Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fitz Roy - The Climb

After climbing de la S, I had cached the majority of my gear far up in the Torre Valley, thinking that climbing a rock route up there would be a great intro for Geoff into Patagonian climbing. With the forecast of the season, we decided that we would head up into the Torre, climb a route on Aguja Rafael Juarez (Innominata), descend to town, relax for 2 days and then hike around to the Northwest side of Fitz Roy. It was going to be a lot of hiking, and I was starting to get sick.

Our attempt on Rafael Juarez was short-lived; a party above us initiated a large rockfall, which missed both Geoff and I by only a couple meters. We were sufficiently spooked that we took it as a sign and decided to return to town early so that I could have an extra couple days to recover. Once back in town I began chugging cough syrup and popping anti-flu pills like they were candy, in an effort to purge the sickness out of my body, but as the weather forecast kept on improving, and I kept on hacking, I realized that the only way was to bite the bullet and go for it. The forecast showed 5 days of splitter weather, and so we decided on our course of action. Not only would we be going for the Fitz, but we would be going for the longest route in the whole massif- the Afanasieff (French Northwest Ridge) Route, a 1600m 5.10+ monster alpine rock climb. We received helpful beta, and another half rope from Rolo Garibotti, who with Colin made the second ascent of the route in 2006. Pretty crazy considering it was first climbed in 1979! We knew we would have to go light in order to climb fast and decend the Franco Argentine route, so we took a single sleeping bag, no bivy sack, a titanium Jetboil, 2.5 days of food, one ice axe and aluminum crampons with approach shoes. I was nervous about only taking light approach shoes on an ascent of Fitz, but Rolo assured us that we would otherwise be far too encumbered. More on that later...

Photo: Jon Byers

Guillamet Mermoz and paso Cuadrado. JB photo.

Our route approximately follows the skyline above us. JB photo

JB photo.

At 4 am on the morning of January 20th our friend Malu dropped us off at Rio Electrico to begin the 7 hour hike to the base of the route. Jon Byers, another long time friend of mine who was in the area repeating glacier photographs accompanied us as far as Paso Cuadrado. Geoff and I made it to the base of the route, just left of the ejection cone from the bone dry Supercanaleta, at just after noon. Simul-climbing and pitching out the first 10 pitches to the 3-star bivy Rolo recommended went quick, and we were there by 5.15 pm, with a lot of daylight left, so we kept chugging, intending to make our first bivy 9 more pitches up.

Cerro Torre is so small! Could probably climb it with just a few bolts wouldn't ya think?!

Geoff Schellens, starting pitch 1 of about 40.

These were some of the cooler pitches on the route, featured slabs with slightly bottomed out cracks which forced you to place gear when you could and run it out when you couldn't. Often there was would be no belay gear at the end of the rope, and we would simul climb another 20 meters until better gear appeared.
The bivy we made it to just before dark was definitely 1/2-star, with just enough room to sit side by side and cover ourselves with our single 20 degree sleeping bag, but as we settled in and watched the last light fade over the Torre Massif, we relaxed and enjoyed our candy bars for

One more to go before the bivy!

The night was cold, and I kept Geoff awake with my constant and violent hacking. I was getting sicker, develeping some sort of respiratory infection, but when the morning broke and we got some coffee in us, the stoke was uncontainable. I began leading out first, as we worked our way towards the crux, a difficult wide crack which is made more difficult wearing a pack. The climbing eased after this, and we were able to finally find a ledge with some snow with which to make some water. Around this point, I peeked behind a flake to see where the next pitch went, and found the tattered orange rucksack which Jean Afanasieff left behind during the first ascent. Pitch after pitch of moderate rock got us to the last of the hard pitches- a crack which ended at a fingertip traverse, taking me around the corner, wildly exposed above the sweeping North Face below my feet. I had an ear to ear smile as I swung around and pinched the granite fins taking the rope up and around to the belay.

Geoff follows the incredible exposed step around.

We soon put a rope away and began climbing together in the orange evening sun, weaving our way between icy blocks towards the summit. At 9.30 pm, all the noise stopped. No more calls of "off belay", or "get that anchor down I need you to start simuling!". No more clinking of gear on our harness. Not even a breath of wind in the air. Just silence as we stepped onto the summit block, and watched the sun cast a long shadow down onto the steppe far below. We took our time enjoying the moment, savoring our reward, before stepping down and finding a good spot to bivy for the night. The Franco-Argentine is a complex rap route, and we didn't want to on-sight it at night.


Jon Byers timelapse. We are sleeping on top, parties are climbing on the Franco Argentine.

Another JB photo. A "Coronal Mass Ejection" was the reason for the Southern Lights

The descent the next day was long and involved. We made around 25 semi-eventful rappels to make it back to the Fitz Roy glacier, and then trudged hours back down in soggy shoes to the dry trail. The jury is still out on the approach shoe tactic- a week later and I still have limited feeling in 6 toes. Like most things in alpine climbing, I will probably forget this fact and focus on the fact we went light and fast, and we sent. Same with the fact that I went up on this route with fully entrenched bronchitis and had to take a hefty series of antibiotics after returning to town.

Sunrise over the Hielo Continental. Fitz's shadow off in the distance.

This climb was for Geoff an amazing whirlwind first trip into the range, and I am sure he will be coming back. For me, it was the culmination of 4 seasons of hard work, dreaming and working towards a goal that wasn't always very well defined. I feel very lucky to have had all the variables turn out in my favor, this is not typical for Patagonia. I am indebted to my friends in Chalten, gringos and Argentinos alike, who contributed to such an amazing atmosphere of STOKE this season. Jason and Hayden for crushing the Torre, Rolo for the never ending beta sessions and giving us a rope, Joel for the pizzas and empanadas at Capa Bar, and everyone else. Props to Jon Byers for taking great photos.

Thank you Patagonia, see you next year.


Juan korkuerika said...

Óle óle Campeón ;-))) Un abrazo fuerte desde España y a ver si nos volvemos a ver por el mundo ;-)
Hasta la vista alpinista!

Skully said...

Hoots, You have the most fun. I'm convinced, after reading this AND watching your Turbio vid. Damn good stuff, man.