Cerro Tronador – South America Blue Bird and Ice Cracks

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An extinct volcano, Tronador rises far above everything around it, jagged and glaciated. Unlike many of the other high peaks in the area, it isn’t a symmetrical cone shaped volcano. After seeing Tronador From the ridges above Refugio Frey, it was clear that we needed to ski it.

Bariloche is close to Tronador, but access isn’t easy without a car. We decided to rent a small car for a few days. We picked it up in the morning, and puzzle-pieced all our gear inside. The poor neighborhoods we drove through on our way out of town provided quite a contrast to the relatively rich town center, known as the “Aspen of the Andes.”

The summit of Tronador, as seen from above Refugio Otto Meiling. The snow perfectly hides numerous crevasses. Mandatory rope travel.


A few hours later, we arrived at the village of Pampa Linda. After hearing how the park service requires you to leave your trip itinerary and names with them, we searched around for the correct employee. After consulting the police and a few shops, it seemed the park ranger was out of the office. We left a note on the door, and started walking up the trail. A former road that is popular with trekkers in the summer, the trail was easy and well signed. After a few hours, we heard the sound of an ATV roaring up the road behind us. It turned out to be the missing park ranger, who confirmed our return time and that we had avalanche beacons, before turning around and roaring back down the trail. I doubt a park ranger would be able to do the same in the States!

In Spanish, Tronador means “thunderer.” As we hiked up the trail the mountain lived up to its name. Every 20 minutes or so, we would be treated to the sound of distant tons of ice calving off the mountain’s many seracs. After a few hours, the road turned into a trail, and became covered in snow. Soon enough we lost the approach route entirely, and began bushwacking through steep, thick bushes. The underbrush slowed us down, but got much easier as we gained the ridge that led to the refugio.

Above timberline the route follows a ridge that splits two glaciers. We traversed across wind loaded slopes above a 1000+ foot cliff. “Lets check out the snow over there, cause if there’s an avalanche, we’re dead,” somebody said as we gingerly made our way along the safest route through the wind and clouds. We safely reached the refugio a little before dark. We dug out the door, and ate a quick meal of pasta as we waited for it to air out, a precaution against hanta virus.

Digging out the door to Refugio Otto Meiling.

We went to bed in a complete white-out, but remained hopeful that the next day would bring good weather. I woke at seven, and alas, looked out the window to find nothing but wind and fog. I slept a bit longer, and woke again to find the clouds had sank, and we were now alone with Tronador, above a sea of clouds.

Bluebird skies above Tronador and the refugio in the morning. Quite the change from one hour earlier, when we woke inside a cloud.

After the extra hour of sleep, we got going a little late, leaving the hut around 10:30. We roped up almost immediately, not knowing anything about the nearby glaciers, or even where they were exactly. After an hour on the rope, we had made our way up the low angled glacier and decided to head left to follow a rocky ridge rather than find our way through the steep, crevassed glacier in front of us. The weather was perfect, bluebird, hardly any wind, and the clouds in the valleys slowly disappearing.

Given our close proximity to some rocks, our late start, and the fact that we hadn’t noticed any crevasses thus far, we decided to unrope for a bit. After a few minutes however, I noticed I was a few feet from a thin, open crevasse, so we donned the rope again. A smart idea, as it turned out. The next hour involved some of the toughest glacier navigation I have done. What looked to be a mellow ridge was in fact a dense crevasse field, perfectly hidden by thin, wind sculpted snow. I began probing every few feet with my ski pole. Several times I found a wide crevasse covered by a smooth, inches thick shell of snow, completely hidden. After making our way through, we ended up on an icy, knife edge ridge surrounded by crevasses. Not wanting to venture out unroped, we belayed down onto the flatter glacier, and started our roped, cautious travel once again.

We reached a 50-foot wide crevasse, and ate lunch on an safe, exposed patch of firn. After lunch, I took the lead once more, and began probing a wide depression in the snow ahead. A few probes found nothing, so I ventured a bit farther, and probed further out. In an instant, a 10 x 30 foot section of snow collapsed, revealing yet another wide, deep crevasse. We set up a belay, and I gingerly crossed one of the sections that had not collapsed. It held.

Happy to have a rope! You can see my tracks where I was standing when the snow covering this big guy collapsed.

Skyler gingerly stepping across the remaining snowbridge.

The glacier became less crevassed, but we kept the rope on until we reached the saddle between two of the three peaks of Tronador, Pico Argentina (our intended summit), and Pico Anon (the highest summit, protected by ramparts of loose, volcanic rock). I was relieved to have gotten through some of the toughest crevasse navigation I’ve done, complicated by thin eggshell bridges formed by the Patagonian winds.

