Name: Maria Paz Ibarra (but everyone calls me Pachi)
1st ALE Season: 2008
Best known for: My laugh!
You are known as one of Chile’s top female mountaineers. Can you tell us a bit about how you got started climbing and your experiences in the mountains?
When I was a kid I started hiking in the mountains close to Santiago with my parents. I was curious about climbing and attracted to the wildlife, nature and outdoors. I knew from friends that the Catholic University in Santiago had one of the best mountaineering courses in Chile, so I enrolled there just to have access to those courses. I met excellent climbing partners and since then I have done a lot of personal expeditions and climbing trips all over the world – Andes, Patagonia, Antarctica, Himalaya, Alps. My favorite trips have been to Patagonia and Antarctica, because of their unexplored ranges and challenging technical climbing. After school I continued the mountaineering and guiding process with the Chilean Federation.
You first travelled to Antarctica as part of the Omega Expedition. Tell us about that experience
The Omega Foundation Expeditions attempted to learn and communicate new information about the topography of Antarctica’s mountains, particularly the highest peaks of the Sentinel Range. To do this we re-measured the elevation of a number of peaks, using a high precision GPS. We would climb to the summit and put the GPS on the top for about 12 hours and then retrieve the GPS and the data. It was one of the best experiences in my life. I had always dreamed of going to Antarctica and it gave me that opportunity. The best part was I got to climb all around the Sentinel Range, exploring places that no one else had been before, with friends, climbing challenging mountains, on technical terrain, setting up new routes and doing many first ascents. What more could a climber ask?
How did you start working for ALE?
I had guided in Chile and South America for over 8 years before I started working for ALE. I knew about the company through the Omega Foundation Expeditions that I had participated in. Likewise, ALE knew of my Antarctic experience, climbing and exploring in the Sentinel Range. So when I applied, they hired me.
Why did you want to work in the Antarctic? What was the attraction?
There is nowhere else in the world that I would rather be be during the austral summer! I love the potential for exploration, the beautiful and challenging mountains.“Por otro lado, me encanta sentir la pureza, calma y paz del lugar, el silencio, el azul del cielo, las nubes…”
[I also love the other side of Antarctica, feeling the purity, tranquility, calm and silence of the place; the deep blue of the sky, the clouds etc…]
I enjoy how varied my work is, from climbing Mount Vinson, to skiing around the Heritage Mountains, climbing first ascents, or traversing to the South Pole, to checking for new routes and safety around camp. And I love to meet and share the experience with people from all over the world. All of those things keep me coming back!
What are your greatest challenges as an Antarctic Guide? What do you love best about your work with ALE?
Antarctica’s climate presents inherent risks, including exposure to the cold and wind, and so you have to stay vigilant, especially when you take into account how isolated we are from the urban world. There are also other challenges. Guests can sometimes become anxious or frustrated when the weather is bad and we have to wait for flights, or to move up the mountain.
I love the opportunity to do many different things and see different aspects of ALE’s operations. I also love the people – great working teams and interesting guests from all over the world.
You have guided Mount Vinson, as well as bespoke climbing expeditions in the Ellsworth Mountains. What tips can you give anyone planning to climb Antarctic peaks?
Be prepared to find one of the most outstanding places in the world and to live one of the best experiences in your life! The most important thing is to take care of yourself. Take care to stay warm, eat well, hydrate and sleep well, so that you can enjoy the full experience.
What are your favorite pieces of polar gear?
[Neck] Buff and the pee funnel 🙂
What is your best climb ever?
Ooff! Difficult to say, so many good ones… Probably Cerro Christian Buracchio in South Patagonia Ice field
What do you do for the rest of the year, when you are not in the Antarctic?
I guide mostly around Chile and South America and teach mountaineering skills for Vertical – a Chilean company. I combine that with personal expeditions and climbing trips with friends. My vacations usually involve climb mountains in Patagonia, the Andes or Himalayas and rock climbing in different places like North and South America.