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How Locals and Marooned Foreigners Are Crushing Patagonia Climbing During the Pandemic

This climbing season in Patagonia has been one of the most unique in several decades.

This climbing season in Patagonia has been one of the most unique in several decades. Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have barred essentially all foreign climbers from traveling to Patagonia. The only climbers in El Chaltén right now are locals, those who have family in Argentina, or those who have stayed since before the pandemic began. El Chaltén and the mountains above town are deserted compared to typical climbing seasons. However, there is still a core group of climbers breaking records, opening new routes, and making history.

On March 17, local climber Santiago Scavolini made a solo ascent of the Motocross Traverse, a linkup of Agujas Guillaumet and Mermoz that is 750-meters long and encounters difficulties up to 6b+/5.11a. Scavolini put down the first 400 meters in an hour and 15 minutes.

According to Patagonia Vertical, the authority for all things Patagonia climbing: “He started via the Comesaña-Fonrouge (400m 6b+), which he climbed in a blistering 1:15 hours, to then continue traversing the ridge past the south summit, rappelling onto Mermoz to climb the upper half of the Argentina.”

Carrying half ropes, crampons, an ice axe, and a handful of Camalots, Scavolini completed the traverse in five hours and five minutes.

Also in mid-March, Tomás Roy Aguiló set the fastest known time round-trip from the Río Electrico bridge on Domo Blanco via the North Ridge route. Aguiló was born in Northern Patagonia, moved to El Chalten in 2006, and is an IFMGA mountain guide. His familiarity with the area, technical knowledge, and ferocious drive are the factors that begin to explain how he covered 60.8 kilometers and 2,450 meters of vertical gain in a scorching 13 hours and two minutes. 

“It took him 7 hours to reach the summit, where he spent an hour hanging out, taking 5 hours to descend,” Patagonia Vertical wrote on Instagram. “Over the years Tomy has done a number of the fastest-known-times of the area’s peaks and circuits. In 2014, with Dani Azocar, he did the 45.7km technical circuit around Cerro Fitz Roy, via Boquete del Piergiorgio in 11:53hs, from the Río Electrico bridge to town.”

There is also more news from the Belgian hardman, Sean Villaneauva O’Driscoll. O’Driscoll was in El Chaltén last March when the pandemic first struck, and instead of fleeing back to Europe, he nestled in and made a home for himself in Patagonia. 

In February, O’Driscoll made history with the solo ascent of Moonwalk Traverse, a ten-peak traverse of the iconic Fitz Roy massif. After that, partnered with Jon Griffin, O’Driscoll opened a heinously sustained #6 off-width route up Fitz Roy they dubbed La Chaltenense (7a/5.11+). 

O’Driscoll continued riding this wild inertia and made yet another first ascent, this time on the north face of El Mocho. He climbed this route with Matías Korten, which was 450 meters long and graded 7a/5.11+. 

“The name of the route, Chalten Without Bolts, refers to the unquestioned and widespread use of bolts in the cliffs surrounding Chalten as the first and only protection option,” Patagonia Vertical wrote. “Partly due to the pandemic, Seán has been in Chalten for 15 months now. Asked if it might be time to head back to Europe, he responds: ‘Not yet, not yet.’”