Aguja El Faro, Cerro San Lorenzo
Updated: Nov 1, 2018
The path to Cerro Cochrane and it's satellites is easily travelled. From "Las Horquetas", a lonely hotel where Quentin Tarentino's "from dusk till dawn" might have been filmed, the asphalt turns west and changes into a dusty "estancia" road. Thousands of Huanacos, rabbits, Puma's, Niandu, Cachaña, Pichu and other animals live in this wildlife paradise. Entering the National Park of Perito Moreno means leaving the Argentina where the "estancieros", the land owners, have, for a fist-full of dollars, bought huge parcels of land for the cows to graze. A true Eldorado of the cowboy entrepreneur, but at the cost of the well being of the land itself. Man is not know for it's self regulation....fencing up the "esteppa" with infinite lengths of wire, shooting up the pumas, deforesting to create more land to graze ( to cite only a few ways man has plagued patagonia) has widely endangered the local ecosystems and often cut off the access to some of the most unique landscapes of the world. A friend was recently denied access to a remote range just because he had to cross through a patch of Estancia land to get there...sometimes the stupidity of man seems to have no limits. Some parts are protected by the parks. In Perito Moreno, Doug and Chris Tompkins generously bought and donated the estancia Rincon and the land of "rio Lacteo" to the park, giving access to the east face of Cerro Cochrane. Doug compared the mountain to a Argentinian Everest because of it's shape and gigantic proportions. "...La mas grande y desafiante de las paredes patagonicas...". A truly great man in his actions to preserve the land, and i can only imagine a huge lover of patagonia.
Martin Elias, Francois Poncet (a.k.a Ponpon) and myself approached San Lorenzo for the second time in early october ( we'd made an attempt in 2017). The three us, longtime friends of many worldly adventures, were accompanied by a spiritual fourth. In Martin's pocket, a card given to him by his mother, depicted the "virgen of lomos de orio". None of us are believers, yet many mountaineers seem to cling to some sort of superstition. A pair of lucky axes, an amulet given by a friend or just any kind of sentimental token. In the face of danger and adversity, rational decision making doesn't do for everything. So, warmly nestled in martin's coat pocket we had our protector.
We made way for the " guarda parque's" cabin to register. The lenticulars ruled the skies. The dense clouds of cotton stretched across the horizon in repetitive waves giving depth and immensity to the liquid blue canvas above us. Around, inky stains of blue and green spot the landscape, receptacles of water from the rapidly melting glaciers .These colorful pools create a dotted line materializing the end of the esteppa and the beginning of the mountain realm. Upstream from the Belgrano lakes, the flat bedded glacial valley of Rio Lacteo has been carved through the colorful volcanic rock. The "puesto San lorenzo", which will be our home for the next weeks, sits at the bend of the valley. As we reach it, we finally sets eyes on the majestic throne of the "cumbre principal" and the huge east face. The white pyramid pushes away from the sky thrusting arrogantly it's mushrooms capped spires against the indigo blue. The Salesian priest and Patagonian explorer, Padre DeAgostini, justly obsessed with climbing the peak, probably signed his masterpiece with the first ascent on the west side, and provided a first mapping of the surroundings. The "South Africain ridge", 1500m long, descends east like a long spine, ornamented with "penitantes" and towers, overhanging snow mushrooms and subtily sculpted cornices. This is a very striking line that's been repeated few times.
To the south the wall extends like a barrier. 1800m high at it's apex. It is crowned with overhanging cornices and seracs, sculpted by the raging winds in "Daliesque" drips and curls. A hundred meters of ice and snow line the top of the wall, threatening what would otherwise be a mixed climbing paradise.
The panorama from the puesto San Lorenzo is almost complete"Cumbre principal, Cumbre central, cumbre sur", the "Faro" being hidden by the Cerro Penitentes.
This barrier of the East face erects a natural border line between Chili and Agentina more impressive than any i've ever seen. The wind, boiling in from the west in curls of thick clouds,engulfs the face, mocking Perito Moreno's (geograph and maker of borders) fictive line.This is a no man's land where patriot callings have no say. The only laws that apply are those on nature.
Our 2017 attempt on Cumbre Central with Sebastien Corret and Martin was thwarted by the usual bad weather leaving us only a short 12h window...This year though, as a high pressure system approaches we give more thought to the 100m overhanging cornices and seracs. We rule out the line on Cumbre central, arguing that mountains arm many but life is short. Little options are left. The huge needle (1200m high) standing out on the south part of the wall is very attractive and protected from the seracs.
Argentinian climbers Luciano Fiorenza and Pablo Pontarielo have tried to climb this peak a few years back. As they were climbing up the immense north face,they prepared belays for rapping down. Due to constant rockfall they turned around after a few hundred meters only to find some of the belays had already been destroyed by sone of the falling missiles...
An Equatorian team also gave it a go reporting loose rock.
Colin Haley climbed the adjascent Aguja Antipasto and described the rock as mediocre and time consuming.
