Patagonia 2013-14: A Return to the Meteorological Norm

Posted on: May 8, 2014


Climbers near the summit of Colmillos Central, one of several small summits along the ridge extending north from Cerro Rincon. Photographer Herve Barmmasse, along with Martin Castrillo and Pedro Fina, freesoloed the majority of two new routes on Colmillos Norte and Central very early in this year's Patagonia climbing season. [Photo] Herve Barmmasse

For the last few seasons, dry conditions in Patagonia opened access to typically elusive peaks—the Ragni (M4 90 degrees, 600m) became Cerro Torre's standard route (with the help of the weather and Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk's bolt-chopping on the Compressor route), and between Christmas and New Year's Day 2013 more than 40 people summited. The great conditions also allowed climbers to complete routes that for many years were just watched and talked about, like the coveted 1000-meter Pilar del Sol Naciente (5.12b A1 WI6 M6) and Venas Azules (M5 AI6, 950m) on Torre Egger, along with many other routes.

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But this season, high winds, heavy precipitation and colder temperatures marked a return to Patagonia's typically horrendous weather. Short weather windows and poor conditions made long, committing routes dangerous. Under these conditions, some routes were not expected to come in at all. However, climbers adapted to the mercurial weather to forge new lines amid areas of inaccessible and dangerous terrain.

Fitz Traverse, Fitz Roy Massif

During a lull of weather from February 12 through 16, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell dispatched the long-sought-after traverse of the Fitz Roy Range. The ridgeline, about five kilometers in length, and offering 4000 meters in vertical gain, involved climbing seven peaks with difficulties up to 5.11d C1 65 degrees, most of which was simulclimbed. "The Fitz traverse perfectly suits our strengths since it's kind of a combination of big-wall climbing and ridge traversing," Honnold wrote in an email to Alpinist. "It's almost all rock climbing and our background of speed climbing certainly helps."

Alex Honnold peers out of his tent near the summit of Fitz Roy, where he and Tommy Caldwell spent their second night on a five-day traverse of the Fitz Roy massif. [Photo] Tommy Caldwell

Despite the tame weather window the pair had during their climb, much of Patagonia's summer has been extremely wet. Rime and ice occupied almost every line the pair climbed, but did not deter them. "The biggest challenges were definitely the sections of ice and snow," Honnold said. "Icy cracks made for slow going." Though neither are known for their ice climbing, in an interview with Planet Mountain, Caldwell said he knew enough to make climbing safe for the both of them, adding: "In Patagonia if you are willing to suffer a bit and only turn around when absolutely necessary, you can get up a lot of things."

Caldwell and Honnold on the summit of Guillaumet, the first peak on their traverse. [Photo] Alex Honnold collection

Californiana Sit-Start, Fitz Roy

Matteo Della Bordella, Luca Schiera and Silvan Schepbach climbed a major linkup on the Fitz Roy massif in February. They started with the Filo del Hombre Sentado on Fitz Roy's southwest face, then accessed the Col de los Americanos by scrambling up the approach pitches of Destreza Criolla. In the following two days, the trio continued up the Filo Este of Aguja de la Silla and the 1968 Californian route on Fitz's south face. This "Californiana Sit-Start" reaches difficulties of 5.10+ C1 M4/5 in nearly 2000 vertical meters of climbing. Dean Potter completed a separate sit-start to the Californian route in 2002, solo, which he called the Californian Routlette.

West Face Torre Egger attempt

A crack leads upward on the broad west face of Torre Egger. [Photo] Ermanno Salvaterra collection

Nearly two decades ago, Lorenzo Nadali, Pietro Del Pra and Andrea Sarchi started up the dead-center of Torre Egger's smooth west face. After just 100 meters of climbing, they retreated back down the mountain. This November, Tomas Franchini, Paolo Grisa, Ermanno Salvaterra and Francesco Salvaterra followed the same tiered set of arching dihedrals onto the west face, climbing for 11 days. "I am not so young, but I like stay in the wall," says Ermanno Salvaterra. "[S]o we decided to do it in capsule style." The proximity of their portaledges let them wait out the storm that rushed through the massif, but the weather did not relent before they decided to retreat from a highpoint two-thirds of the way up the face. They promise to return next season.

