Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Life upside down in Patagonia (Part one)

Photo: The Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy group from the road

I have to start by pointing out that going to Patagonia was breaking with protocol. There is nothing in summer alpinism I like. Its hot, its wet, its crowded and when conditions are good rock fall is constant. Its out right not my thing. Any way an opportunity cam along and I tagged along... Well I have to admit I was exited given that I was going with Erik a Swedish friend who I like allot.

We had no other plan than trying some thing that was in condition if conditions allowed. I think that was a good call. We kind of geared up for having the flexibility to go up to the Torre valley as well as up the Fitz Roy area. But in reality we got tide down to the Fitz Roy area.

After arriving with a not so nice cold I spent some time resting. A window opened and we probed around among the Patagonia veterans as whether they thought the Super Canaletta would be a viable option and the overall feedback we got gave us enough good vibes to shoot for it. How ever the Isoterm sky rocketed the next 36h but we figured that it would still be possible.

Being a lazy ass climber I had no desire what so ever to go with a big pack and lots of gear. So "Light duty David*" (The definition of Light Duty is: "not designed for heavy or demanding work") managed to convince poor Erik that a few Clif bars, Clif Blooks and one epi gas was more than enough to bring along on such a straight forward route...

We brought a quite light rack, one 7.7 mm Sterling rope and one 7mm semi static tag line (not sure this set up was that smart) no bivy gear but a reactor. Our pack where feeling great = light. I was really psyched at the prospect of climbing this epic line on on of the finest mountains in the world. Our aim was to climb the route in 12 to 15 hours and use an other 7 hours for descending the mountain. All great in theory. How ever one small detail was that we under estimated the time from our camp to the start of the climbing with about 5 hours. Marginal one can think in the big scheme of things but on a "food and energy budget of 24 hours" this kind of mistakes are making a clear and unwanted dent in the over all game plan.

Any way approaching (the only thing we did to much of on this trip) the route we manage to venture out in to the Glacier in the dark and get more than lost. Suddenly we found our self surrounded by 30 meter leaning serac towers. Things started not only to look bad in terms of getting to the start of the climb in due time but more urgently the danger factor was growing so fast that it was no longer fun.

At one point we found ourself standing on a collapsed snow bridge about 10 meters down in to a bad "vibing" crevasse trying to move in the right hand direction but some thing prevented me from doing that and as I was passing Erik and moving in the opposite direction, trying to get us to more solid ground (a highly relative term at this point) the whole bridge was shaking and 10 meters to the right about half a ton of ice fell down on the spot I just avoided. Wow that was way to close! Luck is some thing you earn. So far we had done nothing to earn any luck. The prospect of getting out fast was not look to bright as we had no real point of reference to navigate against. I was thinking to my self: "Wholly fucking shit this is as bad as it gets and it will take about 200 years before we get spitted out at the end of the valley". What a way to go... Well no time to reflect on what might happen. We moved as swiftly and as GENTEL we could on the fragile and shaking ice towers, doing some interesting climbing, down climbing, traversing and and finally we had a solid target to navigate against. After about 2 hours of utter fear, terror completely lost in a labyrint of lurking death we found our self on solid ground filing quite stupid and tired. I felt like I had just got off a major epic route and still we had 2 hours to the start of the Super Canaletta. Wow we really did not nail this one!

Photo: The point of exit on the glacier...

Finally at the start of the route we had more or less given up all hopes of climbing the route but still I wanted to have a closer look for future reference. I think Erik was mentally quite spent as he managed to fall asleep under a boulder on the glacier for 10 minutes. I was wire on caffein powered Clif Shots and adrenaline so I hiked up to get in a better viewing position. The route was out. No connecting snow or ice on the first 600 meters and most definitely not on the first 1100 meters of the route. The upper parts looked dry but to get there would be a daunting task far from the simul soloing we had hoped for. Bailing after sending the approach! Thats a new one! But it felt good the route was in horrific conditions. On a side note I could not detect any debris from falling rocks on the "avi cone" leading up to the bergscrund so I think it would be fine to start this one even quite late in the day but one might need to observe the start more to get a better understanding for what's right.

Photo: A dry Super Canaletta

Back at camp Erik is now punished for my light duty mania and we have to descend back to El Chalten to get more food and supplies. I feel like an idiot returning to town in the middle of a huge weather window. And its far... It sucks. I hate hiking and I hate approaching. The next afternoon after resting, eating and hydrating we hike right back up and we are now shooting for a pure rock route.

Photo: Approaching the Red Pillar on Mermoze

The Red Pillar is on the paper a straight forward rock route with bolted belays and even some bolts right next to splitter cracks. It was "kind of" established by Kurt Albert (bolted by Albert) and features some quite hard crack climbing 7b:ish. A wee bit tired we go to sleep in our high camp after downing some frozen margaritas mixed by Blake Herrington and Scott Bennett. Thanks guys! We don't sleep much a few hours tops. The going up a hill again. The hate the hill feeling is being an all to well know feeling at this point. We are back doing what I hate. Approaching. This time the packs are not that light even if we are going for a day trip. The rack was big. I have bleeding blisters. Erik is carrying the big pack... Light duty David is contributing with...

We soon hit the glacier and i find it quite wet in my trail running choose, I also feel like a idiot. Who in his right mind is approaching a big rock route via a big glacier in trail running choose? Armed with only one axe and one ski pole (no crampons). This is starting to go down hill. As we head up the 200 meter 55° snow slope Erik firs (not to happy, I suggest a few times we untie) with Crampons its evident we blew it again spending to much time approaching.

Photo: Crossing the bbergschrund rapping in running choose felt better than heading up in them as you see its huge...

We managed cross the bergschrund on the wrong side of a rocky island but still reach the first belay quite easy. We did a few pitches but my motivation is out the window as my bleeding blisters makes it unbearably painful to where the tight rock choose. Erik leads a splitter 5.12 crack and I see true happiness in his eyes. Maybe I was selfish not pushing on. Maybe I should not have left my running choose tide in to the first belay to dry out so I could have endured the route jugging... But did we even have jumars with us? Can't remember. Any way we head back to camp beaten up and tired after being approaching for the last 4 days. Erik decides to stays in camp but I continue down the 4 hour hike to El Chalten to dry out and try and cut away all the blisters in a sterile environment.

Photo: Heading up the Red Pillar

Photo: Splitter Erik on a splitter 5.12 crack on the Red Pillar

Photo: Back down on the glacier under the East face of Mermoz and the Red Pillar

* "Light duty David" was invented by John B Gleason, not sure it was a compliment...

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