Patagonia’s Pinnacles of Pleasure & Pain

The Behemoths—Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre

Standing a mere 11,020 feet, Mt. Fitz Roy is a goliath in the mountaineering world. It’s nearby brother Cerro Torre is a tad over 10,000 feet yet fewer than a dozen have ever climbed it.

Much fewer climbers ascend Argentina’s  Fitz Roy than they do Nepal’s Mt. Everest’s iconically deadly 29,000 feet. That’s partially because Fitz is not a bucket list climb, yet it’s also an extreme challenge where many have tragically failed to summit.

With its chiseled nearly 5,000 foot pinnacle knife-edge façade, the peak is held loosely together by unforgiving sheer granite surfaces. Fitz produces its own chilling weather that includes frequent winds and summer snow. Not surprisingly it ranks as the world’s fourth most treacherous mountain behind Everest, Mt. Vinson, Antarctica and Europe’s Matterhorn. It was first climbed in 1952 by French alpinist Lionel Terray and one team a year is lucky to bag it compared to 641 climbers who successfully summited Everest in 2016. When Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins climbed it in 1989 it became the symbol for  Chouinard’s company Patagonia.

Tusker’s Patagonia treks do not summit, but they do allow trekkers to hike in Fitz Roy’s grand shadow on strenuous day hikes that offer spectacular views that includes Fitz’ serrated sister peaks, Saint Exupery, and Poincenot.  Seeing Cerro Torre in neighboring Chile from lower terrain is a big piece of Tusker’s Patagonia itinerary. Cerro Torre is the crown jewel of the Cordillera Paine massif, the centerpiece of Torres Del Paine National Park. Many consider the Paine massif the most visually appealing in the world and the world’s top nature photographers have chronicled its throne-like towering majesty.

If you like far flung mountains and the legends they inspire, you’ve come to the right place.

Backcountry backstory

Fitz Roy was named for Vice Admiral Robert Fitzroy who commandeered HMS Beagle whose passengers included Charles Darwin in the mid-1800s. They spent five years together along the South American coast feuding almost daily (the crew nicknamed the prickly Fitzroy “hot coffee”) but science was never the same thanks to Darwin’s evolutionary theories that came from his visits to Peru’s Galapagos Islands.

It wasn’t science, but mountaineers that finally put Patagonia on the tourist map in the 1950s when climbers attempted ascents of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.

Chile’s Cerro Torre stands at 10,262 and has even fewer successful ascents than Mt. Fitz Roy, but has spawned as many controversies as Patagonia has sheep.  It was supposedly first climbed in 1959 by Italy’s Cesare Maestri, but that has been under intense debate for decades. When an avalanche swept Maestri and his climbing companion Tony Egger off a col near the top their cameras were lost and no photographic proof of the final ascent was presented.  The only proof that he made the summit was Maestri’s credibility and that has been questioned in the years since.

Maestri used an air compressor to drill bolts on the pristine pinnacle to make his climb.  In 2012 hotshot 20 somethings Colorado’s Hayden Kennedy and Canadian Jason Kruk climbed the peak without bolts and on the way down ripped out 125 of Maestri’s bolts because they debased the mountain. Many climbers lauded them for returning Cerro Torre to it pristine state while other alpinists accused them of erasing mountaineering history.

Fitting into the Tusker pantheon

The debate rages, but one thing is not undeniable—trekking routes beneath the famous peaks in the Torres Del Paine and Los Glaciares National Parks are among the world’s best.

On Tusker’s upcoming trips to Southern Patagonia Nov. 6, 2017 and March 5, 2018 a series of arduous hikes in both national parks offer stunning panoramas of the famous peaks. The Torres Del Paine trip is highlighted by a five day trek on the W circuit that weaves through the lakes and highland approaches to Cerro Torre. Glaciers lie below Cerro Torre and miradors or lookouts offer drop-dead photo ops of the Paine massif.

On the Argentine option two major day hikes include a 14 mile, ten hour hike that brings the group to Laguna de los Tres, a cirque lake that rises to just under 4,000 feet, but provides a close up of Fitz Roy towering above. The minute you step out of your historic hostel near the village of El Chalten, Fitz Roy is a constant presence and you can soak of plenty of mountaineering lore in the village’s shops and bars as photos of the early mountaineers are posted.

Mountaineer’s pain/ Photog’s pleasure 

Tusker’s Patagonia trek is different from its peak bagging Kilimanjaro trip and its long hike to Nepal’s Everest Base Camp. Patagonia is a low altitude, highly biodiverse, and scenic adventure. Sometimes you don’t have to be on the summit to be blown away by a spectacular landscape.  These are nearly impossible peaks to climb; they remain the province of professional climbers.

Put your peak-bagger ego on hold while checking to make sure your photo gear is ready for the swirly Patagonia weather. When it breaks and offers views of the Paine and Fitz Roy massifs you will be glad you’re below the peak, not risking everything to climb them.

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