I’ll be damned, the old man was right. Chilean friends universally flashed doubtful looks when I said we planned to access San Valentin from Mirador, rather than the epic icecap way – probably the main reason why this line remains unclimbed. And this line, well, Jim has a full-on woody for it, won’t stop looking at it, won’t stop talking about it, because, he readily admits, he can see it from the front porch of his house (his and his wife’s humble but tranquil “retirement home” in pretty much the middle of nowhere). This was January 2009, and I’d spent the previous week in Santiago, and when friends asked I’d just shrug my shoulders and make air quotes in saying that Jim claims he “Has it all figured out.” One Chilean, who’d just come back from a month on the icecap, shook his head and smiled a smile that said, OK, but you gringos have no idea. He’s right that I had no idea. Jim, on the other hand, older than my dad (Jim was 65 then, but going on 30 – still is), has forgotten more great climbs than I’ll ever do. He’s a walking talking climbing legend who’s still cranking trad-eleven (5.11 trad routes, that is), and he knows how to figure things out.
[Above: The coveted view from the porch – literally shot from Donini’s porch – with the unclimbed north ridge of San Valentin in profile in the middle of the frame. Lago General Carrera in the foreground. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
But still, not everything has to be climbed, and this isn’t a story of a big climb – all we really did for a few days was some heinous vertical bushwhacking. And a little birdwatching.
[Donini overlooking the glacier near the end of a long day of bushwhacking. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
Tune in next week for part two.