17 May 2008
Winter Projects 1
Cerro El Plomo (5,424m/17,795ft)
I think this time it's real. Though it seems like I've been saying this for months now, this time there is no going back: heavy snows are forecast for the week; currently in Santiago it's raining and blowing; the Valle Nevado webcam looks like a whiteout. More than anything, though, it's that time of year. The weather up high and also down in Patagonia is notoriously unpredictable but, it seems, the larger cycles are fairly consistent. (And, as a side note, that's one of the reasons the wines from this part of the world are year in and year out a great value: like Napa, and unlike, say, Bordeaux or Northern Italy, there is rarely a devastatingly bad vintage.)
But back to the mountains. The above photo was taken from the top of Cerro Pintor (4,180m/13,713ft) on a ski tour in 2006. El Plomo's summit is clearly visible as is the trail to summit that switchbacks up the long rocky spine and curves down toward the bottom of the glacier itself. This is the Normal Route up to the top. My choice for the way down is to ski the long, broad Iver Glacer. It's steep but, unlike the massive ice bulge of the Glacier Colgante, seemingly skiable. The other option is to ski the longer and more mellow glacier that passes behind the spine of the Normal Route, turns skiers right and wraps back down toward the main Rio Cepo valley. The problem with this is that you would ski down below high camp and have to climb back up, maybe 300 meters or so.
El Plomo is number one on my list not because I will tackle it first but because I've already attempted it once and was booted off the mountain without success. Two years ago, the dogs and I tried it in the early spring--sometime around Halloween weekend--and made it as far as the high camp at the foot of the glacier (known either as la olla or la hoya, basically either the pot or the valley) before one of those notoriously unpredictable storms blew in and soon thereafter blew us out.
This is looking up the Rio Cepo valley from the first night's camp, called Piedra Numerada. While El Plomo's third glacier is still in view, it was clearly a moment of foreshadowing.
And another taken from the first day's ski over to Piedra Numerada. El Plomo's three distinct glaciers are visible as are all the available lines to ski.
El Plomo's claim to fame, besides being the biggest peak outside of Santiago proper, is that in 1954 a corpse of a young Inca boy was discovered by some arrieros or local herders. They were up there looking for some legendary Incan gold that was often buried, along with the sacrificial young boy, at high altitude shrines. It seems that the boy was offered to the Gods in the ceremony known as Capa Cocha. The mummy has moved to the main museum downtown but the shrine is still there and located in the rocky knob at the top of the Iver Glacier in the saddle that separates the long spine and the summit itself.
Here is the six a.m. parting shot taken from high camp the morning after the big wind storm. Though it looks like a perfect day for a summit bid, the high clouds were whipping around fast enough that I knew things would soon change. And they did. I hightailed it out of there and within two hours the dogs and I found ourselves in blowing wind and snow and whiteout conditions for the rest of the retreat home. A summit bid would have been a big mess and that beautiful looking line on the Iver Glacier directly below the Inca shrine would have been a disaster to try to ski. We'll give it another shot this year.
A musical memorial:
Holopaw: Igloo Glass.mp3, from Holopaw. Website, Buy
Horse Feathers: Honest Doubters.mp3, from Words Are Dead. My Space, Buy
Lewis & Clarke: Blasts Of Holy Birth.mp3, from Blasts Of Holy Birth. Website, Buy