Here is a write up by Dougald MacDonald for Climbing Magazine’s online Hot Flashes


100 or so photos have been uploaded to the Pirate Valley website

Here is a link to a short (2.5 minute) video about the expedition

An American team comprised of three NOLS instructors, Josh Beckner, Jared Spaulding, Dave Anderson successfully completed a first ascent on a 3000 foot wall in the remote Piritas Valley of the upper Rio Turbio drainage in Argentina. In 2008 Beckner explored the region and caught a glimpse of a large granite wall. After extensive research Beckner found no indication that wall had been climbed and recruited Spaulding and Anderson to return in 2009. On February 26, 2009 the team crossed Lago Puelo by boat and hired a local gaucho to transport their gear 20 miles by horseback. “Suffering” from sunburn due to the exceptional weather, the trio established a gear cache and the convergence of the Rio Turbio and Turbio Quatro Rivers. At 7:00 am the next morning the Americans were awakened by three Canadians, Paul McSorely, Will Stanhope and Andrew Querner who were on their way out of the valley. The Canadians informed the Americans that not only had a local Argentine climbing poineered a route up the north face of the central tower in the Piritas Valley, but they had just completed a traverse of the three main formations as well as adding an additional route to the central tower. They did however describe a striking line on the right tower that remained unclimbed.

Taking the news in stride, Beckner, Spaulding and Anderson refocussed their energy on establishing a new route up the north face of the right tower. They spent the next week hauling their gear along the Rio Turbio through the dense stands of bamboo-like cana colihue which required the use of machetes to negotiate, despite the passage of two previous climbing parties. The Americans started their ascent on March 9, but before reaching the proper base of the tower they travelled through 1500 feet of “approach” terrain which included several 5th class pitches up to 5.11 and a small steep snowfield. The route initially followed a sweeping dihedral that turned out to be the crux of the climb (5.11). From there the team followed a series of cracks on the left side of the tower. When the crack system ended a short pendulum provided access to a splitter hands crack and another corner system. The direct sun from a cloudless sky and temperatures close to 80 F zapped the the Americans strength and necessitated the third jug while hauling extra water. Due to the lengthy and complex approach the trio was caught by darkness four pitches from the top and bivied on a tiny “butt” ledge for the night. Fortunately the weather held and Beckner, Spaulding and Anderson topped the next morning. After one rappel down the south side of the formation the team was able to scramble around to the north and down climb (4th and easy 5th class) a series of complicated slabs, rappel across a snow field returning to their high camp in 6 hours after summiting. Overall the Americans ascended 2,200 feet of roped climbing. The rock was excellent fine grained granite with a host of cracks systems mostly tips to hands in size. They named to route Voces en la Noche, V 5.11 A0 (Voices in the Night) for the unexplainable human voices heard by all the climbers during the ascent, most likely produced by the hundreds of waterfalls echoing throughout the valley.

Heavy rain on the hike out provided challenging river crossings and the mandatory use of a sketchy tyrolean. Back at their base camp the Beckner, Spaulding and Anderson packed up their gear and loaded it into 2 tiny “K-mart” style inflatable rafts, equipped with hand made paddles, and floated out along the Rio Turbio to Lago Puelo to completed their adventure in 17 days.

Setting: At the edge of a roaring glacial river. There are tall leña trees around and occasional thick couilhe. The rain is falling and we have made camp. There is a tent set up.

Time: 1900 hours

We have just set up camp after several hours of hiking in the rain, thick bushwacking, and a deep and cold river crossing. Our packs were heavy and we were glad to have them off. It is our first day of shuttling loads and the terrain is still new.

Dave wanders off to take some Ibuprofen. I cook dinner under my red umbrella.

A few minutes later he returns. ¨Turns out I brought 50 Imodium capsules instead of IBU¨ he laments.

¨Hmmph¨ I reply “I guess we won´t get diarrhea.”

Dave gets a sarcastic grin “Man, I haven´t crapped in three weeks and what the heck is up with my knees, the are still hurting.” We crack up laughing.

Una Otra:

My 31st birthday. I awake in a “cave”. More of an overhanging rock under which we can sleep and stay dry. I am lying in the dirt in a stinky sleeping bag that I have slept in for the last three months. I toss around. Josh looks over “Happy birthday fucker.”


