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The big goal: the east face of Cerro Chaltén

As the new year approached, the weather forecast kept changing rapidly. Nevertheless, one of us had the idea of attempting the east face of Cerro Chaltén and we were both excited.
The good thing about the east face is that you can rappel down any time. So, we decided to give it a try without too much expectation of reaching the summit. Our plan was to take as little equipment as possible (stove, sleeping bag, a few bars, a pack of cookies, approach shoes, two light ice axes and aluminum crampons) and to keep climbing until exhaustion or weather change.
Details of the El Corazón route: 1250 meters wall height, 45˚ ice, graded 6c A2+ M (free 7b with variations), first ascent by Kaspar Ochsner (Switzerland) and Michal Pitelka (Czech Republic) in 1992, five ascents to date.

Laura Tiefenthaler and the Cerro Chaltén east face

We started from Paso Superior at 6am the next morning, after we had hiked there the day before. At first, I felt unsure, as I have less crack experience than most of my US climbing friends - and "El Corazón" is a route in Yosemite-style (crack). But things went great, and I was happy and proud when we had finished the first 12 pitches at 8pm. The conditions were good. The cracks in the lower part were partly wet, but never icy. The "Aquarian Roof" lived up to its name and after a cold shower I experienced during the climb, I was shivering at every belay spot that evening. Fortunately, my clothes were almost dry again when we reached the bivouac after pitch 16, shortly after midnight. The bivouac was much smaller than we had expected, but we made it work and sat on a block.


The challenges of Patagonia

At 2am, after melting some snow, eating a few cookies and freeing the rope that had got stuck underneath us, we tried to fall asleep in a shared sleeping bag, sitting on our ropes. After a tough night, Thomas continued climbing at 7am. It was mostly technical climbing up a striking, incredibly beautiful crack splitting a steep golden rock face. I followed him with my backpack, impressed by the imposing wall. Luckily, we had a semi-automatic belay device because I was about to fall asleep at every belay spot.
At almost 10pm, at the end of pitch 32, we melted some water and rested for a bit. When we reached the mixed terrain, we were exposed and the wind got stronger. Suddenly, we were shrouded in a cloud that turned us into frozen mushrooms. With a visibility of only 15 meters, finding the route became increasingly difficult. Nevertheless, things went good enough to reach the summit at 3am on Monday morning. We knew that we still had the challenging descent in front of us, so we immediately set off, since we knew that the weather conditions could change rapidly in Patagonia. We kept calm and tried to stay focused. However, the lack of sleep became more and more present, it slowed us down and affected our cognitive performance. And if this was not enough, in a 60 metre rappel on an overhang, our rope failed once more, which forced us to cut it.

Unpleasant surprise after Cerro Chaltén

Finally, we arrived at “La Brecha” at 2pm. There we had to rappel down to the glacier a few hundred meters. We were back at Paso Superior at 7pm. We were looking forward to our snack and a little nap in our tent. Unfortunately, we had to make an unpleasant discovery. It seemed that our tent had learned to fly and - although we had taken it down and weighed it down with stones at all corners it was blown away by the wind. We had no other choice than keep going to El Chaltén without food and sleep. We arrived in El Chaltén at 2.30am, after a raging storm with rain beating into our faces. We were completely exhausted, but happy to be back in safe terrain.
Without a doubt, El Corazón was the biggest rock-climbing tour I have ever done in the Chalten massif.  I had never felt so tired. With Thomas on my side, who was an excellent climbing partner, I feel privileged to have experienced such an adventure with him.


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