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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.”

“Thanks”

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”

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.

It would seem the worst is over. I made it to Bariloche from Coyhaique without offending anyone too bad (at least to my knowledge) and without starving or ending up on the wrong bus. Even though I don´t speak a lick of spanish.

I arrived about 18 hours before Dave and Josh and had to check several hostels before finding one that had room. I was excited the following day to get an email from them saying they were at a hostel and were awaiting me.

After some chitchatting with our friend and fellow NOLS instructor, Diego, we headed out and took care of some errands, mostly buying machetes, getting them sharpened and buying fuel. We sorted a bunch of climbing gear and went to eat. It is good to be among friends and the anticipation is growing for the Pirate Valley. Today buying food.

I too just finished up working a rock camp. I agree with Dave’s sentiment that it is not the best place to get or stay in shape. We ended the course last night with a really good asado at the campo of Senora Sepulveda whose land we were climbing on for several weeks. The party lasted into the dark and the students and instructors all enjoyed the roasted sheep.

What does the future hold for Ibanez rock climbing? That is still to be determined. Hopefully someone will find a use for what we have put up over there. At the same time, I hope nobody uses it. It is the catch 22. The landscape will suffer. People will benefit. I leave the area with a heavy heart and many memories. The young children of the campo, constant companions in our camp, will be thought of fondly. I hope only the best for them. I will also think back fondly of the memories of the I-team. While I am saddened that Nate will not be joining us, I am excited for his new directions in life.

I look forward to the Turbio and the Pirate Valley. My head and gut fill with dread as I think about the prospect of traveling from Balmaceda, Chile to Bariloche, AR on my own. I speak about four words of spanish and this part of the expedition has always been my biggest fear. In the end I know I will be OK, but the prospect is daunting.

Tonight is comida y cervezas and a post course dinner. One thing at a time…

I am back in Coihaique for about 36 hours between rock climbing courses out in the Ibanez area.

Let it be known that at Ibanez, the rock is loose, many holds need glue or the route becomes 5.15a and the cracks are non existent. The technical, thin, balance intensive, stemmy movement is at times frustrating, challenging, and thought provoking, but never dull and most of the time fantastic. The exploratory nature of the rock camp is in keeping with my future objectives in the Rio Turbio area, although it couldn’t be more different. Rap bolted face climbs a short distance from a paved highway versus ground up ascents many klicks deep in the andes.

I am enjoying the physicality and difficulty of the Ibanez experience. Definitely a strength training ground.

As the days move by and the expedition inches closer, the anticipation starts to build…

A quick note before I head out for three weeks. I got the great opportunity to talk with my friend Dalio regarding his trip into the Rio Turbio area last year. We spent about an hour and a half looking at pictures and drawing crude maps on six pack boxes. The many valleys off of the Valle Quatro look limitless and immense. While they did not enter the Valle Pirate proper, they ascended a saddle that borders the valley and were able to get some photos of the valley. A little beta goes a long way towards keeping the anticipation level high.

After a few harried flights and connections and going through security three times, I finally landed in Balmaceda, Chile.  I arrived at the NOLS branch at 1030 and promptly enjoyed a day and a half of downtime before going on contract for a climbing camp.

As I sit in Coyhaique writing this I am focused on an immediate adventure, one that has my coworkers and I developing a climbing area for a course.  We are in the process of cleaning and establishing routes in the Rio Ibanez valley as well as scouting forays into the Avellano Towers region.  My co workers and I will be taking 13 students into this area in order to teach them how to rock climb.

I agree with Dave.  I can’t imagine planning an expedition without the modern conveniences.  I am quite glad that the planning of this expedition can happen with all the modern amenities.