March 6, 2010

Cerro Torre

March 5. The high clouds that rolled in yesterday over the ice field were engulfing the tops of Fitz Roy this morning. That left us with a warm morning and, of course, a suggestion of rain. Breakfast was the usual little toasts and toppings, coffee, cocoa, milk, and sugar powder with hot water, and mixed cereal. Following that, we bade farewell to our kitchen staff and the camp at Laguna Capri and headed north, around the ridge behind the lake. Our route took us up a bit and then around the ridge, where we headed south, by Lagunas Madre and Hija, which are in a slowly rising basin, ending in a ridge that rises up the peaks south of Fitz Roy. These lakes don't have outlets, but drain by filtration through the gravelly soil. They also support amphibians, at least, as Paola, our guide, found a small frog called “four eyes.” I also saw a couple of diving ducks in the other lake, so there must be something to eat.

Our route took us down into the Rio Fitz Roy valley, over rolling ridges (old moraines?), through pretty meadows, and forests of increasingly large deciduous beeches, called “linga,” or “tall deciduous beech.” These trees are everywhere here, constituting the only species of tree here (except for an occasional partner of the same genus, the “antarctic deciduous beech” or “nida.”) Some of them hug the ground, others make up the woody brush, and the big ones make up the forest. There are no other tree species here. They are never very tall, but they are clearly tough and can live to 250 years of age.

The biggest linga so far are around this camp, Campo Fitz Roy, near the last terminal moraine of the Grande Glacier, which flows down from the back side of Fitz Roy and around Cerro Torre. We dropped our stuff and immediately headed up onto the moraine, because cloudy though it was, the forecast is for more weather tomorrow. Today is our best chance for the views.

We followed the moraine – a very tall one and the one closest to the glacier, but not the only one – up to a view point high on the north side of the valley, near the present terminus of the glacier. Enclosed in the moraine is a large lake, into which the snout of the glacier projects. And above that, the glacier rises up through an ice fall, to the left over another cliff and on to the south, and to the right, carving the slopes of Cerro Torre, its neighbors, and Fitz Roy and its neighbors. The latter lobe of the glacier is carrying a huge quantity of material scraped off the slopes, so much so that it's hard to see the ice at all.

Sadly, while the lake, and the view down-valley of row after row of moraine and glacier-shaped walls, and the dramatic and multi-colored glacier – even the tiny climbers making their way across the complex glacier-scape – were excellent and interesting sights, we were unable to see Cerro Torre, as the clouds that were obscuring the top of Fitz Roy earlier in the morning were also covering the upper slopes of Cerro Torre – and all of its neighbors. Martin, our guide, had warned us that Cerro Torre, less than a kilometer from Fitz Roy, but that much further west, closer to the ice field, had poorer weather.

None of us complained, however, as the views were extraordinary. We all knew how lucky we'd been with the weather, so far. And, while cloudy, it was warm and dry. To ask for more? Too much.

With that, we returned to camp, worked out our tent assignments, and lounged. Except that Glen and I made a run over to the outlet of the glacier's lake to look at the Tylorean Traverse set up for climbers to cross the river for access to the glacier (which is not possible on the other side, the side we used to get to our view, the Maestri Mirador, because at the viewpoint, a huge slide ends reasonable traverses of the slope). Along the moraine, a fine Caracara presented himself for our enjoyment.

After a fine dinner of pumpkin soup, a stew of chicken, rice, and vegetables, and pudding for dessert, we called it a day. Still warm, still dry.

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