Saturday, December 24, 2016

Colorado Route, Fitz Roy, Argentina

East Face of Fitz Roy

Mikey and me crossing the glacier
Max ogled over the Patagonia Guidebook photos and descriptions, for more than just the long plane ride south.  Truthfully, he had been dreaming the entire year, since his first trip.  Having familiarity with this mountain range boosts confidence and promotes efficient climbing, giving the illusion these giants mountains are a little more snack size.  Casting upward over untrammeled walls is pleasing but the nervous chatter of my soul craves constant movement over mountain terrain— link-ups and ridge traverses.  When mentioning these ideas to Max, he nodded kindly with a distant gaze, his heart desired to set sail on new terrain.  

Max negotiating the crevase

Our first foray into the mountains brought us into the valley sandwiched by Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.  Tired from the 4 hour approach weaving a terrible broken glacier, we settled into a beach zone beneath our first objective of the trip, De L'S.  Mikey Lukens and myself nestled into our sleeping bag to watch the sun set behind the Torre group.  Max snuggled himself in, telling us stories of obtainable first ascents and taking zoomed photos of the South Face of Fitz Roy.  

Just one day back from a successful mission up the entire West Face of De L'S, via a lay-down start to  Thaws not Holding Wright, we jokingly started a cost-benefit analysis to aid our decision for the next mission.  Weather was holding and incredible.  Max's vision for a new line up the south side of Fitz Roy found itself at the top.   

Racking up.

We were blasting, other were descending. 
Pitch 1
A trip to Southern Patagonia is a grab-bag of emotions.  Turbulent winds confuse my motivation, the sun blares--weakness fully exposed.  Torrential storms douse my ego,  This year, warmer spells liberated the ice clogged granite rifts on the colder south faces.  Wonderful news, in some ways.  Our approach across Glacier Peidras Blancas Superior, on the other hand, was more complicated.  Previous seasons required navigation around significant crevasses once leaving Paso Guillaumet.  Success is largely dependent on personal perspective, not just the weather. 

Two thong-like snow bridges required thoughtful attention.  We trepidatiously weaved our way to a bivy below the East face of Fitz Roy.  In the evening twilight my eyes struggled to appropriately scale the impressive four thousand foot granite monolith towering over our heads.  Our alarm rang at 3am.  Three dampened and already exhausted humans packed in a two person nylon steam room--I mean tent -- initiated a morning dance.  Elbows nudged eyeballs.  Snow packed boots poured over down sleeping bags.  

Max laced his climbing shoes up in firm snow at 6am Thursday morning.  Watching his right leg teeter as his left shoved into a perfect foot jam I thought, “This is one of the easiest starts to a rock climb in the Fitz Roy range I had encountered.”  That absurdity lasted a mere moment.  Flashback of the last twenty-four yours flooded back: slogging up Peidras Negra, jumping unseasonably thin crevasses, late night snuggles in an overpacked hockey locker room, oh and how could I forget simul-soling the 300m 75˚ to 90˚ snice cone just to gain The Brecha?  I snapped back to the sound of Max subtly grunting above.   

Me following the traverse pitch.

I arrived to the second belay before Mikey, and put Max on.  We eyeballed a traverse low, but Max had a vision.  The terrain, while not completely vertical, was difficult to see across.  This mountain, these cracks, this weather my mind wandered.  Hanging from a harness, strapped to the mountain with a three foot tether, my mind exhaled.  Liberated of superfluous chatter.  Max continued worked diligently rightward, while Mikey arrived to share the belay stance.  Eyes blinked, refocusing.  An ecstatic hoot signaled the pitch was over, our clean path was etched a bit further up the infamous peak. 

Mikey on Pitch 6, 7 or 8!

Following this pitch reminded me of the traverse pitch on the Casual Route (Longs Peak), 5.10 instead of 5.7.  Beautiful golden granite knobs and edges and gear just enough.  Not bountiful, just enough to keep you climbing and mindful.  

Looking down pitch 5?

Mikey, Max and I pushed upward.  Our rack was just suffiecingly enough to protect the persistant 3-4 inch gap. The immaculate fissure for which this journey began had finally been reached.  We paper, rock, scissor the next lead block.  Max, reluctant to turn in the lead, did not get to play.  The crack above us split Fitz Roy’s South Face for hundreds of feet.  I was ready to go!!  Mikey expressed the usual unintelligible mumble with minimal eye contact, a high pitched laugh and throw down...paper.  Shit, smothering my rock! 

We all searched for better gear, as we currently were attached to a lone number 4.  A smattering of smaller gear was placed and the number 4 freed up.  Off Mikey went, ascending the persistent baggy fist fissure.  With a single number 3, 4 and 5 on his harness, he boldly continued.  A pod allowed him to place the larger cams and back clean the three.  Roughly 150 feet into his pitch, a flake provided a decent hanging belay magically permitting smaller cams once again.  His next pitch was more of the same boring unclimbed splitter grey granite.  A small wide roof section broke the monotony.  He climbed, he cursed.  He stopped climbing and cursed some more. 
Mikey following above the roof.  

The crack had finally narrowed in width and Mike was trying to save his cams.  He slipped trying to back clean, pulling a nut in the process.  After a brief regroup on both ends, a belay was built and Max and I brought up.  I gawked upwards, thin hands and ring locks led to the left side of a giant roof.  This was our last unknown.  From our camp the day prior we couldn’t see the base, nor could we see the finish to the “line.”  The sun was just beginning to come back around, evening was close.  I climbed the thinning splitter gaining ground and perspective as to what was over the roof.  Above the roof was a killer corner for another two hundred feet.  Crack size varied with two broken parallel crack systems weaving in and out.  Snow and ice chocked much of the corner but because of the variety in crack systems only a few ice jams were necessary.

A few hundred more feet and the angle of the face backed off considerably.  We eventually coiled one of the ropes and all simul-climbed on the other rope.  Ice, snow and rocks compiled the 45 degree foot ball slope to the top of the peak.    

The gang on the summit of Fitz Roy. 
Spooning beneath the summit block the sky illuminated with pastels of sunset, Cerro Torre fending off low clouds along the distant ice cap into neighboring Chile. To the East, the shadow of Chalten Massif lay etched onto the landscape and in the biggest, darkest pyramid of that shadow, lay Fitz Roy’s massive wake.  Sleep came quickly but all dozed lightly, nervous of our precariously exposed location and the swiftness of bad weather.  

Gear sorting after a soggy descent off the mountain.  
Morning blanketed us in blue sky and a few cruxes still ahead.  We first needed to rappel the Franco-Argentine, a time-consuming-rope-snagging mess.  As a party of three we did our best, only snagging the ropes three times!  One for each of us.  Mike jugged a ways up the first stuck line, eventually choosing to cut it.  Max bouldered up some snowy blocks releasing his tangle.  The last snag had me re ascending a waterfall pitch!  Finally we reached the isothermic snow of La Silla in early afternoon.  After a quick brew, we packed up, made the final rappels down The Brecha and trudged a slushy path out on the Peidras Blancas glacier.

Enjoying the Cerro Torre "hot springs"  A moment of relaxing approaching our final mission, The Brass-Parrot Link-up on Desmochada. 

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