A World Away From Home: Patagonia

Train, train, train!

Slow Progression

2/2/13 Punta Arenas, Chile

“The pursuit of mountains can be so meaningless, but yet it feeds your soul like you haven’t eaten in days. It’s the constant realization that the mountains are truly a part of you. It’s so peaceful. With every strike of the ice tool, crampons, or dipping your hand in the chalk bag trying to figure out the rock sequence, absolutely nothing else in the world matters except that next move. A feeling of intensity strikes. In Patagonia like a few mountain ranges, there isn’t room for error. Error will cause you to experience the dark side of the mountains. Sadly, I remember that feeling like it was yesterday. The feeling of loneliness, helplessness, unforgiving, being lost, having high emotions. It makes me shiver thinking back to my epic on the Maroon Bells in the summer of 2009. I woke up on many nights after it reliving the experience in nightmares. As if, I was watching the whole experience from above. I watched myself feel these emotions of being alone, lost, watching Kevin fall 600 ft. to what seemed his death, uncontrolled shivering, without help, crying at times, and thinking that was it. I can’t explain the true feeling I had. I thought it was all over at only 17 years of age. Thoughts flew through my head.

The fateful day of July 31, 2009. On the summit of South Maroon.

I don’t belong in the alpine
I should of just went on a hike
It’s just too dangerous to do something like this

And later….

Why did this happen?
Can I keep playing the game until I grow old?

Negativity set in for a while. The experience scared the living shit out of me with my climbing partner passing away shortly after on Little Bear Peak. I was ambitious and looking for the shortcut to the biggest mountains around. It doesn’t work like that. This wasn’t how it was suppose to turn out though. All the big dreams I have. Is this really worth it? I was 17 at the time and that year shook me in a big way. It was humbling. It was sort of the time that I mark the true start of getting serious about climbing. I was going to let no one tell a kid that this or that wasn’t possible. I was either going to commit my life to chasing the dream or not, as simple as that.

In a little over an hour, who knew that my life would be forever changed

I guess I chose the harder way. It’s not about climbing hard or trying to stroke your ego. It was about going after what my heart wants. A man in the mountains trying to find things out about myself, he never though he had. A man trying to inch his way to huge goals. It comes down to commitment, and dedication. As I sit here, I am reminded once again, of why I do this. I am truly at home in the mountains. ”

Pre Patagonia Journey

130 pounds of gear to haul around

Everyone has heard of the peaks like Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. Far fewer have touched there summits. I had gone into the beginning of 2012 with the idea of Patagonia. I have always wanted to climb in the place. Highly majestic peaks reside here in a remote setting. These are big technical mountains down here. Add the fact that there has never been a successful rescue off the wall, it goes to show, you’re really on your own. Something as simple as a twisted ankle could change plans instantly and turns into a rather involved situation. The weather is known to be the harshest on the planet and the winds are horrendous. Approaches to the routes are way more demoralizing then one is led to believe. Huge approaches anyway you go and for the approach to the Torre Valley, horrendously loose rock (especially if you go right around the lake). Glaciers and seracs collapse at all times in the night and day reminding you of where you really are. The dangers can be so attractive but yet so daunting. The remoteness of the mountains can be beyond amazing but also a scary reminder of what will happen if something goes wrong. This is what you train for mentally, emotionally, and physically. It’s the real deal. It’s real alpine climbing in a true alpine setting. It will harden you up or spit you out having you run the other way.

In route to Santiago, Chile. One of the many flights to Patagonia.

In other words, Patagonia has a way of humbling you and giving you all it has, challenging you as a person. I came here to seek my passion and not just dream about those ranges for the rest of my life but actually climb in them. I needed direction in my life. I found it.

Hanging around in the second most southern city in the world

Looking out to Antartica, not to far away

The Culture is a big part of the experience

Which one??

It sort of reminds me of all those mountaineering books I got to read when I was younger. (Instead of paying attention in class) At a time when I couldn’t really get out on the rocks, that’s all I did. The places they went to climb are what my dreams are about but yet so many of them lost there lives in the mountains. It’s again a scary reminder of how dangerous mountains are. Be humble, go light, and push yourself.

