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New Englanders Go Big on Fitz Roy Traverse

Freddie Wilkinson leading the traverse from Aguja Mermoz’s summit to the base of Fitz Roy’s Casarotto Pillar. Wilkinson and Dana “Mad Dog” Drummond were busy during the second half of January climbing a new route on Aguja Guillamet, a new variation on Fitz Roy, and The Red Pillar on Aguja Mermoz. From February 5-7, 2008, they then traversed those three formations, covering some previously unclimbed terrain. They named the enchainment The Care Bear Traverse (VI 5.11 A0). [Photo] Courtesy of Freddie Wilkinson

Freddie Wilkinson and Dana “Mad Dog” Drummond of New Hampshire completed a three-day traverse of Aguja Guillamet, Aguja Mermoz and Fitz Roy by the Casarotto (aka North) Pillar from February 5-7, 2008. They named the three-peak link-up Care Bear Traverse (VI 5.11 A0).

Wilkinson and Drummond had climbed each of these three formations during a rare, extended weather window during the last two weeks of January. These earlier ascents included a new route on Guillamet and a new variation on Fitz Roy.

On January 18 the pair climbed new terrain on the west face of Guillamet that Colin Haley had attempted the week before. The eleven-pitch climb consisted of some 5.11 and a few aid moves, and it concluded with a two-pitch burly offwidth and squeeze chimney system they dubbed the “Fissure Mad Dog.” During the climb, Wilkinson and Drummond found one European-style piton threaded with some battered bail tat and a German candy bar wrapper with a 1993 expiration date, which they thought were left by a rappel descent from the 1993 first ascent of Padrijo, the only established route on the face. Not positive that their route was new, Wilkinson said they named it The Lost Men (5.11a A0, 550m), “in honor of those unknown soldiers.”

Enjoying increasingly good weather, the two headed to the north face of Fitz Roy to find compelling new lines. On January 21 they saw nothing worthwhile, so they started up Tehuelche (5.11 A1) to the Grand Hotel ledge, then took a chimney system that Wilkinson said was “dripping wet and offered 5.10 adventure climbing at its finest–with a surprise M5 chockstone pitch at the top.” After establishing ten new pitches they arrived at the Affanasief Ridge, where they bivied together in a single sleeping bag and then scrambled the remaining several hundred meters to the summit in the morning. They named their Tehuelche variation The Hoser Chimney (5.10 A1 M5, 1300m), and Wilkinson said they were surprised to find such moderate climbing on the long and notoriously difficult face.

Climbing the M5 pitch on The Hoser Chimney (5.10 A1 M5, 1300m) with minimum gear. Knowing the weather could turn ugly, Wilkinson and Drummond brought extra bivy gear.

Wilkinson and Drummond then did an onsight free ascent of The Red Pillar (5.11+, 650m) on Mermoz on January 28. They encountered some wet rock, but didn’t think that the route was any harder than 5.11.

“Having climbed Guillamet, Mermoz and Fitz Roy, we began to consider linking the three formations in a single skyline traverse. Down in Chalten, we pored over photos on my computer of the gendarmed ridge that connects the summit of Guillamet over Mermoz to the start of the North Pillar of Fitz Roy, identifying ledge systems, key rappels and potential bivy spots,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson and Drummond thought they would need three days to do the enchainment, but the forecast called for two short 30-hour high-pressure periods with a short windstorm and colder temperatures in between. They decided that their only chance of completing the traverse would be to go heavy on bivy gear and wait out the poor weather during the middle of the climb. They offset the weight of the bivy gear by bringing no pins or bolts and only one axe and one pair of aluminum crampons.

“Traditional bivies aren’t very stylish these days, but the extra comfort and rest it afforded us on route allowed us to chill out, and then attack,” Wilkinson said.

The pair started out at 8 a.m. on February 5 by linking Guillamet’s Brenner Ridge to Mermoz’s west face, reaching Mermoz’s summit at 6:30 p.m., then settled in for the night. They appreciated their decision when the wind increased during the night, forcing them to wait until noon the next day before pressing on.

“This section of ridge hadn’t been traversed before and in many ways seemed like it would be the crux of the link-up,” Wilkinson said. “We found lots of committing rappelling, ledge-shuffling and moderate climbing, but amazingly there were no stopper gendarmes or dead-end slabs. Whenever the route seemed to blank out, an appealing option waited on the other side of the ridge.”

The two reached a talus slope 60 meters above the base of the Casarotto Pillar by 6 p.m. and made a suitable bivy ledge for their tent. They divided the leads according to their strengths. Wilkinson has more alpine experience, so he led the ridge traverse from Guillamet’s summit to the start of the North Pillar, and Drummond, having lived in Yosemite for the past two years, led the Casarotto Route (5.10 A1, 1200m) the next morning.

“From my perspective, the next ten hours passed in a blur of wind-sprint jugging, belaying and fast action gear exchanges,” Wilkinson said. “It felt like I was the member of some bizarre alpine pit crew as Mad Dog short fixed the entire route and delivered us onto the summit of Fitz Roy by 5:30 p.m.”

Having left their bivy gear at the base of the North Pillar, Wilkinson and Drummond were forced to rappel the route in the dark, which made the descent dramatic: “Our ropes got stuck and I had to perform a mandatory ‘mystery jug’ to free them, but just when it looked like we were on the verge of a full-blown epic, we reached the bloc and dropped to the lee side of the ridge,” Wilkinson said. They endured and slogged back to their base camp in a light rain.

Source: Freddie Wilkinson

Wilkinson and Drummond on the summit of Fitz Roy after completing The Hoser Chimney (5.10 A1 M5, 1300m), their new ten-pitch variation to Tehuelche (5.11 A1), from January 21-22, 2008. The chimney system featured wet and adventurous 5.10 climbing and a M5 chockstone pitch at the top. [Photo] Courtesy of Freddie Wilkinson