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Matt Lemke
High on the Outdoors



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Matt Lemke
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High on the Outdoors
PostThu Jan 03, 2019 8:33 pm 
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This is part 2 of this two part trip report. See part 1 here if you haven't already. This report describes our ascent of the west ridge of Cerro Agudo to the west peak (elevation about 2,641m).

After we returned to Cochrane after climbing Cerro Puno Este, we were completely exhausted and tried to hitchhike the last 8km back to Cochrane on the Austral. Amazingly we were picked up right away by an English speaking Chilean resident who was very interested in our journey. He even shared beers with us later that evening, and we probably received the best recommendation from his than anyone we met on the whole trip. He gave us the contact of a Frenchman named Phillipe, who owns the Terra Luna Resort and Lodge on Lago General Carrera just outside Puerto Guadal. He would be able to assist us in accessing some really remote areas for a reasonable price, utilizing his jet boat tours he normally runs on a daily basis. He is also a mountain climber and was happy to serve us, and allowed us to simply camp on his lawn for cheap instead of paying for an expensive room. Although his services were still expensive, it was worth the price (which I'll describe more about lower down).

So, the next morning, we took a mini-bus (more like a van) back north and got off in Puerto Guadal, which at first seemed like a tiny, kinda dead little town tucked into a little cove on the big lake, but we would soon find this place was teeming with local life, and was slightly off the tourist track the Austral brings so we also ran into a small climbing scene as well. This is also where Jim Donini (who I mention in part 1), and Ben, who we ran into a few times in the previous weeks, live! It didn't take long for us to find out why they live here either...it really is a special little town kept apart from all the hustle and bustle of tourists like what's found at Puerto Rio Tranquilo, which is overrun by tourists.

After chatting with Phillipe, we came up with a plan and decided that as long as his scheduled jet boat tour that went up Rio Leones the next morning was a go, we would join, and he would drop us off at the southwestern corner of Lago Leones at the mouth of Rio San Tadeo. Although it was raining the next morning, his clients decided to go on the tour and so we packed up our gear, stashed whatever we didn't need for the trip in one of Phillipe's cabins, and organized our food for 6 days. Amazingly, just moments before we were all going to pile up into the jet boat, John, Ricky, and Tad (who we all met up with in Chalten one month prior) raced up right to us in Jim Donini's Jeep with Jim and his wife, and the whole crew of climbers we hung out with in Chalten. Apparently Itai sent a Whatsapp message to John asking him for Jim's contact info so we could ask Jim if that was his crampon we had found on Puno. It just so happened that John and all our friends from Chalten were hanging out at Jim's home for the past few days after they made an attempt on the legendary 1300 meter high NE buttress of San Valentine, which still has yet to even see anyone even get to the base of that route. We ran across Ricky in Guadal while we were grocery shopping, who was climbing with John in Chalten, and on their San Valentine attempt and he later informed Jim we were at Terra Luna. Then, to our complete surprise and without warning, they all just appeared at Terra Luna, unknowing we were just about to leave!

We gladly returned Jim's crampon, who was beyond surprised to run into some new faces and to see his route from two years ago revisited with a new variation. We all chatted for a bit before we boarded the boats and Jim and the gang returned. We all planned to meet up again as soon as we got back however. So off we went in one of the jet boats (my first time riding one!). We made quick time racing north across the west end of Lago General Carrera, and started up Rio Leones. The entire way up this river started calm, but the river soon became narrower and rougher with Phillipe driving the boat through every rapid and obstacle perfectly. The boat ride really was a thrilling experience, complete with a soaking from both rain and splash. At times we were boating up class 5 rapids, and I couldn't believe we didn't hit a rock. Upon asking him if he's ever hit rocks before he laughed with a resounding yes.

We portaged the jet boats just about a mile from the outlet for the large and brilliantly blue Lago Leones. Here we all (the 3 of us along with the normal tour group) walked a flat trail adjacent the river to the lake where Phillipe had a few smaller floating pontoon motor boats we would then board for the ride to the west end of Lago Leones, where the large XXX Glacier dumps right into the lake, often calving off large chunks of ice. We all ate lunch here, then Phillipe dropped us off with all our gear for 5 days. We said our farewells and began caching half our food along the beach in a hidden location before starting the bushwhack up the right (west) side of the drainage dropping northward from the alpine cirque directly below Cerro Agudo.


