The “Stone Cry” by Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog, the German director obsessed with filming obsession and madness all over the world also let himself be caught by the magic of this mountain, by its stories and myths.
A plot of greed and mystery, in particular, inspired “Stone Cry”, his 1991 film. In this masterpiece of adventure cinema, Donald Sutherland plays the role of a Machiavellian TV producer. Your character lives only concerned with the audiences.
To make them climb, it broadcasts live the Herculean competition to the top of Cerro Torre between an old hermit climber who lives at the foot of it and a young world champion in climbing, trained in gyms and artificial cliffs.
The Legendary Contest for the Most Difficult Summit in Mountaineering
Thirty-two years earlier, Cesare Maestri, Cesarino Fava (Italians) and Austrian guide Toni Egger tried to reach the summit still victorious along the northeast slope.
They withstood terrible winds and snow. To the point where they felt that, more than climbing, they were playing with their lives. Already under deplorable conditions, they reached a steep nook that precedes the Col of Conquest (in the interval between Cerro Torre and Torre Eger).
There were still many hundreds of meters of almost vertical wall to go. At that time, Fava went back and left the challenge to his younger colleagues.
Some time later, he found Maestri at the base, almost completely buried by snow and dying. His rival helped him.
After returning to camp, the two reported that Maestri and Egger had reached the summit but that the second had been swept away by an avalanche during the descent and had died.
The duo quickly found themselves embroiled in suspicions of fraud raised by Carlo Mauri (who had failed to climb the previous year) and many other climbers.
They were pointed out to inconsistencies in the descriptions of the ascent and, mainly, the inexistence of pegs, spikes and ropes above the point where Fava gave up climbing.
Maestri and Egger's supposed feat was ultimately disregarded by the mountaineering community. Cerro Torre would only be taken over unequivocally 15 years later, in 1974.
The Dazzle by Cerro Torre that didn't even fade away
Since then, far from diminishing, the respect and fascination for the most difficult mountain to climb has strengthened.
Climbers everywhere continue to risk their lives for the reward of seeing the world from its meager, icy summit and surviving to tell it.
Less radical souls travel thousands of miles for the mere right of contemplating it with their feet firmly on the ground.
And, like us, they resist your call.