Sunday, February 12, 2012

El Canal/Meliquina Mountain Traverse

Co. Agudo eastern edge of the Northern Icefield Photo by Frank Preston

On Jan 6th our students arrived for our next 30 day mountain trip. Frank Preston and I had planned a trip that started by heading up Rio El Canal to Canal Glacier teaching skills there, and then pushing over an exposed glacier shoulder to the Meliquina Glacier and traverse to Cerro La Torre and out the Leones Valley (about 125km).

Canal Glacier, Hyades in the distance and Queso Grande left of center Photo by Frank Preston

As far as we knew the route had not be done by NOLS and not many other people travel or even visit this particular area so we had little beta. Frank had been in the El Canal Valley the year prior and I had just finished a trip with friends on the Meliquina so we knew both those areas, linking them was uncertain though.

After we got the students there gear and organized them for what was to come we got on a bus and headed south to Lago General Carrera to Rio El Canal to start our trip.

We started with a 5 day re-ration and no technical gear. So we could get used to the basics of travelling and living. On day 5 we dropped down and got all our technical gear and 10 days of food. From our camp it was about 2 days travel to the glacier. We made it to our camp in good time and started to plan for technical glacier and snow classes to set the students up for peak climbs and leading ropes teams.

Teaching snow school Photo by Frank Preston

First day roped up on the Canal Glacier and travelling through firn zone Photo by Frank Preston

Frank and I split into 2 small groups, he took 6 students and attempted the east most sister and I took 2 students and scouted our next move.... the scout didn't take long as we made our way through a steep 3 class boulder field to the glacial shoulder. From views we had earlier we knew the glacier shoulder went.
So the 3 of use dropped back down to the Canal Glacier and headed west through firn to climb what we called Queso Grande of the Canal. We made good time getting up there navigated the bergshrund, climbed steep snow and a short section of 4th class rock to a scree slope that led us to the summit 2200m. The views of the Northern Icefield where spectacular! We headed back to camp.

The next day we pushed the route we scouted and then onto the Meliquina glacier where we dug in for 2 days to learn more skills and get a feel for perimeter camping. We taught snow pro, munter/mule, and got students leading rope teams.

Students on the Meliquina Glacier checking out this big old crevasse Photo by Frank Preston

Our 10 ration was coming to an end so we dropped down off glacier. A group headed down into the Meliquina Valley to get our next 8 days of food. When they returned we planned on heading back up to the glacier and traverse to Cerro La Torre. As we planned we made it to the nunatak camp below La Torre. Frank and I took 5 students and climbed a very exposed and wonderful snow ridge to a rock summit just out of camp. That night the winds started to come in and we packed up early the next morning and ran/got blown down trying to get off the glacier. The winds where probably in the 80-90km range. It was pulling the ice rounds from the frozen snow and pelting us as we ran. We got to shelter on a rock ridge and hunkered there for 2 days before we had to descend into the Meliquina Valley for an Asado (BBQ) at the local Quacho's Campo.

Beautiful ridge line climb with the nunatak camp behind Photo by Frank Preston

The Asado was great and we all really appreciated the hospitality Don Enrique Esponza showed us.

The next 8 days had Frank go with 4 students and I with the other 4 for different objectives. Do to weather not to much climbing happened. We got in position to climb Co. Poblete but the winds again had us running like chickens done the to the trees (90-110km). Even though the winds didn't allow us to climb we got to do an afternoon that involved ice climbing and pulley systems with a flatland demo of single team crevasse rescue.

Cerro Hyades with the winds coming Photo by Frank Preston

Overall an amazing mountain course area with 17 days of traveling on glacier, 4 peak climbs, and great cultural experiences!

Thanks to Frank and all the students for a great course!

Asado with Don Enrique Photo by Frank Preston

1 comment:

  1. Looks incredible Max. I am sure the students enjoyed the spectacular views and adventure! When do you go out again?