Part of the Terra Luna Property
Part of the Terra Luna Property
Avallano Towers rising high above the lake
Avallano Towers rising high above the lake
Our jet boat
Our jet boat
Lago Leones
Lago Leones
Cerro Cristal and Tronco
Cerro Cristal and Tronco
Boating across Lago Leones
Boating across Lago Leones
Nearing Glacier Leones
Nearing Glacier Leones
First views of Cerro Agudo
First views of Cerro Agudo
The drainage we would hike up (slopes above and to right side of creek)
The drainage we would hike up (slopes above and to right side of creek)

This particular area of the Aysen region of Chile sits directly east of the mighty Campo de Helio Norte (Northern Patagonia Icefield). The three big mountains seen from the east end of Lago Leones (Cristal, Tronco, and Mocho) are all but small rock outcroppings at the edge of the icefield. From the lake, you cannot see the massive icefield looming behind these peaks, however from our later vantage atop Agudo, we got an up close and personal view of one of the wildest places in the Americas.

So we began our ascent from our drop-off point, and as we climbed up alongside the creek, we ended up leaving the rocky creek bed too early and cut too far to the right, and found ourselves in some very thick bushes of lenga, calafate and other shrubs. It was very slow going, and morale was lowest when we were forced to cross a small side stream with perhaps the largest leafed plants I have ever seen. Leaves the size of cars growing straight out of the ground in excess of 10 feet tall with thorny stems sometimes 6 inches thick! Luckily they were fairly easy to maneuver through but damn, these were the oddest plants I've ever seen. We struggled for over an hour traversing back to the left until we eventually got to somewhat more open slopes, but still with many thorny Calafate bushes to scratch us up. Eating their tasty berries relieved the pain they caused somewhat.

After about 400 meters of gain from Lago Leones, the terrain leveled out and we entered a more treed forest with less underbrush which was a very nice alternative. We continued up the valley until treeline was reached, and we could now see the remainder of our approach. Due to the heavy rains that fell the previous day, our feet were completely soaked and we still had plenty of boggy terrain to cross and a plethora of other streams to navigate. Eventually we made it to the final headwall just below the alpine tarn we were aiming for, and we scrambled/schwacked another 150 meters up, cutting right to work around a short cliff band and arriving at the beautiful tarn, with Cerro Agudo towering high above. We saw an old small rock wall that was potentially built long ago near the lake shore and set up the tents. We spent an additional hour or so building the wall up (this was becoming normal practice due to the Patagonia winds) and enjoyed a nice dinner. We communicated with Phillipe regarding our progress with the Inreach, and he informed us that weather was going to be taking a nosedive for a while. We decided to play it by ear and if it was raining in the morning we would simply wait.

Beginning the ascent
Beginning the ascent
Horrid bushwhacking
Horrid bushwhacking
Finally some trees!
Finally some trees!
Peaceful forest
Peaceful forest
Cerro Agudo
Cerro Agudo
Cannot wait to climb it
Cannot wait to climb it
View back towards Glacier Leones and Cerro Mocho
View back towards Glacier Leones and Cerro Mocho
Nice camp spot
Nice camp spot
Twilight over Cristal, Tronco and Mocho
Twilight over Cristal, Tronco and Mocho

Unfortunately, it rained all the next day, and the day after that...We were forced to make a tough decision, and elected to forgo plans to move to the opposite side of Lago Leones and try for Cristal, and instead continue to wait at the base of Agudo. After sitting in the tent for two straight days, we awoke on the third day to halfway decent skies but still not good enough to climb. We used this day to return back to the lake shore, back down the bushwhacking and retrieve our remaining food supply. We then of course had to hike back up to camp, but we nailed the best route this time around with only minimal class 4 bushwhacking. It was at the very least nice to get the legs moving after two days of laying on the ground doing nothing.


Halfway decent weather!
Halfway decent weather!
Fresh snow on Agudo...hope it melts!
Fresh snow on Agudo...hope it melts!
Back at Lago Leones for food stash
Back at Lago Leones for food stash
Now this was a really big leaf
Now this was a really big leaf
Cerro Cristal at center
Cerro Cristal at center

With high hopes for better weather the next day, we cooked a fresh dinner and went to bed early with the alarm set for 5am. To our dismay though, it rained all night and didn't stop at all throughout the next day. Ugh, yet another day sitting in the tent. We messaged Phillipe once again to ask about weather updates, and he responded with exciting news that high pressure was moving back in, and we should be good to go the next day. Excitement and stoke was driven back inside us as we saw the glow of sunset colors hitting Cerro San Valentine and watched the clouds rise, and depart. Above us, the fiery sunset colors provided a dazzling show on Agudo, and we once again studied the route we would take, directly up the west ridge (right skyline from our vantage at camp). It was a chilly evening but that didn't stop me from taking copious amounts of photos!

