Friday, February 18, 2011

Cerro Torre SE Ridge Attempt

Geisler and I had an epic week up in the Torre Valley.  The weather looked windy but climbable.   This would be our last chance as Chris had to leave in a couple days and Cerro Torre was still rimed and unclimbable.  Think giant Torre popsicle.  With the Torre out of condition we opted for, I think, plan C... or was that D?  We were the first ones to arrive at basecamp and dug out our cache, basking in the peace and quiet, knowing that soon Niponino would be a full circus.

We settled on trying a new route on one of the towers on the east side of the valley.  It took us about 12 hours or so, maybe more, to approach the base of the route from basecamp.  No jokes.  About 10 or so approach pitches and tons of walking in zig-zags.  Chris mostly led as I began to get really sick with the flu or some similar condition.  We finally got to the base of the route and I was able to lay down in the sun for a little bit and recharge my batteries.  I led a couple pitches - steeper and harder than expected - to the only ledge feature of the line.  We hadn't intended on stopping, but I was sick and Geisler was feeling low energy.  Our hope was that after a rest we would be able to continue the next day and top out.  We open-bivied here without stove or bivy gear, super rugged.  Needless to say we weren't feeling any better the next morning, so we bailed, which was just as complicated and time-consuming as the approach.

We cashed-in our chips, it was a mostly unsuccessful trip to Patagonia.  The next morning we packed up early as Geisler had to catch his bus that afternoon.  We shouldered our enormous loads - I am still in disbelief as to the amount of climbing gear we hiked into the Torre Valley.  On the hike out we noticed the Cerro Torre headwall had shed quite a bit in the last days of sun and we were met by reports of good weather for the next couple days.  With only minutes to make the 'should we stay or should we go' decision, it was clear, we would try what we came to Patagonia to attempt.  Geisler dropped his pack on the glacier and ran to town to change his ticket while I shuttled the packs back to camp.  He got back to Niponino at 3:30 am after the usual frustrations of last-minute ticket changing.  A 30km round trip!  We were stoked to the max!

We slept in, giving Geisler a chance to rest.  He had hiked a takeout steak up from town and we devoured it, including soggy French fries and wilting salad, for breakfast.  We left camp the next morning at 10:00 am for the Torre.  The snow was isothermic by the time we got to it so the approach pitches of mixed climbing to the shoulder required a bit of creativity.  Geisler was pretty worked after his 30km hike the night before, but at least he was able to ride the jumars for a while - albeit with the big pack.  With all that we had done in the past few days we weren't exactly setting any speed records up there.  I led and short-fixed as Chris followed with the larger pack and the jumars.  Our friends Colin Haley and Zach Smith, who were trying the same project up the SE ridge rappelled past us, bailing.  They told us it was too cold and windy and they only had lightweight sleeping bags each to bivy in.  Chris and I chatted, we only had one lightweight sleeping bag to share, but we were committed and were not bailing now.  We bivied just below the Salvaterra variation to the great bolt traverse the first night, I spent a long time chopping a ledge into the ice for us to sleep on.  The night was cold, but luxurious compared to the horrible bivy we had two nights previous.

I continued to lead the next day.  At the ice towers Chris was getting frustrated being the pack mule on the jumars so he took over the leading.  David Lama was on the Torre aid climbing up the bolts so we were being buzzed all day long by a helicopter film crew.  Truly frustrating.  It grew dark and we ended up climbing through the night on the headwall, very exciting.  We followed the wrong feature out left and eventually dead-ended after Geisler led an 8-hour pitch of techno aid, taking one whipper when the flake he was hooking on ripped.  Geisler did a lot of climbing when you were the most rad if you did the hard aid stuff.  He did early repeats of El Cap terrors and established and repeated the most serious of the Squamish bigwalls. 

Our highpoint was about 40m below the top of the headwall says  ( says 50m, I am not sure where they got their information for their newspiece).  A storm started, a full whiteout turned our ropes and beards instantly frosty and the winds turned nuclear up there.  We bailed quickly thanks to all the bolts.

When we arrived, basecamp was a ghost town, we were the last tent remaining.  Early the next morning Chris hiked to town to catch his bus to the airport.  I slept in and hiked out that afternoon with a crippling load on my back.  After running into Chris and hearing our story, Zack Smith and Hayden Kennedy hiked in with beer and empty packs to help me carry out my load.  A truly brotherly gesture, but somehow we missed each other on the trail.  I really could have used the medication of a litro of Quilmes.

I’ll post some photos when I leave Chalten, the internet here is shockingly slow.
Geisler must have run into Rolo before his departure, because details of our climb ended up on his website  Here’s what he had to say about it all:

In February of 2011 Canadians Chris Geisler and Jason Kruk came very close to pulling off a complete "fair means" ascent of the SE ridge of Cerro Torre, reaching a point 40 meters below of the top of the headwall without using any of Maestri's bolts for progression. They followed the Salvaterra-Mabboni and Wharton-Smith lines to the headwall, then climbed the first headwall pitch right over the bolts but without using them (free at 5+), to then move right for a pitch (they aided some but estimated it would go free at 6c), later crossing left of the bolted line to reach an obvious ledge one pitch below the compressor. From here they climbed left to a point level with the compressor but about 40 meters left of it. In the early morning, after having climbed through the night and in very high winds Geisler finished his lead by traversing back right following a thin seam, to eventually make a pendulum that took him to the third bolt down from the compressor. From that point they retreat. In the darkness Geisler failed to notice features further left that likely would have allowed him to climb a completetly independent fair means line to the top. On that last pitch, which required 8 hours, Geisler placed a single bolt climbing left and one while traversing right back to the compressor. Hats off for such a great effort!!

Chris is gone now, but I am still here and ready to try again!


jeremy said...

Hey Jason, Blumz here. Amazing effort to both of you. Hope to see you soon, inspiring as always Brother. Jer

Mike Boronowski said...

It's been inspiring reading your posts from this trip, not just because of what you've attempted, but because of how you've approached it. Thanks for taking the time to share.