Climbing in Patagonia
A World Away From Home

The whole time before departure, I was constantly worried of getting hurt. Last May I broke my collar bone 3 weeks before leaving for Peru to climb. I sat at home and looked at pictures of my buddy on Alpamayo’s summit. I was depressed but happy for him. It got me motivated. Patagonia plans were made with Micah. I needed a big adventure. Starting in August I trained really hard. From trips to Bozeman to Ouray, I pushed myself. Scary mixed seems to be what my heart enjoys. To combine ice and mixed in the high mountains seems to be the ultimate for me.

Jason Maki on the FA of “Wake Up Call” on Camp Bird Road in Ouray, CO. Good mental training.

Scary Ice in Bozeman, MT before I left

In the end, I said goodbye to my job and was ready.

After a sort of emotional good bye to my family, I left with 100 pounds of gear and started the 5 days of non stop travel. Getting there took a lot. I flew to Chicago, and then to Miami with an 11 hour layover. I then met Micah in Miami and flew to Lima, Peru over night. After a 4 hour layover, we flew to Santiago, Chile where we had a 6 hour layover. I grabbed a legal Bloody Mary and waited only to see our flight wasn’t showing up on the screen. Since we were going to Punta Arenas, Chile (southern end of South America) we were looking at the wrong screen. We went down and found our bags, well kind of. One of mine was missing with an hour until the flight left. Micah checked in his bags and one of mine while I went to file a baggage claim. After they said they took care of it, I went running around the airport for an hour trying to find Micah. Thinking that he either left me or got kidnapped, I finally spotted him. We rebooked a later flight. From there it took another three days to get to El Chalten via buses and a lot of hard stressful work. We were really exhausted by the time we arrived, I felt like I had just climbed Cerro Torre.

Border crossing into Argentina

Before departure, Cerro Torre had seen over 50 summits. This was the year to do it. The rime ice on the west side was minimal putting the route in relatively well protected AI5+ condition. It’s been said by many to be the best ice route in the world. I had spent all summer and fall training on my ice tools. Pushing my limits on ice and hard mixed. I was ready for the trip.

Heart of Patagonia

We saw our first view of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in the morning in perfect weather. Good weather that would last over another week. We were both really tired from travel. After another day of rest, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt lame laying around in good weather. My fear of not climbing anything due to weather needed to be solved. We packed our bags and took a cab to the start of the approach to Guillamet. (Far from town) This jagged peak is a couple summits away from Fitz Roy. The approach was hard. It reminded me of the Bugaboos on steroids with minimal switchbacks and really steep for a couple thousand feet after an already 4 or 5 mile approach to the hill. I will forever be thankful for any approach in Colorado.

A taxi to start of the approach to Pedia Negra

Long Approaches

Guillamet in front with Fitz Roy behind. Our route followed the steep buttress on the right

We set up camp at sunset with the ice cap seen in the distance but Micah had a problem. He got really bad blisters on his feet from hiking the trail with boots on. Thankfully another fellow was up there alone and by luck we partnered up. This can be sort of sketchy but he seemed to have a bit of experience and also guides for IMG. We chose the Comosana Fonruge route. It follows a steep golden buttress for many pitches with a splitter crux in the 5.10+/11a range. The leader would carry a leader pack with jackets, crampons, water, ice tool, food, and etc. The follower would carry a larger pack with the boots, rope, and other various things. After the crux, you then follow the ridge for a few pitches to one amazing summit. We had three alarms set. It only gets dark for 5 or 6 hours down here in January so after 3 hours of sleep neither of us woke up. I woke up with a dreaded feeling of knowing it was light out. 6 A.M.! Damnit! We were set to leave at 3.

Almost to the base

I woke him up and we both rushed like a couple of animals and soon were starting the approach. Halfway up the approach, we remembered that we forgot the other rope. This wasn’t our morning. After going back to get it, we rushed up sketchy loose low 5th class to the beginning of the route. Jonathon racked up and stretched the rope 70 meters on 5.8 terrain. I took pictures and then set the camera on the rock. I put my shoes on and carried the pack only to forget my camera! Therefore, the pictures are limited on this route. I was amazed at the views though. Far right, there was the Ice Cap. You could see all the Torres along with Fitz Roy. I took off another full rope length of 5.8/9. This is what it’s about! I was amazed at the position. I took off on the crux 5.10+/11a pitch after a couple more rope stretchers and was amazed at how fun it was, though slightly pumpy. The summit was fantastic. After getting really psyched on such good weather and feeling like we cruised the route, we did many rappels down. We walked down the side of the glacier unroped with horrible slush after the rappels. Jonathon ended up punching through with one leg in a crevasse. Crazy, because we encountered Colin on the descent and discussed it. He had a hard time believing that there was any danger on that side. A rope would have been useless though with those snow conditions. I had to make the hard trudge up 45 degree snow again to get my camera back that turned out to be kind of terrifying, causing a descent sized avalanche on the way down. I watched below as it picked up boulders the size of me like no big deal. Just from a little snow falling from kicking steps, and slowly collecting snow until it hit the bottom, taking everything else with it on the way down.

