Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the patagonia trip: Wind

I woke a good twenty minutes before our 2am alarm and set about making breakfast as soon as I saw stars piercing the clear sky.

I could hear wind, which didn't bode well for climbing, but we had to try.  At least we could get a view of the sky above the canopy in the Silencio Valley.

Having prepared our packs and food the night before, we were quickly off.  I emulated Christian's slow, methodical steps ascending into the night.  As we rose in altitude we became more subject to the wind I had heard from the safety of camp.

At first we could simply lean into it and continue, but then we were hit with gusts that had us dropping to the ground grasping for rocks to hold us down.

Where the heck was our gear cache? I wondered through the dim light of my headlamp.

We were looking for a snow field, of which we had to cross several as we followed the moraine.  The one we looked for had a  particularly deep moat on its side.  The moat was so deep that Christian had us practicing our vertical snow ascending technique with our crampons and ice axes on our first outing with him.  Adjacent to this 30' wall of snow would be some talus where our gear was cached.
Practicing in the moat a few days prior with Christian

"Damn it.  We're definitely past it," Dav said to me.  I knew he was right, but I wanted to cross one more ridge to be sure.

We topped the ridge and found ourselves at a little rock shelter where we had cached gear while we did drills with Christian on the first day.  This spot was assuredly way past our present cache.

The delay didn't bother us since there was no way we could climb today.  Making it this far felt like trying to escape at enormous washing machine.  Over the moraine talus, which already took every ounce of focus to stay upright, we were tossed about and repeatedly thrown into a panic, whilst, in the moment of a footfall we had to adjust our step to escape wiping out on the toothy surface.

Even if we couldn't climb at least we could move our gear up to this forward location.  As Dave's knee was ailing him, I would backtrack alone to find our gear.  If I wasn't back in an hour, Dave would come search for me.

I emptied my pack and returned the way we had come.  With an empty pack I felt light and nimble all of a sudden, but still the wind took its toll.  My mind began to flag and I felt that a bully was harassing me without pause.  I wanted to fight back or cry, but there was nothing to do but stop and hold on to the ground and struggle for breath as the wind sucked it from my chest.

Contrary to my fits of motion on the moraine talus, when I hit the snow fields, which were slightly down sloping in the direction of the wind's travel, I would fly.  Why fight it?  Each stride would carry me over ten feet and I barely hit the ground.  Stopping at the end of the snow field was the hard part, but I accomplished this sin drama.

Finally I was where I thought our cache should be, just as there was enough light to see clearly.  Where was it?  The mountains were playing tricks again.  This must not be the right moat, I thought.  After all, there were no signs of our snow climbing from a few days prior.

I continued to backtrack another ten minutes or so--far enough to realize that the moat I had just left was the only place where our cache could be.  Returning, I searched and searched until I gave up in complete bafflement.   Defeated, I looked down and saw the brown trashbag disguised with rocks that I had been looking for.  You've got to be kidding me.  I filled my pack and trudged back up for Dave.

I was well past my hour allowance and I began to wonder where my "rescue" was.  I bet he's napping in that shelter, I thought, feeling negative about everything.

Not without trouble, I found the bivouac spot where Dave should have been.  Empty.  He must have come for me! But how could we have missed each other?  Again the tricks!
Safe minus my favorite hat that the wind had ripped from my head.
I quickly stashed my load in the talus and turned back to the path I had already seen three times that morning.  My mind filled with scenarios that could keep me from ever uniting with Dave again.

Finally I found him, almost all the way back to the moat.  Brief explanations and sentiments were exchanged and we high tailed it back to camp.

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