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Is Patagonia Now a Playground?

A crazy number of summits down in Patagonia this year begs the question: what's different?

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In the midst of a stunning Patagonian climbing season where once-seldom-summited peaks are seeing dozens of ascents—and coming on the heels of last years’ blitz where Cerro Torre’s Compressor Route was chopped and then freed—one can’t help but ask: is Patagonian climbing totally different now?

“Courtesy of climate change (the weather far from being what it used to be, the legendary storms being but a distant memory), the services and comfort in the nearby town of El Chaltén, the readily available and very accurate weather forecasts, collective knowledge and plentiful route and climb information (including and Patagonia Vertical—which are undoubtedly to blame) this massif is not the mythical ‘great range’ . . . Today, instead, it is a phenomenal playground where hundreds of climbers are having deeply fulfilling experiences,” Rolando Garibotti, an acknowledged authority on Patagonian climbing, recently wrote on his website.

This season has indeed seen a slew of impressive sends. On January 14, Markus Pucher of Austria free soloed the Ragni Route (600m M4) on Cerro Torre in just under 3 hours and 15 minutes. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 2012, a grand total of 28 climbers reached the summit by Ragni. By contrast, when the first climbers finally sent Ragni in 1974 (attempts had been made since 1958), it was only after two months of attempts and when they were nearly out of food.

Josh Huckaby and Mikey Schaefer also completed a new link-up of six peaks: Aguja CAT, all four fingers of Aguja Cuatro Dedos, Agujas Atchachila and Pachamama. They named their traverse Manos y Mas Manos. Argentinian climbers Roberto Treu, Wenny Sanchez, and Gabriel Fava also climbed a new finish on the Ragni Route, which they named Directa Huarpe, and then went on to climb a new line on the west face of Pilar Goretta. And most recently, Slovenian climbers Luka Krajnc and Tadej Kriselj put up a new line on Fitz Roy, which they named The Real Kekec (800m 5.11c A2).

While all of these recent sends are admirable, they also speak to the changing nature of Patagonian climbing. In the old days, climbers would wait out the notoriously severe weather in snow caves or cabins, praying for a one- or two-day window to make an ascent. Now, climbers are free soloing Cerro Torre and authoring multiple new lines in the same season.

With unusually good weather, the availability of reliable forecasts and strong climbing support networks some veterans suggest that Patagonian climbing just isn’t what it used to be.