Continuing my long, drawn out series of trip reports from last years Patagonia vacation, after Elaine, Itai and I climbed Aguja Guillaumet, we waited around in El Chalten for about a week without any luck in a return to the amazingly nice weather we had. We killed time by bouldering at the local rocks with a great crew of other climbers from all over North America, sport climbing on the cliffs along the river, and eating empanadas! Not wishing to wait any longer though, we decided to return back northward and head to the Cerro Castillio area of Patagonia, where the forecast called for better weather. We took the 12 hour bus ride north to the Argentina border town of Los Antiguos, and then had to exit Argentina, and walk over a mile on the road into Chile. Carrying all our gear and walking on the pavement was a chore! Luckily I had a roller bag for all my heavy climbing gear, but the wheels were about to break. Just as they broke, we were able to find someone taxiing other people around, and he agreed to come back for us in 15 minutes to take us the rest of the way to the Chilean entry station.
Once we officially entered Chile, we had the border agent call a taxi for us from Chile Chico and we entered town and using the recommendation of a climber we met in Chalten we found a great hostel where the owner caters to climbers. They were kind enough to assist us with planning our travel to the tiny town of Villa Cerro Castillio, across the Lago General Carrera, which a daily ferry crosses and takes you to Rio Ibanez on the north end of the lake. This 2 hour ferry is one hell of a ride as the boat rocks over the huge wind waves. This lake is so big it's almost like an inland sea, and would take an entire day to make the drive around if driving from Chile Chico to Rio Ibanez.
Upon exiting the ferry, a plethora of vans and buses were there to take anyone who came off whereever they close. We were lucky to find a free ride from a really nice guy in a pickup who took us north to the intersection with the Carratera Austral, which he continued right towards Coyhaique. We wanted to go a short distance left to the town of Villa Cerro Castillio, so we got off at the intersection and hitched a ride the ten miles to the small village, which only exists because of Mammut, who sponsors the town and all the recently developed climbing in the surrounding area! We had a nice dinner at the only place open in town and I got steak and eggs!
We managed to find an awesome campground walking on an unpaved road just north of town along the Estero del Bosque called Rustika Patagonia. This was on the road that led us towards Cerro Palo and Puntado. We got there pretty late as it was getting dark, but we did run into a few people looking to start on the Cerro Castillio trek the next morning so we had people to chat with. We pitched the tent in the open field along the creek and went to sleep. The next morning we scored a hitchhike partway down the gravel road by a local farmer to reduce our 8km road walk along the north side of Rio Ibanez to where the trail towards Campo New Zealand starts. We all piled into the back of his empty hay truck and were on our way!
We located the correct start to the trail heading towards the New Zealand camp along the Estero Parada river valley. The trail was surprisingly in great shape as this is part of the popular Cerro Castillio circuit trek for hikers. In no time at all we reached the junction where most hikers hike up and east over the pass. We however continued on the lesser hiked path further north until we came to where a valley drained in from the northwest. We forded across Estero Parada and hiked up along the shore of this side stream for awhile before entering the mildly dense woods until we reached treeline. From treeline we easily bee lined it to the large alpine lake at 1400 meters elevation immediately southeast of the impressive Cerro Palo, which is seen the whole way up the approach hike.
We arrived at the lake as the sun was shining strong over the landscape, and we found a great sandy spot by the outlet to pitch our tents. I spent the afternoonexploring up the slopes above the lake towards Cerro Palo looking for a potential route up the west side of Palo. I saw potential, but nothing definitive, nonetheless, we agreed to climb Puntado the next day, then Palo the following day. A gorgeous evening and sunset was followed by a great night sleep.
We didn't get a super early start the next morning, and as the sun rose we began hiking up the talus slopes to the south of the lake and up a small ridge until we emerged into the upper basin immediately east of Puntado. We traversed across a very small glacier and crested the long east ridge, and decided to drop down to the shady south side and traverse. We weren't sure if we could regain the ridge if we continued further into the basin. We were able to traverse on the south side however, and after some loose class 4 ledges we dropped onto the next snowfield and made quicker time, aiming straight for the obvious buttress leading up the final section of the east ridge direct. We regained the ridge proper and racked up, where I led a long 5.7 pitch 75% of the way up the steepest part of the step. Once Itai and Elaine made their way up, Itai led a short pitch, but we found ourselves on progressively more difficult terrain as the ridge narrowed and features decreased. I continued on and managed to climb around a gendarme and over to the south side once again, then back to the north side to make a scary hand traverse to a wider saddle where I could breathe easy again. Itai went second on this long horizontal traverse, but cleaned some of the critical gear needed to prevent a big pendulum fall. When Elaine went to make the traverse she took a small swing and ended up having to climb a hard 5.10b crack to regain the ridgecrest and finish the traverse.
Looking SW towards San Valentine
Looking back, we would have easily been able to make it to the same small saddle at the base of the buttress we climbed just by continuing up the easy basin towards the east face of Puntado rather than crossing over the east ridge, but hey, we got to see more scenery, and we confirmed exactly which peak was the true summit by doing so (it was quite challenging to determine which peak was highest).
