THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN': 2006-07 IN ARGENTINE PATAGONIA

Posted on: January 3, 2007


By the end of December 2006, the inclement weather in Argentine Patagonia had shut down most if not all climbing efforts, and the only news to report is the effective changes of two topics of interest to climbers and, for that matter, trekkers.

Since the early 1990s the northern area of Glaciares National Park in Argentina (namely the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre area) has seen an explosive rate of growth in the number of visitors, from a few hundred in the early 1980s to 20,000 in 1998 to 45,000 in 2005, mainly from the trekking industry, but also a fluctuating focus from climbers. Too much pressure on too few resources has resulted in the unsightly trashing of trails and the degradation of huts, the cumulative effect of commercial use, international trekking popularity and the general problem we could term "human parasitism," albeit on a microcosmic scale.

One step taken by Glaciares National Park officials effects the "climbers' hut" at Campo De Agostini (aka Bridwell), a rustic structure made of logs and nylon that was built in 1987, then quadrupled in size in 1994. As of the end of 2006, this climbers' hut has been permanently taken down, and the huts in the Rio Blanco base-camp will be dismantled and removed in the near future. The Park intends to enforce a policy that allows no structures of any kind to be built. This includes any kind of shelter other than a tent. Those planning to base out of those camps should consider bringing a Megamid or Kiva-type tent in which to cook.

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In the mid 1980s, when these huts were built, the town of El Chalten did not exist. In the last few years a large percentage of climbers have started basing themselves in El Chalten and hiking directly into the mountains when the weather improves. This approach lengthens their journey by a fairly insignificant two hours. The National Park would like to encourage this as a way of focusing the environmental impact in the town itself where the infrastructure for trash and human waste is at least somewhat installed. Park officials believe that living inside a National Park for extended periods of time is a sensitive issue, one that is seldom permitted in other parks around the world. While they do not intend to ban camping within the Park boundaries, they do hope climbers will cooperate by trying to reduce their impact within the Park as much as possible.

The other development that will affect climbers regards horses. Horses have had a severe impact on the trails that surround the town of El Chalten. In an attempt to counter some of the environmental degradation that is taking place in the Park, starting in September 2007, the use of horses to transport equipment and food on the trails surrounding the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre massif will no longer be allowed.

This new regulation will have a direct impact on climbers who for the last couple of decades have relied on horses to carry their gear to their respective base-camps. Climbers planning to visit the area in the 2007-08 season should come prepared to carry their gear and food, or hire porters if they are planning to base out of the Rio Blanco or Bridwell/De Agostini camps.

The Piedra del Fraile base camp, located on the northern flank of the Fitz Roy Massif, will not be affected by the aforementioned regulation changes since it is on private property bordering the park. Climbs out of that camp lie within the Park, however, and, as with all Park climbs/expeditions, need to be registered in the Park headquarters in El Chalten. (Registration to date remains free.)

These changes mark the end of an era, and climbers will have to adapt. The half-full glass perspective observes that there exists free and very cheap camping in town where one can shower, eat well, and take advantage of the El Chalten's extreme rain shadow, where cragging and bouldering are good and accessible. Just don't get sucked into the night life! The half-empty glass perspective notes the resulting conformity, and heavy loads to base camps if one chooses to camp a little closer to the mountains.

(This NewsWire relies in part on excerpts from a letter sent out by Carlos Dupres, Chief Ranger, Los Glaciares North District)

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