We slowly pack up and slog onward. We are happy that it is relatively dry as today we face the couilhe killing fields. The killing fields are the hacked off couilhe. If you fall onto the hacked off stem you face instant death by stabbing or worse a long heinous death by infection. If you are lucky, you only puncture your femoral artery or loose an eye. The drier it is, the less chance we have of slipping on the stalks that litter the ground, like maybe 50% instead of 98%. So we get lucky. We hump loads. No one gets stung by vicious yellow jackets or gets impaled. We pass our packs over and through rock obstacles and finally arrive at our big blue tarp.

As Josh makes a pizzateazer, Dave slices up a dry, crumbly, don´t-breathe-deep-or-you’ll-choke-on-the-dusty-crumbs Boudin (a pound cake.) He douses it in Hammer Gel. My birthday cake. What more could I ask for…well maybe the three day weather window that started the following day…

And so it was that on the afternoon of the 17th of March we parted ways, all leaving Bariloche, perhaps for the last time. Dave was headed north to Buenos Aires. He had changed his flight and was heading back to the States on the 18th. Josh and I were heading north as well. We were headed to the wine country around Mendoza. So it all ended there on the sidewalk in front of La Bolsa del Deportes with handshakes and hugs.

So what of the expedition? Dave will likely post here, as will I as I collect my thoughts, notes and memories. Bits and pieces will come together, but with three separately intertwined experiences the complete picture can´t truly be described. This is my point of view.

We were successful. We had an objective. We completed that objective in good health and more importantly, in good spirits. We worked really, really hard. We laughed a bit, swore much, suffered minorly, and most importantly (from my perspective anyway) came out of it still friends.

At different times we all put ourselves out there, on the line, on the sharp end so to speak. We ate a lot of pasta, a lot of galletas and not enough dulce de leche. We drank a little whiskey and a little mate. We discovered that raspberry Hammer Gel is a great topping for crackers, cookies, pancakes, and crudo. We hacked through bamboo, sweated in the sun and sweated in the rain. We took photos. We made plans. We changed plans. We told “your mom” jokes. We laughed and cursed. We cursed the leaky, unbreathable shelters. We improvised. We made mistakes. We ducked flying rocks and cursed pongo sticks. We cursed canada, bicho, and chioule. We thanked for the weather window that closed down on us only hours after we laid down to sleep for the first time in 40 hours. We climbed splitter cracks, had our doubts and fears. We got scared. Ultimately we sent. We took, we rappelled and we downclimbed. We lusted for water and I savored dried fruit. And so much more.

Here it is more chronologically:

We started on the twenty sixth with a boat ride across Lago Puelo.  The next day we hiked twenty miles with hired horses carrying our loads. The next day we travelled through dense forest with chioule (ka lee way) a type of bamboo, and thick underbrush, in the rain. The following day more of the same. The next day we carried a load of climbing gear into the Piritas Valley and returned to our previous camp. The next day we carried our food and shelter stuff up to the valley and established a base camp. Two days of travel through the thick chioule. The next day we shuttled climbing gear to the base of the objective and scouted. We returned to base camp and rested for a day. The next day under blue skies we returned to where the horses had dropped us off. Then the next two days we hiked back up to base camp with enough food to support our selves. The following day we hiked to our gear at the base of the route and established a high camp and climbed two pitches, leaving ropes on them to climb quicker in the AM. The next morn at five we walked out of camp and climbed all day; we topped out the route at noon the following day. High pressure prevailed. We then spent the next seven hours walking and rappelling off of the back side of the formation. We got to camp about seven o’clock. We ate, drank and finally slept as the clouds obscured our peak and the rain started to fall. Perfect timing. The next day we returned to our base camp at the edge of the trees. Over the following two days we hiked out to where the horses dropped us.  Finally, we rafted about twenty miles of class two glacial river in the Sevylor FishHunter 280 and Supercaravelle XR66GTX. Fine sturdy water craft that they are.  We ate like pigs when we reached our camp that evening. The next morning we caught a boat back across Lago Puelo and then a bus to Bariloche.

And now we drink wine and eat millinesas.

