Before leaving for the Patagonian Icefields

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By Andrés Pinto 
Translation by Patrick Nixon
Photos by Carlos Hevia
 
Editors Note: Andrés Pinto is part of the Vida Glaciar project, part of the University of Chile mountaineering club, which seeks to transmit to the public the importance of the Andean glaciers and the need for their protection. This month they will be going on a 3-week expedition to the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields. 
 
 
We needed to climb, but the weather was not working in our favor, even though we wanted to run into a storm. The route was closed and our options were diminishing. Our idea was to do our last practice on the ice of the hanging glacier before heading off on February 2 to Patagonia to try and summit one of the mountains we had planned for, and of course, collect the necessary audiovisual data for our educational project.
 
We wanted to try out equipment and experience the cold conditions of a storm in the middle of summer. Although it was December 26, the Cepo river valley in the days after Christmas was completely covered in snow, something I’d never seen before at this time of year.
 
We finally managed to get up as far as Valle Nevado on Decmber 27, just like the majority of others that dared to climb Plomo at this time. The hike was hard mainly due to the mud that stuck to the soles of our heavy boots.
 
 
 
Reaching Piedra Numerada was definitively a relief. The hills were completely covered in snow and numerous tents decorated a marvelous sunset. The wetlands were heavy with water, while the local birdlife fluttered around us contentedly.
 
The mountains Bismarck, Leonera, the Cepo Pass, and of course, Plomo, constantly held our gaze and despite having been here so many times before, this marvelous landscape with its summer snows made us feel realized and happy. How wonderful it is to be in the mountains.
The trail to Federación the following day was relaxed and though my companions were in better physical shape than I was I made a huge effort to keep up and ensure they didn’t have to wait too long for me.
 
Finally, we arrived and the first thing we did was to retrieve some food items from the refuge to cook. There was a packet of spaghetti and a sachet of sauce, which served as a welcome lunch for recovering our strength. The sun bore down but was accompanied by a soft breeze that blew constantly as the snow constantly melted.
 
Favors must be returned so when we headed back down from Federación we left some things in the refuge that could be useful for future hikers.
 
 
 
 
This expedition to Plomo was different. We spent many hours chatting and relaxing, practicing knots and rope techniques. We didn’t have to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to head for the summit like our companions sharing the base camp with us did. This time we had more time to take in our surroundings and practice techniques and observe things when clinging to the hanging glacier that would be of use when we went to the icefields. The difference was the sun, whose intensity was such that one of my colleagues suffered sunburn on one of his eyelids, which caused him discomfort due to the poor design of his sunglasses.
 
But nothing got in the way of our practicing our ice techniques on the glacier, in the knowledge that we had only a month left before heading to Patagonia.
 
 
 
 
Worry? fear?, we felt a mixture of both, however, above all we were anxious to get past this preparatory stage and get back to the mountains, roped up to my companions.
 
Being roped up brings a feeling of not only security at the moment of crossing a glacier but also that of feeling united in a project, of trusting that your companion is looking out for you and that you are responsible for looking out for him.
 
The symbolism of being roped together has always struck me as a mountaineer, and while we were practicing on Plomo’s hanging glacier, I thought about my friends that were hanging on the same rope and about Lucas, a friend of mine, who had let go of the rope of life several weeks ago. I had last seen him as he pedaled off on his bicycle into the mountains.
 
 
 
Plomo finally disappeared behind us in the fading and reddish light of late afternoon. This had been a work oriented outing but also a contemplative one that allowed me to begin the healing process of my soul following the departure of my friend.
 
I allow myself to pay homage to you, my friend, in these lines, giving thanks for your companionship and your great love of nature, for which we dreamed of fighting for and defending together.
 
I hope you accompany us on this adventure, which we embark upon in February and that you help us attain our goals.