Cerro Martial is the highest point along the ridge of peaks north of Ushuaia, above and to the west of the Martial Glacier, a popular tourist attraction visible from town. I had one more full day in Ushuaia, and one morning of good weather, so I wanted to do a peak that, if not exactly ambitious, at least did not have a trail to its summit. A track on Peakbagger made it a certain and not particularly adventurous thing, but it would still cap the trip with some sense of success and accomplishment. I left my pseudo-hotel again by bike, taking my puffy jacket, rain jacket, and crampons this time, but leaving my ice axe behind. Instead of parking at the base of the Martial Glacier road, I rode all the way to the base of the ski hill. I thought I would have to start hiking there, but a decent dirt road continued from there, saving me another mile or so of walking and promising a fast, fun descent. I passed some poor unfortunate walkers on the way up, locked my bike to the sign, then headed up the trail. The weather, while not exactly clear, was at least decent up high. The official trail to the glacier viewpoint stays on the east side of the valley, but another trail, closed off yet marked with yellow-painted stakes, climbs along the west. I followed this trail until where it fades out of existence in a talus-field, then headed more or less straight up the slope west toward Martial’s south ridge. It looked steep from below, but proved no harder than class 3 in a few places; the crux may have been avoiding the bits of high-angle swamp. The trip report associated with the track on Peakbagger mentioned climbing a glacier or snowfield, and since I had only minimal snow gear, I figured the rock would be easier. I trended gradually north, but ended up on the west ridge a ways before the summit. The wind was mostly from the northwest, so I was happy to be traversing a protected southeast-facing slope as I made my way toward something that looked like a summit. Reaching my supposed summit, I was dismayed to see another broad and slightly higher point farther north, which a belated look at my map confirmed was the true summit. The connecting ridge was along the edge of the layered uplift forming the range, and therefore either slabby or crumbly to either side, often steep on both, and serrated on top. I made my way carefully along the crest and right-hand side, traversing ledges were I could and carefully scrambling up and down crumbly stuff covered in fresh snow where I could not. Once at the final saddle, I easily hiked up a scree slope with bits of trail, apparently back on-route. The summit had a nice sign with the name Monte Martial and an elevation. Many of the surrounding peaks were covered in clouds, but I could clearly see the next ridges east and west, and had a view down to town and the Beagle Channel. I caught a brief glimpse of Cerro Tonelli to the north, enough to confirm that it was both clearly higher and an arduous traverse away. The clouds were whipping in from the northwest fast enough that I did not want to play around up high much longer, so I soon retreated, deciding to try something more like the standard route on the way down. I followed a ramp along one of the layers, which led to the ravine south of the main Martial Glacier, and crossed back to the slope I had climbed on the way up. This route crossed one small bit of glacier or permanent snowfield, but it was buried in enough fresh snow that I felt no need for crampons. I saw many more tourists out making their way up the trail as I jogged down to my bike — Argentinian tourists are remarkably tolerant of inclement weather. I blasted by still more as I coasted down the ski area, then had a fun pavement descent back to my lodging. Flying home was the usual ordeal. I rode to the airport with my folded-up bike box, finally getting a view of the distant, glacier-clad Darwin Range on my only truly clear day in Ushuaia. I boxed everything up near the tiny airport’s ticket counter, trying to stay out of the way of the milling, jostling cruise ship passengers. While I was packing up, an enormous and slow-moving line materialized, and I almost missed my flight before flagging down an airline employee. “Why didn’t you respond when I asked earlier?” she said. “Lo siento,” I replied, while thinking “because you were speaking rapid Spanish in a noisy crowd, and I was trying to tune out my surroundings so the crush of bovine humanity did not drive me insane.” The takeoff from Ushuaia would have had great views, but my last-minute ticket and checkin ensured I had a middle seat, so I saw only flashes of the peaks. My clearest view was actually on my neighbor’s phone screen, as she recorded the whole thing out the window. We are spoiled at how easy it is to travel halfway around the world — a few hours to Buenos Aires, an overnight flight to Miami, and another few to Denver — but I still grumbled at having to schlep my “checked” baggage between every leg. The bit in Miami was particularly aggravating, as I had to take it a couple hundred yards from the American baggage carousel to another American employee who put it on a different conveyor belt. The airport “helpfully” offered $9 roller carts for this unnecessary trip, a reminder that while Chile is notable for capitalist rent-seeking and nickel-and-diming, it is but the student, and America is the master.
So that was Patagonia. I doubt I will return, because life is short and the world is large, but if I did, I would do several things differently. First, I would avoid the Carretera Austral as much as possible. While it was an impressive feat of nationalist road-building and no doubt a spectacular ride in its infancy, it is a beaten-in tourist trench at this point, with locals completely numb to visitors and well on their way to becoming souvenir hawkers. I would travel more side-roads, cover less north-south distance, and bring more gear to deal with difficult cross-country travel. Patagonia has a lot of genuinely unexplored terrain, something long gone in the American West. Everything here is mapped, climbed, documented, and easily searchable. In Patagonia, particularly west of the Carretera and south of Coyhaique, there are a lot of unnamed and probably unclimbed peaks. They are not big and sheer enough to attract Real Climbers, but are ideal for someone with more interest in the unknown than renown.