cerro barros arana - 7500' - west ridge class 5.7
Cerro Barros Arana is a major peak rising right above the town of La Junta in the northern sector of Chilean Patagonia. The mountain is the highest peak among a linear group of towers on the north-south oriented crest which also includes the south towers, and a large massif guarding the northern end. A couple shorter towers are also present between the northern massif and the main peak of Cerro Barros Arana. The main peak, with elevation somewhere between 2165 and 2304 meters has seen to date three successful ascents. A GPS reading at the summit would be nice to have if anyone ventures here in the future.First ascent was by Douglas Tompkins and Galen Rowell in December 1990. Both the 2nd and 3rd ascents were made via the west ridge in April 2020 by two local La Junta climbers, and early February 2023 by Matt Lemke and Itai Cohen.
The northern massif remains unclimbed while the south towers, offering perhaps the best quality granite rock in the group have been climbed once by a team in late March 2015 consisting of Chilean climbers Juan Ruiz, Martin Hartmann, Cristóbal García and Hugo Castaneda approaching from the south.They followed the general approach path originally attempted in January 2012 by a team consisting of Armando Montero, Daniel Zapata and Darío Arancibia who approached via the Rio Quinto valley to the south of the crest (also referenced as Rio Cuarto) and ascending the first side drainage Northward towards the massif and around the 1900 meter knoll just southwest of the south towers. With the previous help of local gauchos, this southern approach was made possible for the 2015 party, however it is quite long if the main summit is the goal.
The direct west ridge of Cerro Barros Arana is the most feasible route to the summit, and offers the cleanest approach taking the author a total of 9 hours to break free of the jungle from the bridge over Estero Mirta.Timberline is reached at 1300 meters and a great camp is found at a flat knoll in the ridge at 1650 meters only a 5-10 minute walk away from twin alpine tarns that offer great water. Cliff bands in the lower part of the west ridge can be avoided by first hiking up valley near Estero Mirta on its south side for 1.5 kilometers before starting up the lenga slopes towards the large bench at 950 meters elevation. Expect thick, but manageable lenga.
This approach also provides access to the northern massif, which is a complex peak with numerous small towers and an imposing south face that beckons you from camp on the ridge. The climbing route to the summit via the west ridge includes two sections of 5th class climbing (one pitch each) up to 5.7 on decent rock, with extensive exposed 3rd and 4th class scrambling on loose rock everywhere else. From the summit of Cerro Barros Arana, dozens of unnamed towers that are not visible from roads present themselves, few of which have seen ascents. To the northwest, Cerro Barros Luco across Valle Mirta is particularly impressive, and has seen one ascent in November 2013. The towers directly east of Barros Arana have large walls but with questionable looking darker colored rock. Many other striking towers off to the south towards Tres Hermanos also flaunted this darker colored rock that would require extra care.
The above text is a contribution I made to the Andes Handbook website, the most difinitive source for beta for mountains in Chilean Patagonia. Barros Arana is a stunning peak that I am thrilled to have climbed, despite the horrid bushwhack to get up there. We made a couple reconissance drives along the Valle Mirta road that heads east from the Carraterra Austral right outside the town of La Junta, and decided the best line of approach was directly up the west ridge. From treeline, from what we could see at the valley floor way down at an elevation of only 300 feet we saw potential routes up the west ridge direct, or potentially up the north ridge. Since we were at the end of a short weather window, we would have to wait a full week before heading up, so we waited out a week of bad weather in El Bolson, Argentina. This total hippie and tourist town is chock full of incredible food, sweet treats and scenic hiking and scrambling options. Excellent place to wait out bad patagonia weather and since it's further east, we actually had some sunny days to relax. It's axin to the east side of the Cascades versus the west side.
After a quick two day ascent of Cerro Conico just south of Futaleufu (that is a story for a different trip report), Bri dropped Itai and myself off in Valle Mirta right where the road X-11 crosses the Estero Mirta where we began walking up along the south side of the river. Bless her soul as she would wait for us for 3 nights in Puyuhuapi. This starting point was only 200 meters in elevation. We decided to hike about a mile up the valley, which we had found a couple different gaucho trails that aided this part of the approach significantly. At an elevation of 330 meters, a sizable side stream coming from the east down the valley just north of the west ridge is seen. We began ascending the steep lenga and brush covered slopes just before reaching this stream. Overall, the bushwhacking was not too bad for Patagonia standards, as I have done worse in the Cascades. We were able to make a fairly direct ascent without weaving left or right too much. A few spots did have some very thick lenga and brush that slowed progress. Since we got a late start of 5pm that first day we were hoping to get up to the large flat bench at 950 meters elevation where we could make a camp. It took us about 2 hours to reach the point where we left the Mirta valley and begin ascending, and another 2.5 hours to ascend from 330 meters to 800 meters through the steepest of the bushwhacking. Right at the base of a 30 foot cliff band as it was getting dark, we excavated out some duff to make a large enough flat spot for the two of us to sleep. It was so calm and warm we didn't even bother using sleeping pads or a tent.
