19/03/2015 After some rainy days in El Chaltén, I used the upcoming good weather window to start what was supposed to be a four day trek to Paso del Cuadrado. Joined by Rene from the hostel, we knew that the first day would still be rainy; we didn’t know what kind of adventure we would be heading into. Soon after leaving the beaten path, we found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm in freezing temperatures, forcing us to set up an emergency fire at Laguna Piedras Blanca and actually staying the night there as well. For the complete story, keep on reading!
A lot of rain forced me to remain in El Chaltén for a total of four days and since Rene had no climbing and only little trekking experience, we decided to skip my original plan of tackling Paso del Viento and instead headed towards Paso del Cuadrado, another challenging hike compared to the simple day hikes in the area. Leaving at 12:00, we started to walk in the rain and knew that this wouldn’t change for the rest of the day. It would take us one day just to get closer to the area of our destination anyway and the forecast looked great for all days coming up afterwards, so we decided to start the hike in the rain, allowing Rene to continue his hitch hiking journey without delays. The hike was rather boring for me; we could not see a lot in these weather conditions and I had also just returned from the day hike to the Fitz Roy a few days before in perfect weather. The rain turned into snow and I could witness how the C.B. Poincenot camp looks covered in white, it was a pretty cool sight! We used the camp to have lunch and our hands were freezing already. Things got worse when we walked north along the rocky path next to the river towards Laguna Piedras Blanca. Faced with an now extremely lower temperature, we were now covered in thick snow and quickly soaked completely wet. Getting in the gloves was now an extremely hard task and we knew the situation actually became a bit serious now. We would have to make a decision between returning back to El Chaltén or keep on going, having in mind that the sun will come out the next day. Obviously, we chose the latter…
Freezing our asses off, we kept on walking along the river to find shelter at one of the huge boulders at Laguna Piedras Blanca. Taking pictures was a nearly impossible task now as the thick snow flakes constantly messed up the touchscreen of my phone. Luckily, we walked right into a massive boulder of at least 20 meter in height, offering natural protection from the wind and snow from 3 sides. Once we stopped walking, our already cold bodies started to freeze even more and we had to do something about it. Some people left dry fire wood behind here and even though it is not allowed, we just had to get a fire going to warm up and re-evaluate the situation. Walking back for hours in these conditions would have been very unpleasant. We quickly gathered some tinder and even brought a lighter and toilet paper, making the process of getting the fire up very easy… if we could only use our fingers!! At this point, our hands were so cold that Rene was not able to use his fingers at all anymore. Luckily, I still had some energy in them left and could get the fire going, finally offering us the desperately needed warmth.
After enjoying the fire for a while, I went out to explore the nearby area and also climbed up to one of the hills to get a better overview. It was still snowing a lot and I could not see too much, not even the lake that should be very close to us now. At least I was able to find enough dry wood to keep the fire going for a while. Returning back to our little camp, we started to think about what to do. It was already getting late now and we would have another two hours of walking to reach the next camp, something that was out of question considering the fact that the amount of snow actually increased with time. So we decided to call the boulder our home for this night and aligned the sleeping bags next to the fire to sleep there without setting up the tent. It was actually a really great experience in the end and I enjoyed it a lot. Rene gained back his good spirits as well the longer he could warm up on the fire. We shared some stories, had some rum and eventually fell asleep next to the fire after a nice meal.
Waking up the next morning was an experience I will never forget. The forecast was right (as usual on the norwegian site yr.no) and all the clouds disappeared, leaving us with a perfect clear sky. The sun did not yet rise up over the mountains around us, but for the first time we could see Monte Fitz Roy in the background with the first rays of sunshine on it’s face. Spirits were high and we wasted no time to climb up to the viewpoint to finally see the lake as well. The climb was pretty steep and some parts were still covered with ice from last night, but overall it was not a big deal to get up there. The views were amazing and having the sun in my face again made me look positively into the future. We enjoyed the moment for a while and then started to walk back to our temporary camp, it was time to pack up again and continue our hike towards Paso del Cuadrado with a slight delay. More on that in the next update 🙂
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