As one travels south in Patagonia, access to peaks becomes more difficult, and information more scarce. The best known and most easily accessed peaks, such as Fitzroy and the Torres del Paine, are mostly of interest to Real Climbers, leaving me with dwindling options. The Cordon Los Ñadis is an island of lower peaks bounded by the Ñadis, Baker, and Carrera Rivers, with views of higher, better, and less accessible peaks in all directions. Its highpoint, only 5800 feet high and a few miles from a spur road off the Carretera Austral, seemed like one of the few things that was within my grasp. It was also a convenient stop along the ride between Lago Buenos Aires and Puerto Yungay, the ferry on the way to Villa O’Higgins. I found no information on how to climb the peak, but it seemed like the crux would be getting above treeline. I therefore returned along the road, filled up on water at the trailhead, and followed a trail hacked through brush and trees to near its highest point. Along the way I passed several signs labeling plants with their local and Latin names; all were indistinguishable to me, similarly brushy, spiky, and unpleasant. The only one that I could identify was “costilla de vaca,” a hardy fern. I was hoping for a use trail leading toward the peak from the highest of two lookouts, but found absolutely nothing, so shortly past that I left the trail at a semi-promising place and aimed uphill toward a bare ridge I had spotted from below. I soon discovered that the heather-like groundcover was actually calf-deep and consisted of a few species, some of which had spines. Some of the head-high shrubs were also barbed, and I quickly learned to spot which ones I could grab. All of it was fairly woody, and the ground beneath was loose and uneven, making for tricky and unpredictable footing. Making my way toward the ridge, I spotted some hoofprints and what looked like deer droppings — perhaps the huemules that road signs warned me not to hit with my bike? — though I never saw one, and there were too few to make a strong game trail. The ridge was loose, but mostly bare and easy, leading me almost to the base of some cliff bands. The brush to either side looked much worse, so I wove my way through the cliff bands, preferring occasional fourth-class rock to thrashing, and even finding stretches of easy tall grass. I naturally trended left, toward what seemed to be an open slope, and was rewarded with more easy travel. I tried to pick the highest glade, but eventually dead-ended into a forest, where I followed a streambed, then searched out the largest trees, which usually have the least undergrowth. Unfortunately the trees shrunk as I approached timberline, turning to something between oak and alder, and I was forced to walk from limb to limb, stomping them down or pushing them up to make a path for my body. The final ten feet to open gravel slopes were full-on tunneling. I was recording my track for the return, but also looking for better options. From there it was easy but tedious sand, gravel, and slabs, reminiscent of the Sierra, to the lower peak I was aiming for, about a mile north of the highpoint. The ridge crest was loose and tedious, and I was feeling more worn than expected, so the distance looked discouraging, and I resolved not to return over that peak. I followed the crest, side-hilled around one stretch, then dropped to a rounded saddle, with a U-shaped valley to the south and a lake to the northwest. From there it was more straightforward boulder-hopping to the highpoint. I had seen no footprints off the official trail, but there had been a cairn on the subpeak, and there was one on the highpoint as well. Clearly there must be more information about these peaks somewhere, but I do not know where to look or, more likely, who to ask. It had been partly overcast all morning, but it cleared as I napped on the summit, giving better light to the surrounding peaks. To the north and west lie a line of glaciated peaks along the other side of the Rio Baker, likely inaccessible without a packraft. Above and beyond are the southern peaks of the Northern Patagonian Icefield, completely mantled in snow and ice. Far to the east I could see Monte San Lorenzo, one of the high peaks of southern Patagonia and, more intriguing, a peak around 7800 feet high only a few miles on the other side of the Carretera Austral. I have not found a name for it, but once above the brush, it looks possibly climbable for someone like me via the northwest glacier and north ridge. I decided to at least consider climbing it as I passed. I descended to the saddle, then dropped down mostly pleasant sand to the lake, where I replenished my water — the heat was intense in the full sun — then contemplated other ways home. There seems to be an estancia along the Rio Baker, and a popular tourist outing follows an old cattle trail along the river leading, I think, to Tortel. If I found more open slopes in that direction, the greater distance would be more than made up for by less thrashing. Unfortunately I could not find such a slope from above, and a streambed I briefly explored turned impassable, so I traversed back toward my tried-and-true ascent route. I found another series of glades to its west, and though I had found a better way, but the easy travel ended at a band of small cliffs. I might have been able to pick my way down, but the brush below looked impenetrably dense. I could see my open ridge down and to the right, and chose to pay the price of thrashing over to it. This became intense, stomping through spiny groundcover while hanging onto larger bushes, trying to choose the path with the most non-spiny large bushes for handholds. At one point a handhold broke and I did a full backward somersault, not noticing the spines in my alarm. All the while, the biting flies were circling, so when I found a stance, I would stay still to let them land and begin their drilling process, then slap them while they were too focused. I have found this technique works well with the small black flies in the Cascades, and their larger Patagonian cousins are more intimidating, but no smarter, and far more satisfying to murder.
Finally back on my up-track, I followed the ridge until it gave out, then thrashed a bit more to reach the trail. Weirdly, there was a friendly old man from Luxembourg sitting at the higher viewpoint, admiring the peaks across the Baker. We spoke for awhile, and he had even biked the Carretera himself some years earlier, but I was too tired and hot to be conversational, so I did not linger too long. He suggested that I check out the herders’ route, which is blasted into the rock and quite impressive, but devoting another day (worth of food) to that seemed absurd. I tanked up on water again at the trailhead, then passed a guy and his horses along the road. Fortunately they did not bother me at my camp, so I was able to spend another free and peaceful night before continuing south.