Scream of stone

“Scream of Stone”—an aptly named, feature-length film by Werner Herzog documents the personalities, egos, and drama involved with a climbing expedition to Cerro Torre. It’s shot on location and includes stunning footage of the mountains here. Although lower in elevation than Cerro FitzRoy (3100 meters compared to 3400 meters) Cerro Torre makes up for its diminutive stature with steeper slopes, harsher weather, and a cap of rime ice that can frustrate climbers trying to reach the very top. Rime ice forms when super-cold water (<32 degrees F) freezes upon contact with solid objects like trees or, in this case, rock. In the photo below (view from the east), rime ice is visible at the top of Cerro Torre and adjacent smaller peaks where water droplets froze onto the rock as they blew from the west, off the Patagonian ice field.


Lots of folks have written about the drama of climbing these granite spires. I recently read “Enduring Patagonia” by Gregory Crouch, who also writes articles about climbing for outdoor magazines. It’s a good book for taking you inside climbing culture—the shear boredom of waiting for weeks in base camp for the weather to improve; the stress of trying to make progress up or down a rock cliff while the weather is deteriorating. The first time he could only make it to the base of the infamous “mushroom”, the uppermost piece of rime ice that often has a nasty overhang. On another attempt he was able to make it to the top of the “mushroom” and look out upon the ice field. That top part of the peak looks incredibly nasty to me!

To demonstrate the fickle nature of the weather here—on Wednesday the forecast for the next two days was clouds and drizzle. But it rained during the night and we awoke to crystalline skies and perfect mountain views (Darwin is still smiling upon us!). On Thursday we hiked to a peak that was intriguing for a variety of reasons. It’s called Loma del Pliegue (slope of the fold) for the geologic structure that makes it up (see next posting!); the mudstone is filled with ammonite fossils; and best of all, there is a spectacular view of the entire range. In the photo below, Cerro Torre is on the left, Cerro FitzRoy is on the right, and Glacier Grande flows into Laguna Torre that has formed behind the most recent terminal moraine that is the curved hill of rocks in front of the lake.


How did the peaks get so jagged? You guessed it—the action of glacial ice! Globs of magma cooled deep within the earth to form the granite about 20 million years ago. Since then, they were uplifted to Earth’s surface, where they could be sculpted by glaciers. Granite is very durable and is one of the best rocks for ice to carve. The granite intruded into much older Mesozoic (>100 million years old) sedimentary rock that is mostly mudstone that crumbles when subjected to the action of ice. The next photo shows Cerro FitzRoy and the black mudstone the granite pushed its way into 20 million years ago. The mudstone has been much more eroded, and the more durable granite spires remain at higher elevations.


After the panoramic view, we yesterday hiked to Laguna Torre, which we had seen from the “fold hill” above. The photo below is taken from the terminal moraine, looking east toward Cerro Torre, Glacier Grande, and Laguna Torre. Note the size of boulders (people for scale) that were dumped by the glacier before it receded. A climbers’ base camp is located just behind the moraine, at about 600 meters elevation.


Here’s a profile (cross sectional) view of another recessional moraine, located farther east in the valley, and Rio FitzRoy, which has its work cut out for it—carrying all of those large boulders away from the glacier to the flat lands below.


Finally, an example of the eclectic town of El Chaltén. At the start of the Laguna Torre trail is a cute little trailer where a family sells drinks and snacks to trekkers! Note the “toque timbre” (ring the bell) sign! And below that, yet another view of this stellar mountain range. Although it was a sunny day, the winds were still fierce on the ridge top.



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