Mt. Golondrinas stands as part of the Andes Range in the remote Steppe region of Patagonia, Argentina. Being 6,236.87ft tall, it is not the altitude that makes this mountain a tough climb, but rather the desolate wilderness world that surrounds it.
The image above was taken early in the morning from base camp before leaving for my summit climb. The climb begins like a steady hike through the woods. At first, the ability to follow natural game trails through the dense trees and brush make the hike a walk in the park, but these trails quickly diminish and a map and compass are necessary to navigate through the forest. Just when it feels as if the trees couldn’t get any thicker, the terrain takes a turn for the worst, requiring you to navigate your way through overgrown bamboo forests.
Bamboo quickly becomes a hiker’s worst enemy as the thin stalks grab onto the straps of your backpack, or any other loophole on the outside of your bag, and threaten to pull you backwards as you try to push forwards. Visibility becomes near impossible in this dense brush and the only thing there is to do is to keep moving forward until a clearing is reached. Once you make your way out, sight of a clearing will certainly lift your spirits.
After reaching the clearing and taking a much-needed rest you’ll look further up the mountain and realize that the treeline is just up ahead. At first, the sight of the open environment before you will lift your spirits as you expect an easy up hill walk from here on. I would argue that it is easier, but unfortunately not much. Once you clear the trees you find yourself exposed on the Patagonian Steppe: a windy dry environment on the desert side of the Andes Range. It is absolutely necessary to make sure water bottles are full at this point because, as all climbers know, a deadly combination of heat and wind = dehydration taking over at a quick rate. What happens is that your body sweats as it normally would, but the constant wind keeps the moisture of your sweat off your skin. This causes you to not feel like you’re sweating, and in turn, a rookie climber doesn’t think they need to drink as much water as they should, and will become severely dehydrated in a short period of time.
Now that you’re above the trees the desert environment takes over. You still have quite a way to climb and quickly realize that making your way up the sand is not going to be a simple task. With every two steps forward the sand seems to force you to slide one step back, causing you to work twice as hard and therefore sweat twice as much. The Patagonian winds (known for a constant gust of up to 60mph) threatens to topple you over, but if you lower your head and dig deep for your strong will to make it to the top, you’ll realize that the views from the summit will be worth the extra work.
As you continue further up the mountain the desert sand turns to rather large scree fields which, although unstable, are easier to move along than the sand. Step lightly though, the last thing you’ll want is your foot to slide out from under you and the whole mountain face to landslide (along with your body) back down to the bottom. The views here are spectacular, the photo to the left taken from atop a ridgeline on the top of a scree slope that seems to plunge all the way back into the hills below.
From here the summit doesn’t seem to be far away, although what looks like the summit in the image to the left is actually a false summit. A false summit happens quite often, and is when climbers can only see the top of the ridge in front of them. Because of this they believe that the summit of the mountain is just ahead when, in reality, once they reach the “top” they are met by an even taller ridge that is further away. In our case, the true summit is not much farther away after reaching the ridgeline as shown to the left.
Reaching the top of Mt. Golondrinas was an unforgetable climb. The mountain is in such a remote area that, upon our return, the locals of a village we visited said we were only the second group of travelers to ever stand on top of her. From the top, the views of the wilderness world surrounding us were spectacular. However, not much time could be spent celebrating the successful climb at the summit, we still head to head back down the scree slopes, sift through the desert sand, navigate through the bamboo forests, and head into the forests below before we made it back to camp. The round-trip climb took 16 hours which is do-able in Patagonia because of the 18 – 21 hours of daylight during the summer months. I highly recommend visiting this wilderness world if, one day, you feeling like stepping out of your comfort zone, gathering enough strong will to push yourself further than ever before, and in the end, reaping the rewards.