Over the 2 weeks before the ascent, we had a 36h stretch good weather where we attempted another line. This attempt aborted quickly as we found bad ice conditions very early on the wall. After spending quite some time looking at options and truly finding none that were protected from the 100m barrier of seracs and cornices above the wall we drifted to the south side of the mountain to look at another way to climb the south tower. Hidden from us until then, a logical line up the cold south face of the tower showed itself. Sweet virgin Lomo de Orios. .... we finaly had a plan!
On the 18th, in snowy weather we set out from the cozy puesto San Lorenzo. The eastern depression raging for 4 days now had deposited 20 to 30 cm of new snow that now covered the path. Not really a good sign. Crossing the Rio Lacteo proved vivifying at the early hours and with a fresh blanket of whiteness surrounding us.
After a couple hours of walking we had a choice to make. Cross a very nasty lateral moraine with plenty of house sized rocks hovering improbably above us or crossing the "laguna de los tempanos". on the glacial lake, the icebergs had all been pushed together in the far west corner by the wind allowing to hazardously jump from one to the other. We had done this before but in 2 weeks the frozen state of the lake had gotten quite worse. We still opted for the latter option as it being the quickest way across.
As we sat on top of one of the only piece of ice that was big enough to procure some small sense of security, observing the puzzle of fractured ice plates we still had to cross, Martin very justly formulated:
"Les gars, la on fait vraiment de la merde"
Which politely translates to: "guys, we're doing a real shitty move here"
We all nodded and continued on our way.
We used our poles to test the next drifting plate of ice, judging by the size and the sound, hollow or not, if we could risk hopping on to the next slab. I recalled a game i used to play on the computer as a kid. Frogger. A small frog had to cross a river, jumping from log to log while a stealthy crocodile was lurking in the dark waters waiting for his meal.
With our waistbands unclipped, just in case, we managed a safe crossing, only martin got waist high into the waters. The virgin was looking after us.
We set up camp a couple hours after the lake at the foot of the tremendous east face. Our hopes to climb the tower were small with the new snow. The endless boulder field we needed to cross to access the "Faro" was covered in snow, hiding treacherous holes that menaced to snap our knees every few meters. After a lot of falling in waist deep holes we finally got to the slopes below the wall.
It was 10 when we started climbing. The forecast had announced south high pressure system until the next night. 48h. After some technical mixed climbing on good rock we accessed the snow and ice ramp that we had spotted on the scouting trip. We unroped and quickly climbed the 500m-600m ramp that gave access to the steeper part of the face. Our fast pace up this section let us hope we could sleep at the col. But as we reached the end of the ramp and roped up again we realized the poor snow conditions, bad rock and lack of ice would slow us down a lot. As night caught up with us, i was climbing the first 30m of what turned out to be the crux of the route: an 80m chimney of vertical snow covered rock, of which words lack to describe the lack of quality. Choss really doesn't cover it. "Un asco" as the locals say!
After fixing 30m of difficult dry tooling and aid climbing, we rapped down and chopped out some small ledges in the icy slope below us. At midnight we were in our sleeping bags and ready to sleep.
As i cracked my eyelids the next morning, the scenery was stunning. The Fitz roy stood like a sentinel at the gates of the southern ice cap. From there up north stretched the southern and norther ice cap. Being dis-connected from the ice cap, San Lorenzo has an impressive view on the other monsters of southern Patagonia
After a quick game of rock, paper and scissors Martin got lucky and geared up for the worst pitch of the route and very possibly one of the worst in his life! During 3 hours a constant shower of rock, some dog sized, and curses rained down onto Ponpon and myself. As we were brewing water a rock hit the stove which promptly joined all the other free rocks down below....that meant no more water and warm food for three days. We decided to trust in the Virgin looking over us and keep going. More mixed terrain, led to the col between "Torecilla" (a beautiful, impossible looking spire) and the "Faro". We switched to the North face where three pitches rime covered rock led us to the summit as night fell and the clouds engulfed the mountains.
Having doubted the whole way of our capacities to reach the summit, with the fresh snow, the terrible rock and obviously the weather which in our experience on San Lorenzo was always much worse that forecasted, this was truly a magical moment. The setting sun reflected in my companions eyes and set alight a flame of folly (cf. photo above...you can read the madness in Ponpon's eyes). The descent, some 12h long, lasted all night. Getting quite low on the face, martin notices something red in the snow and "milagro!" the stove, intact after a 400m fall and being impacted by stone, is restored to us! Dehydrated and hungry, we finally reach the foot of "El Faro" at dawn.
We did the first ascent of "el Faro" and climbed the route "la milagrosa" (1200,mA3, M7, 6a). It is not specially nice, having bad, unprotectable rock, but it's unique settings in the heart of the giant San Lorenzo,and the human adventure make it, with out a doubt, a climb i will long remember.
Huge Thanks to:
The FFME, federation francaise de la montagne et de l'escalade, for supporting our 2018 adventure (and many others).
the Americain Alpine Club for supporting our 2017 adventure.
Lagoped for the clothing, and more importantly for being eco responsible. 100 percent recycled clothing!!
Mont bell for their warm down.
Edelweiss for the ropes an support over the years!
My Surgeon that operated on my meniscus two months before departure.
La virgen lomo de orios, Ponpon and Martin, the best companions one could hope for. Les quiero!!!