Forum Index > Trip Reports > (Probable) First ascents in Patagonia - Cerro Puno Este & Cerro Agudo: Part 1
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Matt Lemke
High on the Outdoors



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Matt Lemke
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PostWed Jan 02, 2019 10:38 pm 
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A little late, but better than never eh? This is part one of two depicting two of the better climbs I did with Itai and Elaine in Chilean Patagonia in February this past year. The routes we did on these two peaks are likely (but not certainly) first ascents. Some of you may remember Itai as the Israeli who joined me on my Pickets Traverse I posted about here from August 2016. So....without further ado:

As part of our 2018 Patagonia trip, one of the climbing objectives Itai, Elaine and I found are Cerro Puno, which we saw in the newly published 2017 AAJ written by Tad (a friend of mine), and Jim Donini (a local to Durango who has been residing in Patagonia for 4-5 months every year for over a decade, and a legend in the Patagonian climbing scene). We were on the long 22 hour bus from El Bolson to El Chalten in late January wen we stumbled upon Tad's article (see link here), and we all knew we just had to visit the area at some point on our trip.

We were lucky with the weather in Chalten, and we got to climb the Amy Couloir on Guillaumet in perfect, windless weather, however that story is for another day. Fast forward to the middle of February, and the three of us are in Coyhaique after taking the ferry across Lago Gral Carrera from Chili Chico, on a heinously rainy day desperate to rent a car so we can make the drive all the way up the X-890 gravel road along the Rio Baker and Rio Colonia to its end just before Lago Colonia. We however could not find a place in the largest town in Patagonia that had a car available, even after trying 25 different rental car places. With the next good weather window approaching just a couple days away, we were growing more and more desperate for simple transportation back south to Cochrane. The bus schedule didn't align with when we needed to leave, and the one bus that was leaving that day was full. Amazingly we ran into one woman we saw in Villa Cerro Castillio just a week prior, who gave us a ride a ways down the Austral. She knew a few people in town with transportation services so she made some calls for us. Unfortunately no one was willing to help us out for a reasonable price so we were once again back at square one. Feeling defeated, and losing hope on being able to climb Cerro Puno as the good weather was returning, we went back to our hostel and started trying to think of backup plans and slept off a frustrating day.

The next morning, I went to the nearby bus station in hopes of being able to get on some kind of bus going anywhere south, however with the limited schedules, no buses were heading south that day, and the few that were were filled days ago. But by a stroke of luck, an English woman saw my frustration and mentioned to me that the taxi driver she just had moments before (she was just dropped off at the bus depot) had told her he was planning to drive south to Tortel in their van with his family for an asado vacation. She even had his phone number and told me I should contact him because he would have extra space.

I couldn't believe it! So I met back up with Itai and Elaine and found the first Wifi we could find and called him. He agreed to give us a ride down, and would be leaving in just a couple hours! We were thrilled, however still a little skeptical. In his broken English, we were able to decipher he needed to do some shopping at the supermarket first, and we should meet him there, which coincidentally was just a couple blocks from our hostel. So we packed up and checked out and made our way to the Wal-Mart sized market and waited. After an hour or so of waiting, we found him (along with his wife, brother and three kids!), and as friendly as could be they invited us into their van and off we went southward along the Austral. All we had to do at this point was to ensure we made it to Cochrane before 10am so we could rent the bikes we needed to bike up X-890 road.


After a long drive that took most of the day, we arrived in Cochrane at 9:55pm and got the bikes we needed just in time. Just next door to the outdoor shop was an open field owned by a nice old lady who allows travelers to camp. We set up the tent here and the owner called a taxi for us to take us to the barge crossing early in the morning. We thought the barge that brings cars across Rio Baker (Balsa Baker) only ran at 7:00 in the morning because a sign we found on google that provided hours of operation for the barge was not clear if it was a continuous run, or only once at the said time. So we didn't risk it and planned to be there before 7 (about 8 kilometers north of town).

As if the world was still conspiring against us climbing Cerro Puno, the taxi driver of course didn't arrive so we had to bike the Austral up to the barge crossing. When we made it, we found out the barge crosses continuously every time someone arrives during the posted hours. This is basically a large raft tethered to a cable that brings cars, trucks and people across the very wide Rio Baker, and connects to the X-890 road. Once across, the biking really began. Apart from a short ride we were able to hitch from a couple guys in a pickup truck, we biked a large chuck of the 20 kilometers all the way up the valley, along the shore of Rio Baker. About halfway to the roads end, Rio Colonia dumps into Rio Baker and turns sharply south. Just as we reached a large gate, we ran into another person we met in Villa Cerro Castillio. He was taking clients out in his Jeep after a long hiking trip he was guiding. He was so inspired we were biking up the road in order to access the climb we were determined to do. As it turns out, we would run into him many more times on our trip, as he lived in Puerto Guadal.

