Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Life going Side ways in Patagonia (Part Two) The North Pillar of Fitz Roy

Photo: The East Face to the left and the North Pillar of Fitz Roy

Well all good things always comes to an end. That's no big deal as long as it was fun. This one I can't really decide if it was all that fun... Climbing big mountains is stressful in many ways and thats part of the charm. Watching friends pull off monster ascents is usually inspiring but when I end up screwing up its kind of not so fun any more (sorry Magnus...). Dealing with defeat and still finding motivation is one of the most important virtues for an aspiring alpinist. All this pretty much sums up our semi epic attempt to climb the huge North Pillar of Fitz Roy.

Doing it different

Patagonia was tough to figure out and as we had tried and failed twice we opted for a more "traditional" approach when attempting the North Pillar of Fitz Roy. Traditional meant going heavy and having the second man jugging with the monster back pack. We dedicated a full day for the "approach" instead of a few hours. The North Pillar on Fitz Roy can be climbed and approached in different ways. We decided to try a start called Pendulorama 6b/A1 that leads on to the Kearney-Knight 7A/A0.

The Pendulorama start did not come with the best set of recommendations, it was rather the other way around. Not even the FA like the route, how ever I have to defend the route. It was way better than expected. As the name indicates its about moving side ways between systems of cracks.

We left El Chalten for the 4 hour hike up to our camp in the afternoon, hiking in a relaxed fashion with quite heavy packs. For dinner we had brought take out food, stake sandwiches and home made chocolate cake from the Chockolateria. Food de lux!

Photo: In camp the night before taking off on the North Pillar

The day before starting on a big route is always kind of different. Some times I'm feeling relaxed and some times the stress of the daunting task a head of me puts me in a state of mental discomfort. Before starting on the Super Canaletta I was on fire. Before starting on the Red Pillar I was nervous. Its strange how the mind is playing games with you. The Super Canaletta is an all in kind of route. The Red Pillar a non committing venue till I was feeling kind of iffy. What's really behind this? Before the North Pillar I was feeling great. We had a relaxed start and left camp at around 7:ish after having had an super dinner the night before.

The approach to Pendulorama is quite long in terms in altitude gain. I think we did plus 1700 meters. The initial hike is on moderate snow down to the elusive glacier (we had that one dialed now) and up a long snow slope to some easy climbing. Before we tied in, we melted some snow (by far not enough) and filled up a water bag and a bottle. Looking at this in hindsight we did not melt enough water in order to stay sufficiently hydrated. Bad judgement call!

Photo: Slugging up the snow slope to the start of the route

Standing under the pillar was a cool feeling. Fitz is one hell of a mountain and the North Pillar offers great climbing the only down side was being surrounded by so many other climbers. We had done a few easy pitches and the real climbing was about to start. Erik was leading and I was jugging with the not so nice pack. Climbing in Patagonia is hard work both in terms exposed climbing and ferrying all the shit you need to compleat an ascent. Jugging up the steeper pitches was no fun what so ever and really not my thing. I love alpine climbing where I can move fast and be on the move not spending endless amounts of time on belays. This was a new world for me.

Photo: First pitches on Pendulorama

The upper pitches on the first day offered some harder climbing and Erik had to resort to aiding a few moves on the A1 pitch before starting working on the tension traverse. As darkness fell I reached the belay and we switched on our head torches and prayed we where close to the ledge above the block. Erik left the bely but the ledge was not close (in the dark)... We found nothing good to sit down and rest on for the dark hours of the night but it was 10.30 pm so we opted for a tiny flatish spot where we could sit with our legs crossed . At this point I had started vomiting... The fun was on!

Photos: Starting to be fun on Fitz

The bivy was one of the "best" miserable bivys I have endured. It was fairly warm and not to windy. I even managed to reed a few pages of The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq during the night as I could not sleep. Sadly we had run out of water so our noodles was boiled in 0.5 L of waters. We had hoped to find snow on the ledges but the snow was a no show so hydrating was not going to happen any time soon.

Photos: Last pitch of the dat or in the night... And finding a bivy...

We left the bivy at around 7.30 climbing two pitches to the big ledge where we found some snow to melt. The weather and the conditions where great only I was feeling down and beaten from the vomiting and lack of proper hydration. What lay ahed was 18 pitches of superb climbing to the top of the pillar but by the time we had melted water the time was 11ish. I was not to keen on continuing up the pillar and then getting on to the head wall and go over the summit as I was not well. The prospect of two more days on the move feeling sick felt risky. The time was also factoring in for me. In an ideal world we should have been at the brew edge the night before and had a good nights rest and we should have left early. That would not have mattered so much if spirits was up. Any way for me this was game over.

Photos: Morning at the bivy, Finding snow to melt and resting at the brew stop before calling it quits

Bailing was not a no brainer. We had two options. We opted for the couloir normally used to reach the North Pillar. Rapping that one during the day did not look to good. The freezing levels where above the summit and there was no question whether or not there would be rock fall. The question was how bad would it be. Had I know how bad it would be I would have opted to continue climbing to the summit. NO DUBT! It was a huge mistake to bail. A few rapps down the couloir (it was partly a real water fall showering us) the bombardment started. We where in the middle of an open couloir with no where to hide when Erik called out ROCKS!!!! I looked up and could see a huge block coming straight at us. We ducked and the rock hit about 50 meters above us and we where "only" hit by smallish stuff. We had 3 or 4 solid helmet hits and Erik had a big hit on his back pack. Wow that was not cool. We both freaked out and the only thing we could do was to continue dow trying to find some shelter.

About 45 minutes later the next big one came down. This time we where in a slightly better position but still this was as bad as things can go. For me this was one of the most horrific rock falls I had ever been through when climbing. When we finally hit the glacier we moved out as far as we could from the wall and the rock fall. Sitting down we both said that this shit was the kind of stuff that would make one want to stop alpine climbing.

Photo: Erik finally down and safe

For me this was clear reminder why I never climb in the alps in summer. I hate hot days on glaciers. I hate rock fall. I hate crowded mountains (the rocks in the first fall came from someone on the ridge above us). Still I love alpine climbing and I can't wait to get back out but for me the time to do alpine routes is in winter.

I will be back in Patagonia but I will be going in the cold season. Patagonia was great and I had a great time and the best possible partner. I also like to lift my hat for Magnus Eriksson and Tomas Melling who did a magnificent ascent of the North Pillar a week before we tried via Mate, Porro y Todo lo Demás and linking it with the head wall and being part of the first teams (a slovenian team toped out a few hours ahed) ever topping out Fitz Roy via that route. These guys had this shit figured out!

Photo: Self shoot before rapping off

Photo: Rapping off

Photo: Descending climbers from Fitz Roy

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