Cerro Solo

Sunrise on Cerro Solo

Cerro Solo is another of the Chaltén area’s easier peaks, though unlike Tumbado and Madsen it requires legitimate mountaineering. After hiking the trail to Laguna Torre, the receding Torre Glacier’s terminal lake, the route crosses the Rio Fitz Roy via a Tyrolean, then continues on a climbers’ path in the forest above its south side. At a steep ravine, where the approach to Cerro Torre continues, another faint climbers’ trail climbs steeply left of the cascade, then fades in the debris of a bowl northeast of the upper glacier. Above this bowl, the route I chose crossed the glacier’s tongue to the right, climbed some slabs, then recrossed the glacier below some cliffs, finally climbing some talus and a bit of low-fifth-class rock on the left to reach the summit ridge. With mountain boots and front points it would probably be easier to go straight up the upper glacier, and the standard route might have climbed the glacier directly twenty years ago, but I have what I have, and the glacier is now much too crevassed.


The Laguna Torre trailhead is right up the street from the Casa de Ciclistas, so I started walking right from my tent. The trail rolls as it slowly gains elevation, generally staying away from and above the Rio Fitz Roy, which often flows in a narrow gorge. The trail eventually drops into an alluvial flat below the old terminal moraine, where it wanders interminably through rocks and brush before reaching the lake viewpoint, where most hikers stop. Just before that, a faint trail heads left to the Tyrolean. I had never done a Tyrolean traverse before, but knew roughly what to do, e.g. not to wear my backpack. Since the popular Huemul trek has two Tyroleans, shops in town rent a complete kit, probably for cheap, but I instead bought some webbing and a locking carabiner to make myself a diaper harness. It was a bit tricky to maneuver my crotch high enough to clip in, but I managed it, and had enough forearm strength to drag myself across the river. I stood on a rock to unclip, shoved the webbing and biner back in my pack, and continued along the now much fainter trail.

Scree bowl below glacier

I was pretty sure that the standard route was on the peak’s northeast side, but knew nothing about it other than that Joe had missed the turnoff a number of years ago. (Pataclimb.com has some info, but it is vague and out of date, and I did not see it until later.) I therefore wasted some time exploring the woods just past the river, following faint game trails until, not seeing any cairns, I decided that must not be the route. I eventually continued along the climbers’ trail and, at the ravine which I suspected might be the best route to get above the trees, I found a clear climbers’ trail. Where the trail faded, I thrashed through brush a bit, then retreated to cross the stream and continue up the bare side of the ravine, recrossing higher up to enter the bowl via its left side. Much of this was loose and obnoxious, but not difficult.

View from base of glacier

As I approached the glacier I naturally trended left, following an old lateral moraine, sketching my way across steep dirt below some cliffs, then climbing a chute and a third class rib to the glacier’s toe. The glacier looked badly crevassed, and kind of steep for my crampons, so it seemed best to head right and climb the rock on that side. Unfortunately the terrain below the glacier was complicated, with gullies, streams, and tongues of ice, so I had to put on crampons and cross a couple of pieces of ice to get there. The face had been baking all morning, so rocks were melting loose of the ice or the cliffs above and bombing down the glacier. I could at least hear them coming, but the glacier was a bad place to be. As I had hoped, though, life was much better on the right-hand slabs, and I made good time up to the final cliffs given my level of fatigue. There may be a moderate way directly up the right side of these cliffs, but they looked hard, and I thought they might be the finish of a route that spooked Colin Haley a number of years back when he soloed it. If he finds it sketchy, it’s out of my league.

Nearing upper glacier traverse

My best option was to cross back left across the glacier and find some other way to the summit. I put on crampons again, then made my way across the softening snow, dodging some large crevasses and occasionally sinking in calf-deep. I was mostly above the spontaneous rockfall, but there were still occasional cascades from recently-exposed choss to either side of the snow and ice. Speaking to some Real Climbers later, I have heard that th range in general is far too warm for safe climbing, and a number of people have been killed by avalanches or rockfall on the major peaks this season. Given my experience in the Alps last summer, I will have to consider this issue more in the future when planning trips to glaciated ranges.

Icefield from summit

The glacier headwall looked too steep and icy for my current gear, and there was a bergschrund at its base that looked not to have any easy bridges. My best bet seemed to be to reach the rock on the left, then climb the southeast ridge to get around the steep part. I sprinted under a rockfall zone, crossed a couple more small cracks, pecked my way up some ice, then switched to rock mode to see what I had found. The ridge looked horribly choss, but fortunately the rock was fairly solid underneath. The south side was steep, but it was not too narrow, and I managed to wander my way up with only a couple short stretches of fairly secure low-fifth-class climbing. I emerged on one of a line of false summits, sheer to the left and covered in low-angle glacier nearly all the way up on the right. Following a mix of soft snow and unstable choss, I traversed my way toward the highpoint.

Torre Glacier cirque

I was once again treated to near-perfect conditions, with a moderate breeze from the west that was blocked on some comfortable sitting ledges just below the summit to the east. The weather was changing again, so the Cerro Torre group was in and out of the clouds, while Fitzroy and the Torre Glacier were in the sun. To the west, I could see through the Paso del Viento to the Southern Patagonian Icefield. Both views were equally spectacular in their own ways: the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre ridges each rise over 6000 feet above the Torre Glacier in sheer granite walls; and the Icefield is pierced by greater and lesser peaks, with the lines of its flow toward Viedma Lake extending for miles, reminding me of the view from my last flight over Greenland. Cerro Torre’s summit came in and out of view, and I was close enough and far enough west to clearly see the summit rime mushroom, and some improbably vertical- or overhanging-looking snow and ice on its southwest face.

Complete Torre glacier

It was warm enough that, out of the wind, I could nap comfortably in just my hoodie, but I needed to think about getting down. Reversing my route, I was happy to be heading downhill across the glacier, and therefore moving through the rockfall zones slightly faster. I tried to follow the rock all the way below that, and ended up getting into some shenanigans in the cliffy slabs lower down. Not only that, but I still had to cross one small ice tongue to reach the reddish rib I had used on the ascent. The rest of the descent was mostly unremarkable, except that the cascade next to the climbers’ trail was much more intense in the afternoon heat, making the stream crossings a bit trickier.

Ice beach

There was just enough wind to herd all the icebergs to the eastern shore of Laguna Torre, where it would have been tempting to sunbathe on the beach next to them, but I was tired and had miles to walk. I was feeling my three days of hiking after three days of fighting headwinds, and was dreading the 5-6 miles back to town. I had seen a group just ahead of me on the Tyrolean, and caught them on the trail. One of them happened to be a guide who spent a lot of time in the eastern Sierra, and had traveled quite a bit internationally. We ended up talking for much of the return, which perceptually shortened the slog despite the slower pace. By the time he stopped to wait for his companions I was only a mile or two from “home,” pleased with the last few days’ results and ready for bad weather and rest.

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