Flashback:  June 2008.  I am walking down the long corridor at the NOLS Rocky Mountain Branch in Lander, WY.  For the first time in several months I see Josh.  He is walking towards me.  “Your mom called, she said to say hi” he greets.  ¨Turbio this winter?”  he queries.  ¨I´m in” I reply.  And with that the die was cast.

For me. I have to look back much further to locate when the die was truly cast.  Four months earlier, in the austral summer of ´08, I had visited Patagonia for the first time.  It was then that I first ate the plump, seedy,  and slightly sour berry of the calafate bush.   It was with this action that I truly cast the die, for it is said by the gauchos (local cowboys/frontiersman -both in the truest sense of the word) that whoever eats of this thorny bush is destined to return to Patagonia (as well as have teeth and fingers stained purple.)  And so here I am.

The expedition has had many incarnations.  It started with five folks, dwindled to two, grew to three.   Our current threesome was created in late November after we lost a member to the dissertation and completion of a PhD (climbing isn´t always the first priority.)   Josh and I traded emails, phone calls and yer mom jokes.  Was it still a go?  No se.  I was still in as was he but at that time the sum total of healthy ankles on the month long expedition was two.  We had to do something.  We needed mas personas.  What about Dave? 

I had just worked a month long course in the Red Rocks of southern Nevada with him.  Since I was the one with the two bum ankles and I was the one in Lander, it was my job  to find out.  I remember hobbling down the stairs of the Noble Hotel and running into Dave.  We discussed his upcoming move to SLC and then I breached the idea.  He said he would have to check it out, run some figures, board the cat, record his favorite shows, fix his broken bicep, etc.  I knew that he didn´t have a cat, that you can´t break a muscle, and he didn´t have a TV.  I knew he would be in.

From there, with Dave´s experience in planning and promoting expeditions as well as obtaining funding for them we shifted into high gear.  Of course I then promptly left to go to southern UT.  Dave moved to SLC and Josh was down in Bishop, CA and we all settled down into our own personal stage of a solidly entrenched dirtbag lifestyle.

2000 hours. Estamos listos, mas o manos, with the exception of Josh’s visas and a few items Diego will bring by mañana. The food is repackaged and all the food and gear is divided into bags. We need the bags to be about 25kg each in order to facilitate the balanced loading of the horses.

Our lists are shorter. The butter is in a butter dish; the ramen is non existent and we are chugging coca cola like mad. We have one liter left to drink before we can fill the empty bottle with our stove fuel. Needless to say not only are my teeth rotting but I am all jacked up on caffeine.

Now night begins to fall and the weather is still splitter blue skies. The high pressure continues to prolong the areas drought and keep the stars visible at night. Orion is visible in the northern sky. He is slightly skewed to my northern perspective as he hangs the other way around in this hemisphere.

Now it is off to dinner and one final night in “civilization”

We still have a few things to wrap before boarding the bus tomorrow morning, but the packs are more or less loaded and ready to be loaded on the backs of horses at the terminus of the Rio Turbio Valley. I managed to put together a collection of video clips. Enjoy!

A new day dawns bright and loud in San Carlos de Bariloche.  Yesterday was a veritible bustle of activity.  In the am after a breakfast of media lunas, cafe con leche con azucar y berenjena quiche, we picked up our machetes and remaing fuel.  After making a list we hit the grocery store to buy lots of food.  Luckily the three of us are well versed in the ways of buying lots of food for long periods of time, as in our jobs as NOLS instructors it is often an integral part of working rock camps.  So there were only a few set backs:  not enough cheese, no dried fruit, no nuts, no lentils and no-oh my gosh….ramen.  But not to worry Barriloche is a city of many grocery stores and we quickly found what we needed.  A late dinner of grilled meats rounded out the day.

Today we pack. 

Our hostel La Bolsa de Deporte is designed nicely for the starting point of an expedition.  It is situated nicely within walking distance of many of the resources we require, a la la ferreteria, los supermercados; el correos; and most importantly, la parillas.  It is also conviently close to a store on Ave M. Eflein that sells and sharpens machetes.

Our list of things to do today is long and as Josh struggles with Visas for his upcoming trip to India, slowly getting longer…

To Do: Get a wrench; repackage and pack food;  pack gear; get paddles; get sat phone;  get visas…etc.  You know, little things.

May 2019
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