Views at the base of the route



Arriving back in camp, Micah was in bad shape. We relaxed for the night until high winds hit the next day. We packed up fast and headed down. The descent seemed to drag on for a while. We finally arrived on the road and started making the hike back on it, waiting to hitch hike back as El Chalten is many many miles away. Finally after a couple miles we hopped into a pick up and arrived back in the city. We spent the following day originally planning to make an attempt on the Franco Argentine on the mighty Fitz Roy. Two things fell through though. Micah’s feet were still in bad shape and since it had been so hot, any ice climbing or glacier snow travel seemed to be out of the question right now and the route was really wet. The mountains were falling apart. It was sort of upsetting as I was really anxious to get on the ice but I could definitely settle into some rock.

Down we go

I didn’t really feel right going after Fitz Roy with someone I didn’t really know and without my partner I came here with. We decided on Saint Exupery, a huge pinnacle shooting up in the sky with views of Cerro Torre the whole way up. The routes alone on it are 2,000+ ft with climbing at 5.10 or harder. We packed our bags the next day and headed off after only a day of rest. It took over 2 hours to reach the popular lake. We were told it was easier to go right around it instead of left. We slowly made our way until the trail ended in horrendously steep, compact mud, really loose crap, with even more loose house sized boulders above your head. We were on the edge and went as fast as possible. It was scary but after a couple hours we reached the moraine. It was an infinite amount of loose rock, as bad and scary as the Capitol Snowmass traverse. Soon at sunset we were hiking into Nipinino camp at the very base of the mighty Cerro Torre. After waking up we made our way for a few hours to a sweet campsite only 45 minutes away from the base of the route. More scary loose rock and some 5.4 got us there.

About to get to the infinite amount of loose rock

I was pretty tired from dealing with so much loose rock in two days. The thought of a full day on the rock the next day was just tiring. That’s alpine climbing for you though.

Camp Here
Saint Exupery is the third pinnacle on the right. Fitz Roy being on the far left.
Saint Exupery

After both of us getting on each others nerves we started the morning with an even more horrendously loose approach. It took a near hour and a half to approach the climb. A bit of 5.5 to avoid the snow only to come to massive rock piles on top of water, about to slide down. Really loose crap brought us to the base. We had the views though.

Advanced Base Camp :cool:
Go to sleep and wake up to Cerro Torre
View at the base of the route

John took the first two pitches up a really nice crack. We got off route and ended up doing this 5.10+ finger crack roof sort of deal on accident. From then on we swapped leads up 5.8/5.9 terrain with a hint of 5.10 every now and then until the “crux” pitch came. It went pretty easily and soon we were on the ridge. I led a 90 meter simul climbing push up terrain up to 5.8. Jonathon then went and found bolts. We were curious if we were on route. The views were insane. While climbing, the seracs off Fitz Roy were collapsing shaking the rock. The huge glaciers were below. Rocks were falling off in many places hitting the glacier with such force.

Pitch 2
Higher Up
Still a ways to go

It was my lead. I was supposed to traverse this small sloping ledge to some sort of vertical 5.10 climbing. I headed off. The protection was pretty bad. I placed an okay micro nut and started committing to what seemed 5.9+ moves with not an ideal fall. I clipped a bad fixed knifeblade and committed until I stuffed a bunch of cams in this flake. I looked up and my heart dropped, a lot.

It was an 80 degree slab above, blank, no pro, with good protection in this sugary flake that seemed rather interesting. I shouted down to Jonathon.

“We must be off route man. It’s an 80+ degree slab up here with at least a 30 to 40 foot run out and a pretty nasty fall. I don’t know about this, especially up here in this environment.”

Jonathon replied in encouragement and that’s that. I looked out for any features. I saw a 80 degree sloping tiny ledge lead out left. The ledge soon turned into 80+ degrees after 20 feet the end. Where are the holds? It’s time to grow some steel, put your lead head on, and know you can do this. The thought of perhaps being off route, running it out into the unknown, seemed to add a little challenge.