Taking a break above the clouds and mountains before climbing the final ridge.

We quickly cramponed our way toward the summit, only to find the last 30 feet a jumble of volcanic choss. It was already 5:00, and we didn’t see any easy way up, so we decided to ski from there. The skiing was beautiful. Of course the snow was wind affected, but the views were stunning. We seemed to be miles above all the other peaks, except a few distant volcanoes.

The summit ridge, and Pico Argentino

Skyler skiing down the summit ridge, with the highest summit to the left, and the Chilean summit in the distance. The Chilean summit looks to have some nice skiing from the top.

Saunders enjoying some low angled glacier cruising in the evening above Refugio Otto Meiling.

We made our way through the crevasses, and reached the refugio just before dark. We stoked the fire and made a big meal of pasta before going to bed. The next morning we woke late and made our way back to the car in Pampa Linda. The weather was cloudy and rainy. It seemed the sketchy South American weather report had been right for once, and we had got the weather window. I slept on the way back to Bariloche where we feasted on potatoes and cheap Argentinian steak that night.

Mmmm, Argentinian steak.

Wow! Another great ski trip in South America. I think Tronador was my favorite high Andean peak yet, although maybe that’s just because we just skied it. Tomorrow we are taking the bus to the Chilean border, and the trailhead for Volcan Lanin. I’d better get some sleep.


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Comments

13 Responses to “Cerro Tronador – South America Blue Bird and Ice Cracks”

  1. Pete Anzalone September 3rd, 2012 12:13 pm

    Another great TR.
    BTW – if you’re not taking picture of steaks, you’re not in Argentina!

  2. Lou Dawson September 3rd, 2012 12:22 pm

    Interesting to see something green in the photo, that’s for sure (grin)! Those kids probably realized they need to be careful of scurvy or something.

  3. Mark Worley September 3rd, 2012 3:13 pm

    Man, the trips just get better and better. Glad you guys have glacier and crevasse skills and put them to use. Nice report.

  4. trevor Jones September 4th, 2012 8:41 am

    have fun on llaima. I’m guessing you’ll get some ice low, where it isn’t steep, and some pw up high… have fun

  5. Brenda Mavor September 4th, 2012 10:41 am

    Wow! What more can I say. You really know how to live on the edge, Skylar,

    this is amazing. Oh to be young and in shape enough to do something like

    this, I am just amazed and speechless, this is just incredible, Be safe, uncle Puffler and I pray for your safety. Have a wonderful and exciting day.

    .

  6. Sue September 4th, 2012 11:51 am

    Louie and Skyler — wish I was along on your trip but it looks a little scary. Be careful!

  7. Zap September 4th, 2012 12:39 pm

    A great trip on Tronador with some memorable touring and climbing.

    Hope for some great weather. We drove a car on our trip to Volcan Lanin from Argentina on highway 60. When we entered the park we noticed the Monkey Puzzle trees which were beautiful. Hopefully from Pucon, the bus or a car will get you to Paso Tromen and the Guarderia Tromen. :)

  8. George September 4th, 2012 2:00 pm

    Way to get after it. Great TR. Thanks.

  9. Steve Pendleton September 4th, 2012 2:44 pm

    You are much more out there than I ever was Skyler! Looks wonderful! I thought we would at least see some of the crazy night life or somethng!

    Keep the pictures and dialog flowing!

    Thanks

    Uncle Steve

  10. George Reed September 8th, 2012 12:26 am

    Louie, if you get a chance check out El Bolson. It’s about a three hour drive south of Bariloche. I was there in the fall and heard the skiing on cerro piltikitron was ok but the town is like aspen in the late sixties.

  11. Sander September 8th, 2012 5:12 am

    Louie, Skyler, It was great skiing with you guys!
    Thanks for writing the blog, a very nice memory.
    Ill follow you in your next adventours in the coming weeks.
    Sander a.k.a Saunders

  12. Patrick September 9th, 2012 11:09 am

    George Reed says “El Bolson … is like Aspen in the 60s”. Louie, Skyler – If you go there, keep your eyes peeled for an Argentinian version of Hunter S. Thompson.

  13. manu October 12th, 2013 6:13 am

    It’s awesome to see your trip report and I just had gone back in time to our trip in the region! One of the more impressive mountains in the region…
    A pity you missed the easy 2m climb through the crumbly and sulfid-rieching rock up to the saddle between the two highest points form where an easy walk led up to the summit (i think the left one is highest). to be honest we needed two tries as at the first glimpse we took a detour to the right and missed the breach.
    check out our trip tronador ascent form 2011 with lots more snow and less crevasses: http://nievedelsur.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/illegal-dreams-come-true-tronador/
    anyways: cool to see all of these mountains form a different skiers perspective!!!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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