On January 14th, 17 Canadian Army Cadets from across the country converged on the small mountain town of Bariloche in the Patagonia region of Argentina. Their goal? To complete a 10 day expedition through the lakes and mountains of the wild and spectacular Patagonian Nahuel Huapi National Park.
Canada West Mountain School organized and lead this expedition, similar to the Everest Base Camp expedition that CWMS lead in 2010 for the Canadian Army Cadets.
We spent the first 4 days of the expedition paddling the lengths of two lakes – Lago Gutierrez and Lago Mascardi. At the end of Lago Mascardi, after 4 days of paddling, we had a brief transition and shifted gears to get ready for the mountains. Loading up our packs and climbing gear, on Jan 18th we headed up into the alpine on the lower slopes of Cerro Tronador. This 3,400 meter extinct volcano is covered on all approaches by dramatic glaciers falling off of vertical cliffs, leading to the name of Tronador – or “Thunderer”.
Once at our base camp at 1,900 meters at the edge of the glaciers, we settled in for the requisite Patagonian weather – high winds, excessive precipitant and cold temperatures. Despite this being mid-summer, we got it all, plus some! After 2 challenging days of training and forays up the glaciers in 80+ km/hr winds, 50+ mm’s of rain, and decreasing temperatures, we knew the chance of seeing the summit of Tronador was rapidly dwindling. On the morning of Jan 21 the weather forecast showed even worse weather for the next 2-3 days, so we decided that the wise decision was to listen to the message the mountain was sending our way. We descended to lower elevations and shifted our focus to another mountain, Cerrro Lopez at 2,080 meters.
On Jan 23rd at 3:45 pm the Team of Canadian Cadets stood on top of the mountain after leading their way up there. Even at this lower elevation, they had to deal with fresh snow, at places drifting as much as 50 cm’s deep, plus sub-zero temperatures and high wind gusts.