Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fitz Roy

Approaching Fitz Roy's west side

“Is that you Clay?”  Sam piped up, poking fun in the full moon from our tightly packed perch. 

We had all just settled uncomfortably into our sleeping bags, tethered by cordelette and were already greeted by the loud rhythmic sound of air squeezing through a nasal passage.  Chad was out, snoring, and clearly comfortable with his legs dangling over the lip of granite.  Dreaming of rainbows and Alfahores (the most delicious cookie/carmel/chocolate treat EVER), I am sure. 

The final push to begin the route.  


Jens silently stirred snuggled next to Chad in their dual sleeping sack.  

Two peas in a pod.

Luke lay to my right, stiff and quite.  I think he snuck a sleeping pill.  

Clay laughed on my left side. “Ha, nope, not me tonight Sam!”

Sam, somewhere near my feet...hugging the edge...rubbed his arms methodically in attempts to stay warm, complaining of cold triceps!!! 

I slept with my face buried into my sleeping bag, hugging a rock with my cheek, chest down all twisted up.   The climbing rope under my ass leveled me just enough from slipping too far down the ledge.

Six of us sleeping on one 8 by 5 ledge, strewn with boulders and patches of ice.  
Snow was not easily accessed for melting and we were all too lazy to seek it out.

This was our second bivy on Fitz Roy. 

Stoked to be on Fitz Roy!!!

Earlier that morning Luke, Sam, Clay and myself had been awoken at our first bivy (a plush platform hanging over the northern side of Fitz Roy.

Chad and Jens had gotten an early start from their bivy lower down on the route and were climbing over our sleeping bags with smiles.  

“Morning guys,” Chad greeted us with a smile through the early dawn light.  The 4 of us started packing our kits as Jens and Chad set-up to blast up our first headwall.

Jens handed me back the #4 we had left for him on the snow pitches the day prior.  He gathered it out of the ice lined crack, but said he couldn't bring himself to clip it.  Nice work!!!!

Adam and Mike also began packing their kits, sleeping in a not-as-sweet- alcove 15 feet below us.  

100m of simul-climbing came to a halt!
Clay and I had started the approach and climbing with them Wednesday, February 12.  

Leading away from the snowy mess.  Glory ridge climbing once again

This was February 13th.  The ‘Breakfast pitch’ this Thursday morning leered at us all.  A shaded wall smeared with ice and snow.  

Adam and Mike were hesitant.  

Jens was the first to give it a rip, successfully hand traversing left into a short off-width section.  He mantled his ice axe, stemmed trepidasiously, and finally chicken-winged his way to a good stance with descent gear.  

Alright, it goes!!

The boys all looked at each other with uncertainty.  

Myself and Sam leading up the stella rib to our first Bivy
“Never climbed an icy crack with my rock shoes on,” Sam admitted to Clay as he prepped for his go on the ‘breakfast pitch.’

He nailed it with Clay following suit shortly after!  

Bivy ledge on night 1--cushy and amazing!

Adam and Mike were not feeling it, opting to descend. 

 “I think it would be safer just to go up,” I commented in an attempt to rally them along.
It didn’t work.

We were down to 3 teams. 

Wishing them safe travels as they figured out how to rappel off this crazy mountain, the 6 of us pushed further up the 5000 foot feature.  
Inching our way up the wall in a perfectly choreographed pattern of climbing and belaying, laughing and trying hard.    

Half-way up the headwall, I took over the leading.  Cracks were still a little snowy, but now with the sun's warmth a lot of wet.    

Eventually the 3 teams breached the headwall, belly flopping onto a flat sunny ledge.  The route continued around the south side of a western rib...more shade and ice.  

Sam Piper, Luke Holloway, and Mermoz and the moon glowing in behind.

Chatter filled the crisp air as we took a moment of pause.  All 3 parties able to mingle.  Gazing west at the vast icecap, conversations of previous weeks adventures and empanada parties.  We all smeared more zinc sunscreen on our faces.  Clay and Chad both accentuated their white face paint with a tan zinc lip goo.  

Comical to look at them both!  

“What were you dreaming about last night, Chad?”  I inquired, rousing him for his snoring.  

“Not sure? Man best night of sleep I have had in while, though!”  he replied with a grin.   


I continued the leading, but was super happy to have another team clearing the path today.  I could mindlessly wan....ops foot slipped on some black ice.  Mindless wandering wasn’t going to happen.