Clearing on Cerro Agudo
Clearing on Cerro Agudo
Clouds slowly departing over the northern Patagonia icefield
Clouds slowly departing over the northern Patagonia icefield
San Valentin finally shows herself. This is the highest mountain in all of Patagonia
San Valentin finally shows herself. This is the highest mountain in all of Patagonia
Excitement so high I barely slept
Excitement so high I barely slept

By 6:30am we were off and beginning our ascent under clear skies. We couldn't help but admire the gorgeous reflection of the sunrise hitting San Valentin and the icefield. The climb started by scrambling up some old moraine complete with hard steep scree and lots of talus for about 150 meters, then we traversed left on a wide bench and into the glacier slabs that have been recently exposed from the melting of the many smaller alpine glaciers that used to completely flank these satellite peaks of the icefield. Scrambling these slabs was much more enjoyable, and we trended left for a class 3-4 gully that allowed access past the cliff band guarding the crest of the west ridge. We cairned our way up this gully and beyond to the ridge crest since this was crucial to the route down and hard to see from above. This ended up proving to be a total lifesaver. When we stood atop the ridgecrest, I couldn't believe my eyes. Before me lie a view even grander than the summit of Puno Este...I couldn't believe it could get any better but it did. We were 850 meters above the tarn where we camped and we could really see the sheer size of the icefield to the west, and got a much better view of the surrounding peaks like Cerro Hyades, Cono Helado, San Valentine and we even saw Puno way in the distance to the south! We took a nice break here to admire the beauty, and look for future routes.

Sunrise on San Valentine
Sunrise on San Valentine
Cannot get enough of this beauty
Cannot get enough of this beauty
West ridge is the right skyline
West ridge is the right skyline
The higher we went the bigger the mountains looked
The higher we went the bigger the mountains looked
Scrambling up the glacier slabs
Scrambling up the glacier slabs
More glacier slabs
More glacier slabs
San Valentine and Lago Leones
San Valentine and Lago Leones
Cerro Hyades
Cerro Hyades
Looking ahead at our route up Cerro Agudo from where we crested the west ridge
Looking ahead at our route up Cerro Agudo from where we crested the west ridge

From this point, the climbing really began, we knew from studying the route from camp there was three steep rises (or steps) on the ridge with easier scrambling terrain between them. We quickly made it to the first step and scrambled up a hidden 4th class gully that was covered in 4-6 inches of fresh snow. Soloing this with the snow made it low 5th class for sure, and really added to the spice to start out the climb. Beyond there was a stretch of class 2-3 scrambling until the base of the 2nd step, which we broke out the ropes for. I led a full 60m pitch, followed by Itai leading another 40m pitch on mostly class 5.6 terrain which dumped us off on a very large and flat section of ridge. At one point it did get quite narrower however and added difficulty to what at first looked like an easy walking section. We then reached the base of the third step, which we scrambled up blocky terrain along the ridge until we were no longer comfortable soloing. At a vertical 5.7 wall, we again roped and Itai led through this obstacle, which got a little thin at the top but still very manageable, and solid for the high alpine. I then led another pitch above that going up a chimney that was still caked in fresh snow, albeit melting in the warm sun. I got pretty soaked leading a scary 5.7 area with few good holds, all of which were very wet. The ascent finished with a wildly exposed ridge traverse up to the summit of the slightly lower west peak of Cerro Agudo.

It was already abut 5pm and while I desperately wanted to tackle the remainder of the traverse to the true summit, we would not have the time. To finish the entirety of the west ridge would require a single rope rappel off the west peak into a notch, leave the rope (to allow prussiking on return), then make a very scary traverse around a gendarme to a second notch, where a fall would be 100% fatal, then climb a class 3 gully maybe 100 feet or so to the summit. Of course the traverse would have to be repeated on return likely adding at least 2 hours round trip from the summit of the west peak, which would force us to bivy there, something we weren't prepared for. This finishing traverse we were not able to see from camp at the tarn below. We ate a quick snack and congratulated one another on a fine ascent, then had to start descending.