The views continued to get better and better as Cerro Puno loomed closer. Views of Cerro San Lorenzo off to the SE were great, and the striking east face of Puno drew us closer. We were able to convince a local homesteader in the valley to give us a ride up a little further to give us a break from riding with our heavy packs on. He was able to take us to Los Tres Limones, where a drainage stream blocked passage for his truck. We walked the bikes across this fairly rapidly moving river, and continued another 2-3 kilometers to La Rinconada, where the last homestead is located on the north side of Rio Colonia. Here the road completely ends and we left the bikes out of sight of the empty home and forded Estero Aroyo Chueco. Here we knew we had a terrible bushwhack ahead of us, and we studied the slope that lie ahead before we entered the jungle. 750 meters up is what separated us from the valley floor to the infinity tarn that sits secretly in the beautiful basin just below Puno Este. The ensuing bushwhack involved copious amounts of swearing, navigating, and even crying but amidst the bamboo, thorny bushes and steep moss we emerged above the trees just as the sun was setting, and we were greeted with a jaw dropping view across the valley of wild lands unknown. In particular, Cerro Disfiladero off to the south was the best looking peak around, and begs me to return for its potential first ascent.

Rio Baker
Rio Baker
Biking the X-890
Biking the X-890
Cerro Puno in the distance
Cerro Puno in the distance
Reflections in Rio Baker
Reflections in Rio Baker
Cerro Puno getting closer
Cerro Puno getting closer
Road deteriorating
Road deteriorating
First views of Cerro Disfiladero
First views of Cerro Disfiladero
Crossing one of many streams
Crossing one of many streams
Schwacking up
Schwacking up
San Lorenzo in the distance
San Lorenzo in the distance
Disfiladero...god what a beautiful mountain
Disfiladero...god what a beautiful mountain
Sunset on San Lorenzo
Sunset on San Lorenzo
Puno Este
Puno Este

We made camp near the gorgeous tarn and didn't hesitate to go to sleep. We had just biked over 20 kilometers, AND bushwhacked 750 meters up all with heavy packs. Needless to say we were exhausted. The next morning Itai and Elaine wanted a rest day, and since the weather wasn't too great (some clouds), we agreed to wait a day. I went ahead and did a little scouting mission up the ridge left of the tarn to scout our likely descent route. I scrambled up slabs and gullies onto the ridge that separated the basin we camped in from the wildly rugged glacial basin just to the west. The calm, ambient tarn we temporarily called home was contrasted with a raging glacier  just one small valley over.I continued along the gentle ridge until I was stopped by an icefall and glacier serac overhanging above a steep couloir that led to the rugged glacier below me to the left. I figured we would either have to descend on the glacier or rappel straight down this obstacle on our descent. As the clouds off to the west appeared to get darker, I retreated back to camp where I rested the afternoon together with Elaine and Itai and prepared for the early morning wake up.

Sunrise on Puno Este from our tent
Sunrise on Puno Este from our tent
The tarn we camped by
The tarn we camped by
Looking towards Disfiladero
Looking towards Disfiladero
Looking down the next valley with rugged glacier
Looking down the next valley with rugged glacier
Rio Colonia Valley
Rio Colonia Valley
Cerro Puno Oeste...also possibly unclimbed
Cerro Puno Oeste...also possibly unclimbed
The serac that blocked further passage without ropes
The serac that blocked further passage without ropes
Darker clouds to the west
Darker clouds to the west
Camp down there
Camp down there
Can't get over how beautiful it is
Can't get over how beautiful it is

So at 5am we got up, and awoke to clear skies. We were off as soon as we could see from twilight. We began ascending the opposite ridge I explored the previous day, and utilized the ridge coming down directly from Puno Este itself to the right of the tarn. As we gained elevation, the sunrise was stunning, and we grew ever excited to climb. We managed to stay on the rocky ridge the entire way up to the base of the technical portion of the climb. With the beta from Tad's AAJ report, they climbed a short 5.9 route of a few pitches somewhere on the edge of the east face. We never really found exactly where they went so we ascended the most logical way, straight up the SE ridge direct. We solod some low 5th class to surmount the first hump on the upper ridge, where we emerged onto a flat sidewalk. Here we racked up and I led one long pitch up a ramp that cut the face, and made an anchor under a large block on a nice ledge. Leading the second pitch, I thought I would try the final overhang that guarded direct passage to the easy summit scramble just above. I tried at least 5 times backing off every time to surmount the overhang but with nothing but kitty litter above on the ledge, there was no way for me to pull myself completely over. This was at least a 5.10d move.