We all pushed on, now over 14 hours into our day.  The sun creeping closer to Cerro Torre and the western skyline.  

Short steep headwalls sections, wandering pitches with loose death blocks, black ice, snow and water.  This climb was not a gimme.

Worry swept across Clay’s face as the temps began to drop and it seemed we were no where near a comfortable stopping point.  

“Hey guys,” Jens hollered down to the four of us spread out working diligently on our individual pitches, “I think this ledge will fit all 6 of us!”  

I saw the relief in Luke’s eyes as he followed his line up the ledge with Sam, Chad and Jens already on it.  Clay had almost resigned to sleeping in a snowy flat patch a pitch lower, until this news broke.  

Phew, we were exhausted and ready to get settled in.  

Oh the Breakfast Pitch and the gang!

Chad commented on having never shared such a small ledge with so many people, he thought it was a riot!  

The snoring subsided or maybe I got a few minutes of sleep too.  

Either way Jens’ alarm at 5 am was dreadful.  
I convulsed with shivers.  Sam and Luke too.  All of us fairly dehydrated, exhausted and cold. 

Clay, thankfully, offered to lead the breakfast pitches again!  Luke and Sam started us off the third day.  More steep sections with iced blocks and another looming headwall.  

Sam and I looked at each other at one point, “Where are we???”  

The mountain stretched like Jack’s bean stalk....into the endless blue sky.  

Endless, it seemed that morning.  
My turn to head up the Breakfast Pitch, at last.  Headwall just got better!

We blasted off our bunk bed ledge without breakfast, without melting water.  

Three or four pitches had us at an angling scree and snow filled tennis field sized expanse.  Luke aimed right towards the steep red rock, a finger crack calling his name.  Jens aimed left, near the prow towards a fully rimmed-up crack he was convinced would fall out with a gentle tap.  Clay strayed straight up, towards an off-width filled with snow at its base.  

Ha, cragging 4200 feet off the deck, looking for the right path.  

Luke and Sam down-climbed.  

Not right.

Clay paused under the off-width without the correct sized gear to make a reasonably safe ascent.

Jens doubted his rimy hand-crack.  
Cheezin' at the bellyflop spot.  

Stumped.  All of us.
Jens gazed left.  A hand traverse led directly left around the prow back onto the north face of Fitz Roy and presumably the easier terrain we were looking for.

“HAND TRAVERSE!” I shouted up, “That’s the beta!!”  Chris Trimble had written me a little message right before we left for this mission, as I knew he had climbed Afanasieff last year.  
‘Sick hand-traverse leads to more wandering terrain to the top.’ 

Jens took it.  

Sure enough, the sick hand-traverse bopped us around a prow and onto a few feet more of 5.10 terrain before eventually mellowing to easier 5.8 blocky climbing.  
Jens scoping out the sick hand traverse!
Chad Heading up for the hand traverse
The terrain was not too difficult, but as we climbed up higher the snow was more prominent as was the rime covering the rocks.

Capes of never-never land rime flew westward, waving up to 5 feet sideways off the granite.  Clinging like a sea urchin in the waves.  
With the developing day, the sun’s warmth melted chunks and doused us with the little ice daggers and water droplets.  

The blue sky became a more prominent visual, as 5000 feet of granite was almost entirely under our feet.  A final snow field blanketed the path to the summit ridge. 

The 6 of us high-fived, took photos, danced a little, and marveled at our birds-eye view of the Southern tip around us.  
so close

Three exhausting days of work, two cold nights of sleeping on rocks, all to summit one amazing mountain.  

We were on the top of Cerro Fitz Roy!!!!!!

Summit time is exponentially shorter than ascending time.  With many rappels and tricks still to fill the day, Luke and Sam headed down first.  Chad and Jens lingered at the top with Clay and I.  I spread some of Andrew’s ashes and took a few photos for Chad and Jens with their Hostel business card.  

We all strapped on our crampons and Jens and I led our teams down the southern snow slope.  Luke and Sam had just anchored into the first rappel, Chad and Jens had just completed a 15 foot down climb section.

Cumbre dancin' on Fitz Roy!
“Hey Quinn, you might want to give Clay a belay on that section.” Chad hollered to me.  I nodded and followed suit.  

I finished the down climb after Clay, and led across a short icy bit to the first rappel station.  Luke and Sam’s ropes still through the rings.  

“Be safe guys.” Chad hollered back at us one last time.  We were not all descending the same way.  The four of us choosing the Franco-Argetintine while Chad and Jens opting for the Super Caneleta.  