After finishing the traverse pitch, we continued scrambling class 3 and 4 until one last low 5th class section led us right to the summit, which was nothing more than a spike! Views were nothing short of jaw dropping. The beauty of Patagonia gives me life I cannot really describe...we were stoked to be up there. We saw no slings of any kind, and to make a short rappel, I dug out the sling I took off of Mount Terror in the pickets during my Pickets traverse in 2016 (also climbed with Itai), and used it for an anchor on Puntado, moving that sling halfway around the world! We opted to descend directly for the basin that would lead us right back towards camp rather than the way we came. Our descent was mostly a scramble except for the last drop onto the remnants of the glacier, where we did utilize an existing sling wrapped around a huge rock (so someone had at least been up here!). I saw the peak right next to the one we had climbed potentially was a few feet higher, so I scrambled up that one as well, finding a route at class 4 while Elaine and Itai waited in the upper basin. Only took me 30 minutes or so, and we took it easy descending back to the lake and enjoyed the late afternoon lighting.
The next morning we went the other way and hiked up the slopes to the north and located a deep gully slicing up towards a deep, narrow notch below the imposing west face of Palo. Lots of loose class 3 and 4 scrambling was done to make our way up this gully. As we neared the notch, we noticed a large detached tower on the opposite side, and we scanned the near vertical walls above us for potential routes. I spotted a series of ramps and cracks that looked promising, and so up we went linking together ledges and ramps interspersed with some more difficult climbing, often on very loose rock. Eventually, after about 4 leads (Itai and I switched off), we reached a long ledge that I initially thought we could traverse right, and round the prominent SW corner of the mountain, but that proved futile. I then looked well off to the left towards the middle of the lower west face and saw a beautiful hand crack splitting the otherwise featureless rock wall. With the sun glaring in my eyes, I couldn't tell much detail about it but figured we were better off traversing left on the ledge.
Amazingly, as if this crack was just meant to be climbed, this ledge ended right at the base of the crack, and offered a small cave for a belayer to safely belay from. I then took the lead climbing straight up this beautiful 5.7 crack, sometimes having to wipe off some kitty litter, and 45 meters or so up, the crack dumped me off onto the gigantic ledge encircling the entire upper part of the mountain. I made an anchor and belayed Itai and Elaine up and we were starstruck at where we had landed. We spent over an hour circling around just about all sides of the large summit pinnacle on this ledge that was between 10-50 meters wide. Circling around to the south side was to no avail as that entire side of the upper mountain was overhanging. The west side did look like it had some ramps but after climbing 100 feet up or so we soon realized it was blank up above. Just as we were about to give up, I decided to traverse further around to the left, all the way to the north side of the mountain and I couldn't believe my eyes when I came across some slings! They led right down the north side, and I then assumed the standard way to climb Palo was from the north, approaching by circling around the mountain from our camp to the north side before doing any climbing.
From where I saw the rappel anchor, I turned around and immediately realized the route continued up from there, and I screamed as loud as possible that I had found the route. Itai decided to take lead, since it was his turn. He led up a long winding 5.6 pitch up somewhat more solid rock, then I did another 5.6 pitch, which took us to the base of a short off width 5.8 that Itai then led. The final 200 feet we scrambled to the summit, which we reached around 3pm. We went from just about giving up not being able to find a route to finish the climb to standing on the summit of one of the grander peaks of the area.
We decided to descend the way we ascended rather than descend blindly down the lower north side of the mountain not knowing where it may lead us. I rembered finding a number of good places to make anchors we we climbed. We made two easy double rope raps down the upper pitches back to the big ledge, then traversed back around to the top of the long dihedral/crack, where a very exposed rap brought us back down to the ledge below. Unfortunately our rope wouldn't pull once we were down, so Itai had to traverse back to the cave at the base of the crack and work some magic.
Two more double rope raps got us back into the narrow gully and we scrambled back down to the talus fan just below the lower south face, making it back to the tent just as it got dark. We were elated, and tired!
The sunset was beautiful as we hiked back to the lake. Over the course of the night I could tell the weather was changing, and I was just so happy we timed it perfectly. When we emerged from camp the next morning, a deep, dark ominous cloud was just to our west. The sun rising to the east made the scene quite photogenic. We very quickly packed up and started hiking down. The dark cloud mostly missed us bit did give us a little ail and mist. Once back on the trail it was a pleasant hike back to the road along Rio Ibanez. Hitchhiking proved futile initially, but after we walked 4km on the road, we saw a vehicle with climbers heading up, and they were very interested to hear about our ascent however we couldn't talk much because someone else heading down offered to give us a ride! They dropped us off at the same campground we stayed a few nights earlier, where there was a huge festival of sorts going on (Asado I presumed).
We enjoyed a very nice lunch, then started out way back to Chile Chico via vans, and the ferry. Our next objectives we would embark on climbs of Cerro Puno and Agudo, which I've already written about. Until next time, stay tuned as I continue writing about our travels northward towards Bolivia!