Alpinist-Writer Tells Tales of "Enduring Patagonia"

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
October 8, 2002

Gregory Crouch talked about his experiences in an event that is part of the Quest for Adventure lecture series at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. His talk, on Tuesday, October 15, 2002 was broadcast live via real-time Web cast at National

Patagonia, the windswept region of barren plateaus and sprawling ice fields at the bottom of South America, is one of the world's truly wild places. The strip of land juts like a dagger into the ocean, separating the Atlantic and Pacific. Towering between the two oceans are the rocky walls of the Patagonian Andes—peaks that exert an irresistible pull on climbers seeking to explore Earth's lofty peaks.

"These are the mountains out of a fairy tale," said Gregory Crouch, a veteran climber. "You see huge spikes of granite towering thousands of feet above the huge ice cap and glaciers. It would be hard to design a more ideal mountain than that."

Crouch has climbed those fairy-tale mountains seven times—and counting. Along the way, he's penned yarns of summits reached, opportunities lost, laughs shared, and snowbound days up high. His new book, Enduring Patagonia, provides a window to cutting-edge alpinism in a remote corner of the world.

Crouch's own Patagonian odyssey, however, didn't begin with mountaineering.

"I didn't go with the ambition of doing a lot of serious climbing," said Crouch. "I went because I had an interest in South America, so I was in living in Ecuador learning Spanish. I also didn't initially intend to go back to Patagonia for seven of the next ten years, but I just couldn't get the place out of my mind."

World's Worst Weather

The mountains are spectacular, but Crouch feels the brutal, famously stormy weather in the Patagonian Andes is the major factor in many Patagonian climbing epics.

"The weather is so bad," said the former U.S. Army Ranger, "that it's almost one of the main attractions of Patagonia. It's definitely among the worst weather areas in the world; others may rival it, but none are really much worse."

The vicious climate is the result of the mountains' unique location. They extend into the stormy Circumpolar Sea, what some call the Southern Ocean, at latitudes known to sailors as the "roaring forties" and "furious fifties." Storms, winds, and waves circle the globe at these latitudes, building in force until they slam into the only land mass in the way—Patagonia.

Sudden storms can be deadly if climbers are caught high up the mountains. They can also mean boredom; long days huddled in the cramped shelter of expedition tents or huts, waiting for a break in the weather. Over the years, time spent in this way has really added up.

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