We caw-cawed with joy one last time and sent one last well wish to one another.  

The six of us summited Fitz Roy on Valentines day 2014 as an unplanned team.  Psyched to spend time together, share the loads of route finding and cleaning up the icy splitters.  Snuggling and shivering on uncomfortable platforms suspended over seas of glaciers and scree.  What a treat!    

Andrew Barnes atop Fitz Roy.  Cerro Torre in the background!
The four of us completed our rappels and separated ways, as Clay and I had gear to retrieve at another camp.  Upon arriving haggard back to El Chalten on Saturday morning, our glee was quickly overthrown with news of only five successfully descending the mountain that day.  

Fitz Roy was Chad Kellogg's 5th Patagonian summit (or so he mentioned on the top).  Sadly, it was his last.  

A legend in the climbing community, it was an amazing treat to summit this prized mountain with such a pleasant and skilled alpinist.  Thank you Chad.  My heart extends to your family and close friends and to Jens for loosing his partner en route.  

Love to my dear friends Jens, Luke, Sam, Adam, Mike and my rock star partner Clay and to the whole community of climbers in Chalten who made it down safe from their adventures.  
Cerro Torre and others.  Looking west.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

First Cumbre in Patagonia!



Guillaumet in center of photo
I just hoped to climb some granite splitters in this dreamland.

I am not the only one with this wish.

....and this is how it is now.


Clay Kennedy and I packed for our second session in the mountains.  A"window" had finally come.

Window has become a joke around these parts....8-20 hours of medium-okay pressure with cold temps and sometimes climbable winds (considering your aspect and tolerance!)

following near top of the Amy Coullior

Waiting in the notch, hiding from the winds

Guillaumet via any route sans congo-line became the objective.  HA!  A snow or ice route was the best option.
Rock climbing?  Not gonna happen for awhile!

We left ourselves open to the Amy or the Guillo, and decided a little later start would be just fine...minimize the waiting at the base or on route.

Luckily, snow conditions stayed great for our later than sunrise start and our plan worked perfectly.

With snow fresh we followed a mild set of boot packed tracks up Paso Guillaumet from our camp at Piedra Negra.  The Amy Coullior was free and clear of people. wasn´t THAT late!

The bergshrund was a 3 foot step up, maybe 2 feet wide.
No problem!
We continued up the snow a little further up, until Clay reached a set of slings and a piton on the right, here we pulled out the rope and simul-climbed to the lip.
The snow ramp leading up to the notch was in dreamy alpine conditions, "one hitter, quitters!" as Clay called it.  A boulder problem exit over iced in blocks mantled us up onto the ridge.
From there, the wind was ever present.  Climbing on the east side was calm and warm.  Climbing on the west side was screaming barfy nuking winds.

From the notch, the route joins another route via mixed rock, snow and ice climbing on 5.9 or easier terrain.
Still no sign of people.
The cracks were snowy and climbing in mountain boots makes me feel like I have two left feet.  Clumsy and insecure.

I led a pitch to a false summit, first with crampons on, but because it is still a fairly unfamiliar style, I finally took them off and just jammed the snowy crack with my boots.
Thankfully, my belay was protected from the wind.  When Clay arrived, I headed off again, down climbing into another notch.
Here we ran into the first signs of life, a party of 5 from Ecuador and many other voices above and below.
Cumbre, Fitz Roy in the background!
I glanced down the notch to the east, 2 parties of 2 were rappelling.
Around the corner the party of 5 was crawling, fully spread out.

Another party of three was just beginning their descent as well.  Rainbow, Ann, and Jared from the states.  They had summited and cheering us on as we continued our ascent!  Clay, tired of waiting, blasted through the sketchy jumaring antics of the Ecuadorian party (one jumar, not tied into the end of the rope, nothing else attaching to the rope!!!!! YIKES!)

Clay skillfully weaved through the party, catching the leader at the base of the snow slope that leads to the summit.  These last two pitches faced west.  It was quite brutal.  I climbed the snow filled 5.8 layback crack in my mittens.
Upon meeting up with Clay, I passed and headed up the 40 degree snow slope (seems steeper).
We simul-climbed to the top!
Cumbre to ourselves!!!!!!!  Did a little boogie, soaked in the view of Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, some of the ice cap beyond it all!

A wonderful adventure, amazing views, and just happy to have realized a dream!

Climbing in Patagonia, what a DREAM!!!!!!