Friday, March 19, 2010

Patagonia 2010 Part Two!

Hayden and I adopted the tactic of 'if the weather looks marginal, we take our gear for a hike up the glacier'. That is to say: if it cleared, we wanted to be poised to strike at the base of the route. So we packed our gear and hiked in to high camp, prepared to auger in until we got up something. Our first goal was going to be Exocet on Cerro Standhart.

Our alarm went off at 2:00 AM, Hayden's 19th birthday! We blasted some Notorious BIG and pounded coffee to get psyched up. No one mentioned the fact that it was raining and the winds were nuking, we were going hiking...

Hayden hiking below the east face of Cerro Torre. Most of the trail breaking was knee-deep wallowing.
We were laughing at ourselves pretty hard the whole day, conditions were terrible. Still, we pushed on in the high winds and sideways rain.

Hayden and I at the 'schrund. We're bailing...
Descending back to camp in the Valley...
Thoroughly defeated, we crawled back into our tent to wait out the rest of the weather. Our most recent forecast indicated that tomorrow was supposed to be poor, but there was potential for a two day stretch of no precip and low wind the day after. We wanted to go as big as possible during this window, so we decided to try the biggest route we thought was possible in current conditions - the Supercanaleta (WI4 5.10/M5 1600m) on Cerro Fitz Roy. The mountain was covered in crazy rime ice, with the top resembling the summit mushroom of Cerro Torre more than the usual rocky top of Fitz. It would be tools and crampons the whole way, exactly the type of route we were looking for in these cold conditions.

We rested and packed our bags the following day. Two ropes, 3 screws, a single set of gear, stove, and my proto two-man bivy sack. At around 6:00pm we started hiking up the Torre Glacier to the base of the snow leading up and over Sitting Man Ridge. We found great snow conditions which made this usually poor approach to the north aspect of Fitz Roy seem like a good choice. We descended the couloir on the other side of the ridge to the base of the route as it was getting dark. Hayden and I crawled into the two-man 'love sack' and brewed and rested until our 3:00am alarm.

The Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy!
Hayden near the start of the 1000m couloir, lots of calf burning to go.
The route starts with 1000m of ice up to AI3. We soloed together in the dark, our little worlds illuminated by the bubble of light from our headlamps. Surely this would be scarier in daylight, with thousands of feet of exposure beneath your legs.

We reached the top of the couloir and the start of the 22 pitches of mixed rock climbing just after daylight came upon us. The first pitch was one of the hardest of the day. Unconsolidated snow clogged the corner, making for hairy stemming in frontpoints, thin sticks in the icy crack, and good tool hooks on the righthand wall. I threw a couple gloved handjams in the crack above, plugged in a high cam, and dry tooled out right to a thin vertical ice smear which led to the top of the pitch. Hayden followed and ran the rope up to the base of the next pitch, a short vertical waterfall leading to a couple rope lengths of easy ice and thin goulottes (narrow ice runnels splitting rock). As I swung into the start of the pitch, I got really excited. We were sending Fitz Roy! I passed the next belay, yelled at Hayden to take me off, and went hypoxic swinging and kicking up the moderate ground as fast as I possibly could. The rope came tight on Hayden and I screamed down to him to start climbing. We simuled for a couple rope lengths and I stopped to belay on the righthand wall.

The start of the waterfall pitch.
From here, the route heads up and right linking amazing ice runnels and goulottes - perfect granite mixed climbing. Hayden took over the lead, and together we simulclimbed several pitches to the ridge. I dug my frontpoints in carefully and torqued my crampons into the cracks hard, making sure I was solid following behind Hayden without a belay.

Hayden linking amazing ice runnels.
Thumbs up on the ridge. Note amount of rime ice...
On the ridgeline proper we stopped simuling. The rock was heavily coated in rime ice, sometimes several feet thick. The climbing was still of very high quality, the rime making things just interesting enough without things ever getting too desperate. We did make some blunders though, the rime totally obscuring the easiest line in a few places, forcing Hayden up a particularly heinous pitch, which I followed free at around M7/8.

Rime, rime everywhere!
Really good granite mixed. Dreamboat.
Hayden loving it…
A tight fit.
This is where things started to fall apart. Lost in the rime, I tried to do battle with a particularly gnarly mushroom of overhanging snow on the ridgetop. With no way to get through and no options presenting themselves to us, we reversed the pitch, searching desperately for the line amongst the rime ice. My camera ran out of batteries… We spent about 6 hours climbing up and down, left and right, trying every conceivable variation to no avail. With no food or water left (we left our Jetboil stove at the base of the route), we had no choice but to bail, mere pitches from the end of the technical climbing and the summit of Cerro Fitz Roy!

