Cerro Torre on the Horizon.
DAY 6 & 7.
Not entirely sure of our surroundings we were careful to probe around the tent and to stay close by. This caution was rewarded in the morning when we realised how close by the crevasses adjacent to the downhill side of our position were. The clear, cold morning also revealed majestic mountains, swept by high speed lenticular clouds blowing eastwards on either side of camp 5. Our breath taken away, we watched the dawn light play on the clouds, the peaks and the far off glaciers now visible, bathed in golden light. Patchy visibility and a solid wind encouraged us to kite forth with caution, soon hurtling eastwards at wind speed with a dance of light, fog, snippets of vision and spindrift chasing us down. In an hour we had covered 16 kilometres and could see dark ominous shapes on the horizon. It was then that I heard Kit whoop and holler;
“Dad, that’s not clouds, it’s Cerro Torre! Yihaaaaaa!“
Pure joy emanated from him as he kited madly towards those fabulous peaks. The Cerro Torre range is unique in that it seems unscathed by ice age or glacial action, the skyline savage and as sharp as a canines jawbone. In any climbers mind it is Mecca - a beacon calling one in. The sun broke through and the spindrift (wind blown snow) in the air caused two circular auras to develop around the sun. The human eye struggled to comprehend the light play, the beauty, then as if in answer to our confusion a clear rainbow formed between the kites and the rock that marked the eastern edge of the ice sheet.
We descended two smooth glacial ridges leading to the base of the mountains, then stopped just shy of the crevassing at the base of the mountains and at the edge of the Argentine border. We felt we had achieved our mission, so with the wind all but extinguished we set camp with the mountains as our verandah. Speechless, in wonderment, overjoyed to have made it here with my brave son. Our combined skillsets and mental tenacity ensuring our safe arrival. It was hard to fully grasp what we had achieved; sailing halfway around the globe, climbing from sea level, crossing distressed ice for over 75 kilometres, climbing the pass separating the east from west, then descending to the Cerro Torre. It was staggering, and a huge wave of relief coursed through my entire being. Now all we had to do was take a breath, let it sink in then retrace our steps and return safely to The Nanook.
We enjoyed 4 hours of peace, dug in watching the mountains slowly change mood then the wind returned with ferocity. Packing quickly, my instincts told me we were in a dangerous position at the base of two glaciers with a katabatic wind sliding down with strength upon our camp. We kited for a dangerous 4 kilometres upslope and upwind, getting pushed dangerously close to a huge tear in the ice downwind of us. After being picked up physically by a wind gust, human and sled ragdolled then slammed onto the ice deck dangerously, Kit agreed that we call it a day. We set the tent and prepared for what expected to be a moderate gale overnight.
Midnight, Kit crept back into the tent having gone to check our sleds were secure and reenforce the snow wall protecting the tent. Fine spin drift covered him and filled his goggles. “...Dad, It feels like it’s building out there…”. At 2AM the wind began to scream. I dressed, then went outside. Shocked. I realised suddenly we were in a blow that if were not careful could get life threatening.
Things had changed so quickly that it caught us fatigued and unawares. The wind was gusting up to 60 knots, side on to the tent, threatening to tear the canvas and expose us to the full brunt of the storm. The windchill was close to 30 C below zero, with the bottom 4 metres of air just a wall of laterally moving snow burying our position by the minute. I madly dug the tent out, created a “T-slot” on the windward side of the tent to a guy rope and got Kit to push the tent from the inside whilst I tensioned it. I then dug ice blocks and piled high snow to create an L shaped ice wall to the windward side of the tent. I checked our sled tethers and reburied the sleds with snow. Feeling more secure I collapsed back inside and explained to Kit all I had done. Inside the tent definitely seemed to be getting punished less. A sleepless night followed but by dawn wind strengths had moderated to 30 knots.
Despite the risks of thermal damage to feet, face and hands we both agreed we wanted to move to higher ground to get away from this lethal wind force. We packed and started the brutal man-haul upwind and uphill into the screaming wind and spindrift…nothing in Patagonia comes easily.