Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cold Feet in Super Canaleta

The early spring weather has been cold in Patagonia with only marginal weather windows open for climbing so far. The first thing we did was to hike up the Torre valley and have a look at Tomahawk, a ice route meant to be of exceptional quality and length. However the lack of ice prevented any progress so we hiked around, (shelter from the wind by Standhart, Egger and Cerro Torre) on the glacier to see if any thing else was in condition, allowing for progress with a minimal rock rack and ice tools. Not much luck there...

Most things where bone-dry or not even existing. A dry winter had left its marks. Our goal was the much trafficked West Face of Cerro Torre, but up on learning that a strong Slovenian team had backed off and being severely cold when attempting the Super Canaleta on Fitz Roy, options run low and motivation soon faded away.

The Super Canaleta is a childhood dream and this was my second hike in to the formidable face of Fitz Roy hosting the Canaleta. We had a very marginal weather window, judging from the forecast 24h at best. The Canaleta was in prime conditions, nothing to complain about. We started late however, with the benefit of hindsight way too late. We crossed bergschrund at around 5.40 Am according to my estimate. We clearly underestimated the time the snow slog up the first 1100 vertical meters would take us. Even if we made good progress it was a 4h "plod" up to the first belay (1180m according to my altimeter).

We roped up after a sketchy solo traverse and started on the upper part of the route in perfect but brittle route conditions. I was cold.. like really cold with less than zero circulation in my feet having opted for light but cold spring/fall boots (note to myself, bring proper boots or stay at home next time…) so I took out the soles in order to try and get some circulation going. No luck doing that. The climbing on the first ten or so pitches to the approximate level of the read tower was amazing. The mixed parts (5.9 plus) where full on action with crampons and tools, good fun and nothing I would have wanted to solo in those conditions.

When we had our first and only brew in stop (in the sun) at ledge from where you abseil in to the ice under the read tower we hydrated as well as we could and had plenty of gels and bars, but I did not recovery at all. I was shivering badly with all my layers on some thing very alien to me as I rarely freeze on mountain outings. Some thing was wrong, I was meant to go fast and be psyched being so high on some thing I so much have craved to climb for such a long time. I remember sending a postal letter in the early 90th to a climber in Argentina asking for a topo of the Canaleta.

This was my opportunity to climb this classic line, but again I was not happy with my lack of recovery and low energy. Going on big routes is never to be underestimated even if its not a hard route. Fitz Roy is big mountain and getting off is a big undertaking (I estimate we did some 25/28 abseils back to the bergschrund). I complained to my partners who where much more upbeat and at peace with our relative low point given the time of the day.

It was 3.45 or so and we had initially said we would have to start abseiling the route no later than 8pm, that was now out the window. There was no way we would get up and down in a day, reaching the summit would not have been an issue but getting off might not be so smooth. We had a bivy bag and a jetboil, but that was it. I felt that the mature and responsible decision was to turn around and start the endless abseil work. I had no desire to just tag along on such an iconic route with no spare energy in the tank. I had even less desire to spend a night out already being cold sitting in the sun and eating, that would have been outright stupid, I know my body. I was getting ill and I later learned I had caught a bad chest infection.

My call for us to turn around was a disappointment to all of us and I felt very bad for my two friends who now had to go back down with me, but thats the nature of the game. It was the right call. I have zero regrets. We where too low too late and I was not well. We also waisted some time on P 1 with a swap of lead climber, things like that can't be happening on routes like that. I was unhappy with how event unfolded and being in the mountains is about having fund and some times taking uncomfortable decisions. I can always go back and so can my friends. Even if rapping that route is a bitch its better to go back and climb it with margins and in good health, having a blast. Team dynamics are interesting. For me a route loses its appeal if its not a team effort where every one pulls his weight. The sense of having achieved some thing must be present for me in order to truly enjoy a mountain outing.

I still have sore toes from some minor frost bites… Well that will pass and its all about getting back up there and try again. Alpinism is a process not a given or a zero sume game. Thanks for a nice day out my friends, I had a few great days in the mountains.

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