Rappelling the route through the night was one of the more unpleasant things I have ever done, taking about 12 hours to reach our bivy at the base of the route. We brewed up and napped for a couple hours at the base, then shouldered our packs and hiked back around Sitting Man Ridge to our camp in the Torre Valley. We were completely choked. I honestly felt wronged by the mountain… Never before had such a cruiser mission turned into a total shut-down! Hayden and I vowed never to climb the stupid Supercanaleta ever again!

Back in town, Hayden was busy selling all his gear, he was due to fly back home to Colorado in a couple days. I was looking forward to wrapping up a couple undone bouldering projects and generally having a leisurely last week or so in town, maybe even fly up to Bariloche to hang out with some Argentine friends for a few days.

As luck would have it, the weather was about to get good, again...

Click here to go to Part Three

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Patagonia 2010 Part One!

Finally back in Canadar after nearly two months in Argentine Patagonia. Below is some thoughts on the amazing trip...

I left Vancouver in early January to alpine climb in Argentine Patagonia. I had already put time into this range, establishing one new route and two first free ascents during the 2008 season with Will Stanhope. This year I was hoping to build on that success and establish another long rock freeclimb. I brought along the two best team mates I could think of for the job - the talented Americans Jon Gleason and Matt Segal. I was confident, given a decent weather window, we could achieve our goal. As it would turn out, the only thing one can be confident in is the amazing bouldering to be had just above town.

Matt and Jon.  We voted ourselves 'best sunglasses' out of any team in the range...
We had spent a month in town, occasionally hiking to high camp when I was idealistic enough to think we might get a few hours of good weather in. Every attempt would end in snow. It sure did seem to be snowing a lot up there. Several of our friends, all seasoned vets of the range, hadn’t left town all trip. The Huberbuam came and left.

Great bouldering weather in town but nuking in the mountains...
 Crossing the Rio Fitz Roy enroute to the Torre Valley.  Foolish attempt #1...
 Gleason approaching our first of many fun 'snow camping trips'.
 Summertime in Patagonia.  We should'a brought skis to shred the gnar out on the icecap.
 I got lots of good hiking shots that first month, usually hiking away from the mountains...
 Another attempt/snow camping mission.
At least we had the bouldering. We started checking the meteogram forecast for town, trying to predict the good bouldering windows of crisp temps and slight cloud cover. At night we’d thrash ourselves on ‘Coach’ Josh Wharton’s ridiculous power problems on the little plywood wall in the rec centre.  I was approximately twice as strong as I needed to be to climb any of my dream routes in the range.

The Gato Negro V9/10 - one of the better problems in Chalten and world class anywhere!
 The sport climbing near town is also quite fun.  Here is SLC crusher Ben Ditto on an 8a+.
With so much snowfall, the mountains turned into giant popsicles.
Time was running out for Matt. He had to leave early. We still hadn't managed to climb anything in the mountains. Finally, the meteogram weather forecast looked promising for most of one day, so we hiked in again to have a go at the smallest, easiest summit in the range, the De La S spire.

The standard route from the Torre Valley starts with a stiff 2000' approach to a low-angle snow/neve couloir. From there a couple easy mixed pitches leads to 4-8 pitches of easy rock ridge. Easy, right?  Conditions turned out to be a bit more mixed than anticipated, so for speed, I led the entire route. Matty and Gleason were glad to have a Canadian along for the frosty bits. We topped out to strong wind gusts and incoming weather over the mountains and wasted no time in rapping and reversing the route.

The S was a good reminder that nothing in this range comes easy. Matt left, our cumbre on De La S wetting his appetite for more alpine hits in the future. I decided I no longer wanted to try out of condition rock routes. Instead, I wanted to focus on some of the amazing ice and mixed lines that were back in condition. Jon wasn't interested, so we amicably parted ways. Too bad, as Jon is a top notch dude, and I wanted nothing more than to go 'ballistic' with him in the mountains...

What to climb now? My original objectives would be out of condition for the rest of the season. How could I make the most of my remaining time? Over muchos grande Quilmes cervezas I drunkenly declared I would lead every pitch of the classic ice route Exocet on Cerro Standhart with anyone who was willing to jumar behind me. 'Uh huh', everyone rolled their eyes at my youthful bravado. The only one to take my bait was Hayden Kennedy, the 18-year-old son of American alpine climbing legend Michael Kennedy.

Hayden and I were psyched, and the weather was looking like it was getting good...

Click here to go to Part Two