The team climbed in capsule style, hunkering in their portaladges in weather that would eventually end their attempt. [Photo] Ermanno Salvaterra collection

North Pillar Lay Start, Fitz Roy Massif

Also in February, Americans Austin Siadak, Julian Poush and Kevin Prince made a second ascent of North Pillar Sit Start (5.11b C1, 1900m), first ascended by Scott Bennett and Cheyne Lempe in January of 2012, and added a direct start variation, The Lay Start, at the base of Mermoz's northwest ridge. "The Lay Start variation added about four to five 70-meter pitches of slab climbing on the lower apron and crack climbing along the ridge crest," Siadak wrote in an email to Alpinist. "I think that the line on a whole is an incredibly aesthetic and beautiful...I'd HIGHLY recommend it to anyone looking for a long, incredible adventure."

Kevin Price belays Julian Poush on the "Awesome Splitter Pitch" (5.10 C1) three-quarters of the way up their North Pillar Lay Start in the Fitz Roy massif. The North Pillar of Fitz Roy, which marks the final stretch of their climb, is visible in the upper right of the photo. [Photo] Austin Siadak

Recent storms had filled cracks on the North Pillar Fitz Roy's headwall, so the climbers set up a pendulum between parallel systems to keep moving upward. On higher sections of Fitz Roy, rime fins and ice fell without warning, at one point almost hitting Siadak and Prince. "Julian did an incredible job finding the quickest path through the upper North Pillar," Siadak said, "and Kevin rallied hard to get us through the upper headwall on Fitz Roy as quick as possible." Siadak estimated that about 100 meters of vertical gain was added with the new pitches, which offering long runouts between protectable features at 5.7R, 5.8R, 5.9R, 5.9 and 5.10-R.

Ruleta Trentina, Cerro Rincon

Cerro Rincon is a difficult mountain with a steep south face and a deeply crevassed glacier that winds down its north and eastern aspects. Several failed attempts left the mountain unclimbed until 1971 and the second ascent was only made in 2000. This November, a thoroughly discussed, but terrifying route wound its way up the south face, authored by Tomas Franchini and Francesco Salvaterra. They chose a steep dihedral of difficult ice and mixed climbing below a looming 50-meter-tall serac on the mountain's summit. They traversed right before reaching the foot of the serac and climbed the snowy ridge to the summit after 650 meters of WI5 M6 climbing.

Bossanova, Aguja Guillaumet

Scott Bennett and Graham Zimmerman established a 700m line on Aguja Guillaumet's west face in late December, when a short weather window had them searching for a "sheltered and manageable" single-day objective. Their chosen line, Bossanova, climbs a series of corners before entering steep 5.11+ hand cracks in compact rock a couple hundred meters off the ground. Above, the line follows a widening offwidth and tight chimney with a few easy aid moves, and ends with a thin finger crack that Bennett and Zimmerman aided at A1. "It will almost certainly go free despite a hefty and wide sting in the tail," Zimmerman wrote to Alpinist. "The route is testament to Scott's vision for a fine line and fantastic onsight rock climbing abilities."

Bossanova (5.11+ A1, 700m), on the west face of Aguja Guillaumet. [Photo] Graham Zimmerman

Superdomo, Domo Blanco

Joel and Neil Kauffman and Mikey Schaefer made a first ascent of an excellent, tiered ramp that cuts across Domo Blanco's East Face this January. The 500m route starts with gentle ice and mixed climbing that becomes progressively harder with each tier. The last tier is the best of the route, a superb and long ice-filled chimney. The team climbed the route in a day, and rappelled during the night.

"It is a phenomenal ice and mixed line, quite a lot easier than Exocet [at WI5 M4] but equally good in quality. It is protected from the wind and hence a very good candidate for questionable good weather windows," writes Garibotti in his online guide, PataClimb. "[N]ever has a new route become so popular so fast."

Vstala Primorska, Aguja Dumbo

In November, Dejan Koren and Bostjan Mikuz completed a first ascent of the previously unclimbed Aguja Dumbo, a big, fin-shaped peak just south of the Marconi massif. Koren and Mikuz climbed 400 meters of 60-degree snow to reach another 600 meters of M4 to M6 mixed climbing, interspersed with easy snow slopes.

