Interview: Eugenio Guzman and Mount San Valentin

Photo: Eugenio GuzmanPhoto: Eugenio Guzman
With a passion for high summits, the remote, and the unexplored, Chilean mountaineer Eugenio “Kiko”  Guzman, has led or taken part in numerous expeditions and climbs around the world, including Mt. Everest, Mt. McKinley (Alaska), Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia), and Mt. Lhotse. In 2002, he participated in the first unsupported crossing of the Ellsworth Mountains Range in Antarctica. The business manager of Instituto Vertical in Santiago Chile, Kiko also has vast experience in Patagonia, and counts among his top mountaineering feats his participation in the first ascent in winter of Monte San Valentin, the highest summit in Patagonia.  Patagon Journal recently interviewed Kiko about his experience at San Valentin for our most recent issue. Excerpts: 
How important is studying and prior preparation for an expedition of this kind?
Any expedition to the Patagonian Ice Fields is a big challenge, so preparing in detail, and in this case also a very good study of the route, was key to our ascent of San Valentin. There was not much information available but we were able to meet with people who had before us already reached the base of San Valentin via the San Rafael Glaciar route, the route that we finally chose. For that, we must thank especailly Christian Buraccio for his advice and assistance during that time.
What were the major difficulties encountered in terms of logistics?
To scale San Valentin from the Laguna San Rafael side, you have to cross from west to east practically almost all of the ice field, so for many days you are very far from any possible rescue if anything were to happen.
How did the approach go to Mount San Valentin?
We started from the Laguna San Rafael, so we had to cross this glacier completely from the coast to the plateau of the Patagonian Ice Field.  This was very much the hardest and longest part of the route. We had to make numerous trips to bring the equipment and food from our first camp on the ice until we could even use our skis and sleds.  It is a difficult mountain, even by the normal route that we did. The climb to the summit by this route is not complex, but access and the remote location make it an extremely challenging mountain, one which requires great respect and preparation. In addition to geographical conditions you must add the weather factor. Whether it is summer or winter, the weather here can be a key to your success or failure. If there is not good preparation and good logistics it is not hard to die in this place.
Why is this mountain considered by some to be like a summit of the Himalayas?
I don’t think that is a good comparison. San Valentin, and in general any giant of Patagonia, are very different from a summit of the Himalayas. They are not comparable. They are simply different. I would say even more difficult than the Himalayas, and isolated, and exposed to a very, very harsh climate. These are mountains of Patagonia. Every climb is unique, especially in Patagonia. I have reached summits in the Himalayas, Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland and many other places, but Patagonia, and especially the Patagonian ice fields and the Cordillera Darwin, these are special places.
What makes this mountain so attractive -- why did you attempt the summit?
The main reason is that it is the highest peak in Patagonia, but there is much more to it than that. The access path approach is itself a tough and beautiful experience. The natural environment surrounding San Valentin, the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, the inmensity of the eastern plateau of Patagonia and the lakes and forests that you see from the summit are experiences that are difficult to forget.
What was the route chosen to reach the summit?
We did the route that starts from the San Rafael Glacier, located at Laguna San Rafael.  We got to that point by sailing from Puetto Montt together with the crew of Navimag. We went and returned from this same location.  
What were the implications of trying to summit in winter?
You are exposed to very low temperatures but in general, the weather on the Patagonian Ice Field is much more stable in winter than in summer. This does not mean better weather, but yes it is more stable. With that you can predict a little better the weather for the days ahead and generally the weather on the good or bad days are more stable than in the summer.
How was the weather during your ascent?
In genral we had good weather, with windows of four to five days that were clear and very little wind, but there were also days with heavy snow and intense winds, which fortunately did not last many days in a row.
How did it feel to reach the summit?
There were many sensations. Obviously there was great satisfaction and joy of having reached the summit of this giant but there was also the real "concern" that we were still just halfway. While this is always true, in this case it was a much stronger concern because after reaching the summit of San Valentin we had to return to our distant point of origin, the Laguna San Rafael. That said, to know the Northern Patagonian Ice Fields was an amazing experience. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and wild places I've been. 
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