We were moving again by 7:30am the following morning, with the first obstacle requiring us to surmount this cliff band right above us. We found a spot we could climb bushes and trees to get up and after a few hundred more geet of steep ascending through thick brush, we could see the terrain levelling out considerably. The big flat bench ended up being relatively devoid of the worst brush, and as we continued up the much more gentle angled ridgecrest, the brush became thinner. Generally only knee height brush was encountered from 1000 to 1350 meters elevation, at which point we emerged out of the jungle right around noon. The biting flies were pretty bad above 1000 meters however and they ended up following us as we continued to ascend up to an elevation of 1650 meters where a beautiful flat spot made for a perfect camp for a couple nights. A small tarn was passed a short distance above treeline, but we wanted to camp higher. At 1650 meters, a good snowfield a few yards to the south offered afternoon drips for water, or a 5 minute walk to the north there were two beautiful blue-green alpine tarns for liquid water. The first image below shows a map of the route we took on this ascent.
We relaxed and took the rest of the sunny afternoon to rest from the approach. The sun was intense up there and forced us mostly in the tent as the afternoon progressed. We spent some time getting water as we were very thirsty from only having 1 liter of water each on the long bushwhack. Two beautiful small glacial tarns were a short 5-10 minute wals off the ridge to the north which had very nice water. I took lots of photos. As evening rolled around, I walked a bit further to the north along the gentle rock slabs below the remnant glacier that flanked the upper west facing slopes. I was hoping to get a better look at the north side of the main peak of Barros Arana to gauge what our best route would be for ascending the following day. I noticed a clean slab of rock that appeared to be about 60 meters high that faced to the north low down on the upper west ridge that seemed it would dump into a low angle gully that would provide access to the upper cliffs on the ridge. I guessed maybe a pitch or two of technical climbing would allow us passage through the upper cliffs where it looked like scramble terrain to the summit block. I was glad I made the longer walk over to scout the route because it proved extremely valuable information for finding the best way up. All afternoon, large condors soared around us. I watched the gorgeous sunset and took many photos, even being able to see the Pacific ocean way off to the west. As twilight faded I finally crawled into the sleeping bag and got as much sleep as I could in a 40 degree bag in Patagonia.
The next morning we wasted no time getting going. I made a quick breakfast and we started scrambling up the ridge towards the steeper part of the mountain. The first 500 feet was on class 2 and 3 terrain, then we came to a thick layer of very dark rock slabs that involved some class 4 scrambling to ascend. This led us directly to the base of the smooth pitch of solid rock I spotted the previous afternoon. Itai led up this full 55 meter pitch of solid climbing that had a short 5.7 crux to move right to bypass an overhang. The rest of the pitch was low 5th class. From the top of this pitch, we began ascending a long southwest facing gully that continued for a few hundred feet to a dictinct notch at which point we were able to see the very steep south face of the mountain. A short bit above the top of the pitch we cut right around a huge chockstone rather than climb through the hole below it.
From the notch, we made a short 5th class step up to the left, and ascended another rubble strewn ledge to the base of a large vertical cliff. Here we traversed horizontally rightward on the ledge until we spotted a good spot to climb up through a 5.7 seam. A short pitch of roped climbing brought us to another large ledge where we were able to scramble the remainder of the way to the summit. The final 100 foot gain on the summit block ended up being a talus romp on the south side no more than class 3. These were some of the loosest boulders on the whole route though, and it appeared there was a recent rockfall that had come down which made it easier than in the past. We took into the splendid views in all directions. Countless unnamed towers and peaks surrounded us, very few of which had ever been climbed. Whata place...Patagonia is where you can go to get your share of virgin peaks!
We began the descent by retracing our route down to the large ledge atop the second roped pitch of climbing we did. We made a solid anchor with the piece of cord we found on the summit (which was not necessary to use for rappel) and spotted a solid rock right above the notch at the top of the long gully. Rappelling here enabled us to avoid much of the traverse we did lower down. A full double rope rappel brought us to the rubble ledge right above the 5th class short step we solod on the way up, so we made another anchor and made a single rope rappel to get back into the gully proper. We scrambled down the gully to the top of the first 55m pitch and double rope rapped that.
The rest of the scramble down to the tent was simple. Even with a 45 minute summit stay, our round trip time from camp to summit and back to camp was only about 6.5 hours. With the summit elevation somewhere between 2165 and 2306 meters, the elevation gain we did was somewhere between 515 and 656 meters. I wish I had a GPS on the summit to try and get a more accurate summit elevation as the varying sources are quite contradicting. We relaxed the remainder of the afternoon and discussed potentially climbing the smaller tower just north of the main peak the next morning. I had noticed some clouds rolling in over the ocean and we made the call to decide in the morning based on how the clouds looked.
We woke up the next morning to a near whiteout. We were not able to see any of the high peaks so we quickly broke camp and started hiking down. The cloud layer even lowered as we descended. The bushwhack back down we ended up following a more difficult path with thicker brush but we emerged out of it relatively unscathed.
Another Patagonian success story. I just wish I had the willpower to suffer through more of these awful approaches!
View the full photo album here.