D'Artagnan, Punta Los Tres Mosqueteros

David Gladwin, Kim Ladiges and Kristoffer Szilas left El Chalten with the aim of putting a new route on Cerro Domo Blanco, but on the approach they noticed an unclimbed and unnamed pillar with "some of the most beautiful splitter crack [Gladwin] had ever seen." They climbed eight pitches of the route until they were turned back by mixed conditions on the final pitch. Two days later, a weather window opened. Gladwin and Ladiges returned with Ben Erdmann and ice gear to complete the route. The first eight pitches of D'Artagnan (5.11d C1 M6) are sustained finger-to hand-sized cracks. The team aided one section of the route, and used a pendulum to connect a crack to a corner on Pitch 8. The last pitch was unrelenting, pouring with water that soaked the team as they climbed M6 ice. On the summit of the pinnacle, which they named Punta Los Tres Mosqueteros, they emptied their boots of water and wrung out clothes. They descended, feeling sluggish and forgetting simple things. Nineteen hours after setting off they returned to base camp.

El Lobito, Aguja Volonqui

Aguja Volonqui from the east, showing the Carrington-Rouse in red and El Lobito in green. [Photo] Colin Haley

Colin Haley and Sarah Hart established a new route just left of Aguja Volonqui's East Ridge, named El Lobito (A0 AI4+ M5, 400m). The route has several difficult steps separated by pitches of lower angled ice and snow. The first difficult step was a steep gully that was filled with bad ice. They climbed AI4 and M4 moves high above their sparse gear. While they were climbing, intermittent sun warmed the face enough to release blocks of ice. The final 50 meters of the route steepened in difficulty, with M5 moves and one point of aid. Haley and Hart mantled the top of the route onto the ridge, just meters away from the true summit, six and a half hours after they set out.

Sarah Hart halfway up the east side of Volonqui. [Photo] Colin Haley

El Filo del Tornado and Halle Berry, Marconi Valley

Between the months of January and February, Mike Collins and Johnathan Schaffer made several first ascents in the Marconi Valley. El Filo del Tornado (5.11b WI3+ 60 degrees, 600m) begins its 11 pitches on the lowest-right corner of Punta Los Tres Mosqueteros, beside Domo Blanco and ends on D'Artagnan. Halle Berry (5.11d C1, 300m) follows eight pitches up the west face of Aguja Tito Carrasco and joins Cara Oeste for 100m to reach the summit. Schaffer believes this route will go free at 5.12c.

La Superwhillans, Cerro Marconi

La Superwhillans (M3 AI3, ca. 650m) on the east face of Cerro Marconi Central. [Photo] Colin Haley

Colin Haley attempted an "elegant ramp of snow and mixed terrain slashing up the east face" of Cerro Marconi twice before success. On his first attempts, strong winds kept Haley and Andrea Di Donato from ever leaving the glacier below the route. Poor ice quality drove him off the route on his second attempt after only climbing 120 meters. This December Haley and Rolando Garibotti were given a decent weather window for the climb. Their new route went climbs the 60 degree ramp to one pitch of AI3/M3 climbing. On his blog, Haley wrote, "in hindsight [the route] would've been perfect for relaxed free-soloing."

Rolando Garibotti just below the summit of Marconi Central. [Photo] Colin Haley

La Media Docena, Aguja Media Luna

Seven pitches at a maximum difficulty of 5.11b earned the summit of Aguja Media Luna for Jorge Achermann, Tomas Aguillo and Nicolas Benedetti in February. They left nothing behind but two fixed nuts.

Aguja Guillaumet Solo

Colin Haley on the summit of Aguja Guillaumet. His November solo link-up marked his nineth visit to the mountain's summit. [Photo] Colin Haley

Early in the season, Colin Haley soloed a linkup on Guillaumet in a swift two hours and six minutes. He started up the Courrier du Sud along thin, snow-covered ice that yielded the crux of his climb. "I'm embarrassed to admit that I think it was too insecure to be safely free-soloing," Haley wrote on his blog afterward. "In fact, I would have bailed if I felt I could've, but nowhere was the ice thick enough or high-enough quality to place a short ice screw, let alone make an Abolokov anchor, and down-climbing seemed too sketchy with such delicate conditions." From there, he joined up with the 1979 Beger-Jennings and summited via the Terre des Hommes finish.

Sources: Matteo della Bordella, Herve Barmmasse, Tommy Caldwell, Rolando Garibotti, Colin Haley, Alex Honnold, Ermanno Salvaterra, Austin Siadak, Jonny Simms, Graham Zimmerman, pataclimb.com, alpinist.com, colinhaley.com

A southerly view from Guillaumet, just before Haley joined the Beger-Jennings route. [Photo] Colin Haley
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