It’s weird. I seem to have mentally understood run outs to a certain point. I don’t have to look back or down at my last piece. My mind understands how far I am almost as if I have eyes on the back of my head. It understands whether the piece will hold or not. It understands where I am along with how hard the climbing looks. It all combines into one thought.

I committed to the first couple moves of 5.10 and made a scary couple more moves to the “feature.” I’m committed. I slowly traverse as the wind kicked up seeming to want to add more challenge to the already challenging climbing. Slowly I switched my feet onto smears. As soon as my breathing kicked up, I calmed myself down. I relaxed and got into my rhythm. The feet felt like they were about to slide off. I found fingernail crimps every once in a while. I didn’t dare look back. I knew the fall would be dangerous. As I ventured farther out, I didn’t make the next move until I knew I wouldn’t fall.

Soon I grabbed a jug only to place the most useless piece on the route that wouldn’t hold a wet cigarette. I slowly made my way until I finally reached a ledge after another 30 feet and then I built an anchor.

“Off Belay!” I scream in excitement.

Jonathon following the run out pitch

John followed with the big pack and seemed extremely happy he didn’t have to lead that pitch. After two more rope stretching pitches we finally made the summit. It almost seemed like we were close to the summit height of Cerro Torre, another way amazing summit. We soon started making our way down. After almost 20 rappels into no where land and rope catching rappels, we make it back to camp. I got snow melt off and enjoyed the soup for dinner.

Living the Dream
Alone on the wall. Rappelling into the unknown.

I sat my sleeping bag on a flat sandy spot. I relaxed and stared at the extremely starry night with Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, and Aguja Standhardt in my view. My life has been about climbing since I was 13. It’s been sort of an obsession. The places it takes you and the way it challenges you for the better. How badly I want to climb these peaks. How badly I wanted to jump on Cerro Torre this trip. This was the year to do it. In life, things don’t always work out as planned. They usually don’t. That’s not to say I’m not psyched on the summits we did reach!

After the really long haul out of the Torre Valley in a day with shorts and tennis shoes on the glacier, (we went the other way around the lake that turned out to be the way for sure) we relaxed. What a haul out too. I was tired.

Torre Glacier

I spent the next 5 or 6 days relaxing as being on the go for over a week with minimal rest takes a lot out of you. It was nice to enjoy the bouldering, sport climbing, and great food down here. Micah’s feet basically healed up by the time we started making the journey back.

My energy level. Drink up!
Lots of sport climbing and bouldering. Micah getting back on his feet.
As windy near town as Longs Peak in winter! Yikes

Altogether it took almost 2 weeks of travel leaving us with a little over 2 weeks of climbing. A couple of those days were spent talking to other friends out there crushing. I wish we could have spent more time there but the weather window was gone in the end.

As I took the bus out of town, I had one last sort of emotional look at Cerro Torre. A mountain I’ve wanted to climb since I started climbing. With all its beauty, I couldn’t look for long without a sense of sadness. This was the season to do it and the chance passed. It was right there over my head. Good weather and easier then normal conditions. I felt strong and ready for it. I ended up taking the tools for a longer walk then usual. It just didn’t work out that way. That’s life. If there’s anything I know, another chance won’t present itself unless I’m there again. There is just so much to climb out there.

It’s not about the summit though but rather the experience you have with friends. That’s what you’ll remember for the rest of your life. I got two weeks until I turn 21. It’s been one hell of a couple years. I’m humbled and ready to get stronger and come back to the bigger ranges. The experiences alone make the journey worth it. Life seemed to be in a different world there. There was no such thing as “time”. I don’t know how to explain it. Patagonia is a special place with real mountains. I felt truly out of contact with the rest of the world. It’s hard to find such true environments like that anymore. It’s also different coming into society after an experience like this. Life passes fast and each year goes by faster, it’s only a settle reminder, personally, that I have a lot left to do.

The journey simply continues on.



About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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3 Responses to A World Away From Home: Patagonia

  1. Alpinegoat says:

    Incredible beauty!! Hats off to you and your climbing partners. Good luck on all your future climbs and please be safe.

  2. Emory says:

    Whats up very nice site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your site and take
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    want develop extra strategies in this regard, thank
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