Twilight with Disfiladero in the distance
Twilight with Disfiladero in the distance
Puno Este
Puno Este
Taking a break on the beautiful ridge
Taking a break on the beautiful ridge
First views of Cerro Arenales
First views of Cerro Arenales
More difficult scrambling
More difficult scrambling
Beautiful unnamed peak
Beautiful unnamed peak
Scrambling with some exposure!
Scrambling with some exposure!
Looking west to Puno Oeste
Looking west to Puno Oeste

Not wanting to waste anymore time on it, I downclimbed a short ways, traversed right and ascended an easier line on more featured but vertical darker colored rock. This section I figured was more in the 5.7 range. Itai and Elaine followed and we all reached the big ledge. We then scrambled up the final bit and the mountain greeted us with one last difficulty. The last 15 feet to the summit block was a class 4 crack that was in the shade, and therefore covered in a thin layer of fresh snow. Itai and I were able to worm our way up, while Elaine, being shorter climbed up on belay. The summit was a perfect tabletop flat enough for 5 people to take a nap! Views to the west of Cerro Arenales were some of the grandest mountain scenes I have ever witnessed. I thought the stuff in the North Cascades was awe inspiring, with with hundreds of mountains before me, all of which I know never get climbed, I couldn't help but count my blessings to be able to see such terrain few people have ever laid eyes on before.

Our descent began and we were able to easily scramble down to the flat part of the glacier separating Puno Este and Oeste. An easy walk across the flat upper glacier brought us to the top of the ridge I explored the previous day, and we began descending. To our shock though, we stumbled across a single aluminum crampon sitting on the talus just as we started going down the ridge. Knowing that Tad and Jim were just here the previous year we figured it was one of theirs, so Itai picked it up and we carried it down. The scramble down got more and more difficult, definitely class 4 in spots until we hit a 40 foot drop. We made a single rope rappel here but unfortunately the rope got stuck under a chockstone at the bottom of the rappel. Itai fought for 15 minutes to free it. Once freed, we continued and reached the top of the serac zone, where we made two double rope rappels. The first off a large horn down to a spot partway down the steepest part, at which point I realized the ropes wouldn't quite reach. So I stopped on a small ledge looking straight down into a huge gaping moat. The only anchor I could make was a single nut in a small crack. Here I anchored in and they met me on the small ledge. I went first with a questionable cam backing up the single nut and gingerly rappelled down the vertical face, and carefully jumped off the wall and over the moat onto the snow. This was one of the scariest raps we all have done.

Cerro Arenales is BIG
Cerro Arenales is BIG
Beginning the descent
Beginning the descent
Descending the upper glacier
Descending the upper glacier
Wishing we had time to run over to also climb Puno Oeste
Wishing we had time to run over to also climb Puno Oeste
Elaine rapping off just one nut onto the snow
Elaine rapping off just one nut onto the snow

The rest of the descent back down was uneventful. We made a great dinner to celebrate and went to sleep.

The last day would be a repeat of our first day in reverse. We needed to get back to the Balsa before 5 though in order to be able to cross Rio Baker and make it back to Cochrane. Otherwise we would have to spend another night out and I was beyond starving and we were nearly out of food. We made it down from the bushwhack in reasonable time (lots of cursing still occurred) and upon returning to the bikes we noticed one had a flat tire. Thankfully they gave us one spare tube so I quickly changed the tube and warned us all to avoid biking off the track because the thorny grasses would puncture the tires, and if any of us got another flat on the way out we were totally screwed!

We ended up biking the entire way out without any hitchhikes, and since we were making good time, we took the offer from Edwardo, another local homesteader to feed us his homemade stew. He was super nice and took us into his home (which he built) and fed us. Everyone in Chile is just so nice. He informed us it was mostly downhill the rest of the way to Rio Baker, and we made it to the barge with an hour to spare. Once across we met back up with the Austral and did manage to get a ride the 8km back to Cochrane by a very nice guy who actually did speak English. He even joined us for beers at the local brewery later that evening, which I was thrilled to have after such a huge effort to climb one mountain.

