While in El Chalten for 10 days in mid-January, Mike, David, and I had a climb of Cerro Electrico on our jam-packed Patagonia itinerary. Cerro Electrico is a “beginner mountaineering” mountain and only requires two days to climb it, but the rough, steep terrain is certainly enough to keep a novice mountaineer / avid hiker on their toes!
Cerro Electrico, at ~7400 feet tall, affords one the luxury of a mountaineering glacier experience without the added difficulty of a high-altitude climb. Horray! But don’t worry, day 1 requires an über steep ~3000 ft ascent to the campsite, and day 2 requires another ~3000 feet of slog through rough, rocky, steep terrain, and of course, glacier travel.
We hired a guide service because David and I have pretty limited glacier experience, and Mike had zero glacier experience (we used El Chalten Mountain Guides). The trail up the mountain is also pretty sparse in places, so if you’re doing this alone, I would definitely try to hunt down a GPS track.
We had a lazy morning on day 1 and set off at around 11 am after a 30 minute taxi from El Chalten. When you take a look at the mountain you might wonder “where the heck is there a trail on that thing?” because it looks pretty steep everywhere. The answer is “haha sucker, the trail is just super freaking steep!” No but seriously, this trail is ridiculous. I say this as a person from a land where 1000+ feet of gain in one mile is common. Add to the extreme steepness a heavy backpack full of camping and mountaineering equipment, and you’ve got a recipe for a real good time (I mean it was great I wasn’t complaining the whole time or anything).
It took us 3+ hours to crawl our way up to the campsite, which is located on the only flat-ish section of the mountain. The campsite affords great panoramic views of the valley, along with a view of the entire glacier and the peak of Cerro Electrico. It looks real tall from the campsite…
Day 2 had a 3:30am wakeup call with a 4:30am start time. Our guide pushed our wakeup forward because the forecast suggested deteriorating weather conditions as the day wore on. We started up anyway, hoping we’d get a lucky weather window.
The first part of day 2 is a scramble over some crappy crumbly rock, and then a scramble over some less crumbly rock. We had the added bonus of a thin layer of ice covering most everything, so our guide slowly lead us on a winding path through said ice, trying not to get his clients killed (both Mike and I managed to take some spills, though 🙂 ).
We finally reached the glacier and there was thankfully enough snow that the climb was a straight-forward snow slog. We roped up because of the potential for hidden crevasses. Our guide said avalanches in summer are pretty rare so it wasn’t a major concern of his.
We climbed steadily for about ~1000 vertical feet until we hit the col right before the steepest part of the climb. I was reaallll exhausted, y’all! The wind was also picking up and the summit was getting socked in, so unfortunately we didn’t get the grand view of Fitz Roy that we would’ve seen on a clear day… womp womp. We kept climbing onto the steepest ridge but I was starting to wimp out with the strong winds blasting snow and ice onto my face and knocking me around like a rag doll. Our guide informed us that in this weather the true summit was already out of the question, since it’s a small rock pinnacle above the glacier and we’d all like, get blown off and die or something 🙂
Pretty soon after resuming our ascent, I wanted to call it on account of fear of bodily harm, and sat there wavering, waiting for David and Mike to give some sort of input. This seemed like a lost cause because David and Mike are pretty much the last people to provide opinions on anything, but a MIRACLE happened and Mike said we should head down! Our guide said we were a few hundred feet from the summit, but the weather was getting worse and he agreed with our decision to turn around.
A group of 2 climbers that started an hour before us also didn’t get to reach the true summit, and stopped on the glacier below the rock pinnacle. And there was one last pair heading up in the deteriorating weather at the start of our descent, but they soon turned around too. Darn weather!!!
The descent suuuuucked, which is what I was expecting, because descending steep, unstable rock is super sucky when your knees are 30 going on 80. It took us only slightly less time to descend back to the campsite than it took to ascend up the mountain! We hung out at camp for about an hour before packing up and preparing for the rest of the steep descent back down to the valley floor.
The rest of the descent also suuuuucked and I felt pretty bad since if my old hobble-y self hadn’t been there, the rest of the gang would’ve made much better time on the way down. Sorry, suckers! Somehow I made it back (after many slow hours of hobbling) and I only need 2 new knees now! We gazed back up at the windy, cloudy mountain, bummed that we didn’t get to the top but happy to not be receiving ice crystal skin resurfacing.
Some (hopefully) helpful notes about climbing Cerro Electrico:
- I would definitely hunt down GPS tracks unless you’re a competent route finder!
- I would get a guide service unless you’re experienced and comfortable on class 3/class 4 terrain AND glacier travel with mountaineering equipment.
- Although the guide company website says that no mountaineering experience is required for this climb, I would think the class 3 and class 4 terrain that you encounter before you even reach the glacier would make a casual hiker uncomfortable if they weren’t used to navigating terrain like this (think Long’s Peak in Colorado or Huntington’s Ravine in New Hampshire).
- The campsite in mid-January during our climb was surprisingly not that cold, but I can’t say for sure if that’s the norm or if we just got lucky!