Ascending the first of 3 steps with fresh snow
Ascending the first of 3 steps with fresh snow
Approaching the start of the 2nd step
Approaching the start of the 2nd step
Climbing the 2nd step
Climbing the 2nd step
Our camp way down there
Our camp way down there
A nice slab to climb
A nice slab to climb
Traversing ledges looking for the best route
Traversing ledges looking for the best route
Cerro Hyades
Cerro Hyades
Elaine on the summit of the west peak
Elaine on the summit of the west peak

We retraced our route down, building an anchor every rappel we made (there were no signs of any previous ascents on this ridge). Just as the sun set behind the icefield we finished our last rappel and made it back to the lower ridge where we began descending back down the slabs. It got dark just as we dropped off the ridgecrest, and we struggled very hard to find our cairns, but managed to follow them to the critical 4th class gully that brought us down into the lower basin, however this wasn't the hardest part. There was no moon and our headlights weren't the greatest since we hadn't ever used this on the entire trip yet. Plus, in the lower basin we didn't place any cairns so we were more or less blindly descending in the general direction we thought we needed to go, knowing we had to find the long ledge allowing the only passage from the glacier slabs back down to the moraine slopes to the tarn. If we descended too quickly we would reach steep cliffs that dropped down to the opposite side of the tarn. After hours of slowly walking down, we were losing our mental capacity to continue searching our way through the darkness. Our progress down was very slow, but when we were about to give up and sit the rest of the night out on a rock, Itai found one of the cairns he built earlier that morning directing the way to the wide ledge we needed to traverse. From there we knew where we were again and safely made the final descent down the talus to the lake, where we simply crawled inside the tents and went right to sleep, totally spent. It was 1:30am.

Rapping down
Rapping down
Sun setting behind Hyades
Sun setting behind Hyades

The next morning, as much as I would have liked to climb something else since it was another beautiful day, we messaged Phillipe and requested three seats be saved on the boat for us to be picked up. We were all too exhausted to try another climb. Despite how amazing it was, I had that nagging felling that we didn't quite reach the true summit, and we waited through 4 days of bad weather for it, but in the end it was still worth it, and I concluded I will most certainly be back to this beautiful area.

We packed up and started to descend back to Lago Leones, and Phillipe said he will be there to pick us up around 1:30pm. We made it to the lake shore with an hour to spare and enjoyed the stashed beers we had placed in the lake water 6 days prior. Unfortunately one of them had mysteriously disappeared though...

Phillipe arrived and took us around the bend to the normal lunch spot for his clients right next to the calving Glacier Leones, and we were greeted by a nice group of tourists who were interested to hear about our trip.

Departing view. I think I cried a little leaving this place
Departing view. I think I cried a little leaving this place
Rare sighting of a Heumel; This is the only large wild animal we saw in Patagonia
Rare sighting of a Heumel; This is the only large wild animal we saw in Patagonia
Back at lunch counter with the tourists and Phillipe
Back at lunch counter with the tourists and Phillipe
Last view of Agudo from the boat ride out
Last view of Agudo from the boat ride out
Jetboating on Rio Leones
Jetboating on Rio Leones

The boat ride back this time around was much more scenic due to the perfectly clear skies. We met an Israeli/Chilean woman named Ruth who was helping out Phillipe for the day who was particularly interested in our trip, as she had a cabin right next door to Jim Donini! She allowed us to stay there upon us returning to Terra Luna, where we could relax and enjoy the beautiful lakefront views her cabin offered of San Valentine and many surrounding peaks. After chatting with Jim when we got back, and thanking Phillipe for his amazing service and hospitality, we made our way down the road a couple miles to her cabin. If there was one thing I could describe as paradise, that cabin was it. Sipping wine on the porch there with Lago General Carrera and Valentine as a backdrop at sunset was the best possible way I could have imagined to celebrate such a fine trip.

Sunset from our little home away from home next door to Jim Donini
Sunset from our little home away from home next door to Jim Donini

See the images below for more details regarding the route we took.

Overview map of the Valle Leones area
Overview map of the Valle Leones area
Annotated route topo
Annotated route topo

For additional reference, Phillipe charged each of us $300 USD round trip for the boat service. Expensive compared to the rest of our trip, but worth it overall.

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The Pacific coast to the Great Plains = my playground!!!
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iron
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getting old
PostThu Jan 03, 2019 8:59 pm 
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real deal!

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man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?

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RichP
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PostThu Jan 03, 2019 9:40 pm 
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That is truly some mind-blowing scenery. You are living the life, Matt.

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altasnob
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PostSat Jan 05, 2019 9:33 pm 
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Amazing photos. Thanks for sharing.
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fffej50
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PostSun Jan 06, 2019 12:14 pm 
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impressive trip report/adventure outstanding photos .... those bizarre giganto rhubarb like plants you schwacked through are living in my yard and are known as "dinosaur plants" at the local nursery and thrive here (Poulsbo) I forget the actual name but dinosaur works...
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > (Probable) First ascents in Patagonia - Cerro Puno Este & Cerro Agudo: Part 2
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