Departing view
Departing view
Just gross
Just gross
Views from X-890 Road
Views from X-890 Road
Crossing Rio Baker on the Balsa
Crossing Rio Baker on the Balsa
Annotated route topo of our ascent
Annotated route topo of our ascent
Overview map of the area with Puno Este marked
Overview map of the area with Puno Este marked

See part 2 to come tomorrow (yes I promise tomorrow!) for details of our ascent of Cerro Aguda, and how we returned that crampon to Jim Donini! It's a small world sometimes!

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gb
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PostThu Jan 03, 2019 4:37 am 
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Wow, Matt, looks like a great adventure. The scenery is so amazing and reminiscent of parts of the BC Coast Range. The glaciers are still large and very active, something that is hard to find now days.

Patagonia is one place I never visited because in my days of active climbing, the weather was very poor by reputation. At that time many who did month long trips got at most two days of good weather. But I've also never seen images from the part of the range you are in. Magnificent!
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RichP
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PostThu Jan 03, 2019 7:39 am 
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Yes, those are some unreal looking mountains and there are many unclimbed peaks in the Andes, still. Congratulations on making it there even if it turns out to not be a first ascent. Great adventuring!

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mike
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PostThu Jan 03, 2019 1:58 pm 
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I spent some time in  and around Cochrane before the Carretera Austral was built. The only way in was by boat from Puerto Ibanez or x-country from Argentina. I hitched in with friends who ran the yearly supply truck in the fall. We came in via Paso Roballo and down the Rio Chacabuco. Not much of a track. (photos) Once there the truck was used to ferry loads from the dock on Lago Carrera to Cochrane, There were no roads in the lower Rio Baker valley so we went on horseback. We went as far as the side valley that you turned up and stayed at an estancia where they made charqui. Unfortunately I only got to view the mountains from afar since the logistics were daunting back then.

FWIW: earlier that year we did some hiking with friends of Jim Donini who were bored sitting in base camp while he was up doing the first ascent of Torre Egger. (which gives away how old I am smile.gif  )

route in from Argentina
route in from Argentina
view of the lower Rio Baker from Rio Cochrane Falls. Your peaks are far right
view of the lower Rio Baker from Rio Cochrane Falls. Your peaks are far right
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Matt Lemke
High on the Outdoors



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High on the Outdoors
PostThu Jan 03, 2019 2:26 pm 
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mike wrote:
I spent some time in  and around Cochrane before the Carretera Austral was built. The only way in was by boat from Puerto Ibanez or x-country from Argentina. I hitched in with friends who ran the yearly supply truck in the fall. We came in via Paso Roballo and down the Rio Chacabuco. Not much of a track. (photos) Once there the truck was used to ferry loads from the dock on Lago Carrera to Cochrane, There were no roads in the lower Rio Baker valley so we went on horseback. Unfortunately I only got to view the mountains from afar since the logistics were daunting back then.

FWIW: earlier that year we did some hiking with friends of Jim Donini who were bored sitting in base camp while he was up doing the first ascent of Torre Egger.

route in from Argentina
route in from Argentina
view of the lower Rio Baker from Rio Cochrane Falls. Your peaks are far right
view of the lower Rio Baker from Rio Cochrane Falls. Your peaks are far right

Mike, that is so cool! Yeah that Torre Egger ascent by Jim was one hell of a feat. I'm glad I was able to meet him. He was housing a bunch of guys we had met in Chalten a few weeks prior and we all just happened to stumble upon one another once again in Puerto Guadal. That was probably my favourite town we visited in Chilean Patagonia. I hope to go back next winter for Puno oeste and disfiladero.

Amazing how even after the Austral was built the mountains are still incredibly difficult to reach, although before the Austral holy smokes the adventure needed would have been immeasurable.

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Simon Whimsy
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PostThu Jan 03, 2019 3:30 pm 
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Matt Lemke wrote:
Just gross
Just gross
Picket Range
Picket Range

Seems comparable to your Picket Range traverse trip. Absolutely lovely TR with photos that created noises of glacier basins to the morning winds of alpine towers. Congratulations on the huge accomplishment and for going out to see the hidden gems of South America.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > (Probable) First ascents in Patagonia - Cerro Puno Este & Cerro Agudo: Part 1
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