Monday, March 16, 2020

Torre Egger and Torres del Paine

Getting soaked on Titanic
In end of January, we'd already climbed some routes and peaks with David, we were feeling hopeful for one good weather window, like the one at New Year's, a few days of perfect weather that would let you go climbing big stuff without an anxious expectation of deteriorating weather (that was the Old Patagonia - now, it's hard to even imagine going up without a reassuring forecast!). We've had the taste of the good, fun climbing, of what it feels like when the weather's good, and there was definitely some expectation bubbling in Chalten. Curiously, Rolo announced some promising weather patterns arriving in about 2 weeks, according to some sci-fi long term forecast I never learnt how to read. The sliver of hope was enough to build into a rumor of "definitely big brecha coming up" (the most ridiculous is that, upon checking this forecast again in 3 days, Rolo saw the big brecha dissapear, but at that point the rumor had snowballed already). With nothing better to do, we hung out, drank beers at Fresco, did some bouldering, refreshed the forecast.. until helas, there was indeed a major spell of high pressure arriving! It was going to be a window of at least 4-5 days, and the excitement blew through the roof. People were re-adjusting their plans, going for enchainments, or even two separate peaks in the same window... A bunch of people going for Ragni on Cerro Torre... Plans were made - we wanted to go climb in the Torres. Maybe not the Cerro Torre though - let's do Torre Egger then! A true, vertigo-inducing spire standing proud at the rim of the Ice Cap, it has no easy way to the summit. We would climb its east face, approaching through the Torre Valley and the Torre glacier. The route chosen: Titanic, climbed in 1987 by the Italians Orlandi - Giarolli with ropes fixed in the lower portion by another team. An exciting mix of steep rock climbing and pure alpine ice.

We hiked in to Noruegos bivvy in the Torre valley on Wednesday. On Thursday we only did the approach on the glacier and climbed the first 3 pitches, one pitch away from the start of the ice runnel. We returned and slept another night at Noruegos, to then climb the bottom half of Egger east face on Friday. We slept on the 45 degree snowfield in the middle of the face, on a ledge we chopped into the snow which made for a neat bivvy, except that without mats, we were pretty cold from underneath (we did have a single wall tent though). On Saturday we climbed another 12 pitches or so of rock to gain another ice runnel, a snowfield and then the summit snow mushroom. Saturday around 6 PM we were on the summit, ecstatic, together with Brette, Quentin and Horacio, who started climbing on Thursday but then spent a restday (!) on the mid-way snowfield. We rappelled together long into the night to reach again the bivvy at the snowfield, and then rappelled to the glacier on Sunday morning. Weather worsened with a little shower while on the last rappells (which didn't matter, because we were getting wet with the ice melting in the gully anyway), and cleared up again in the evening, when we were already hiking out. After an emergency landing at Laguna Torre and sleeping there, we finally staggered to Chalten on Monday, still in good weather! I was feeling pretty beat up, and I think that was equal parts the climbing fatigue and the fatigue of the heavy pack-carrying!

Our packs were really loaded heavy this time around, since:
- we set off for a route involving both difficult rock climbing (i.e. a double rack, double ropes and a tagline) and real ice climbing (we had two pairs of ice axes, clearly intending to avoid any jumaring)
- we didn't have any pre-stashed gear, which is common and smart when you're fixed on a single objective
- being in a team of 2 instead of 3

Quite tiring was also the climbing with the pack. We brought the small BD haulbag in order to be able to haul on difficult pitches and carry it on the back for traversing/easier rock pitches. It was quite a volume restriction (that's why we chose not to bring mats), yet still kind of clumsy to climb with. I carried it on many pitches on the upper half, and it really sapped my core power.
Reflecting on the strategy employed is interesting because the puzzle itself is thrilling at the start. Maybe some would have done it otherwise... Our line of thinking was dominated by the idea of trying to climb free as much as possible and as fast as possible (they don't go together that well though).

The commitment to free climbing, which feels natural if you've grown up as a sport climber, is put to a test when climbing in Chalten. I was equally psyched to climb Egger and to try to climb Titanic free, but... in the crux pitch that was done by Marc-Andre Leclerc at 7b (on the first and only free ascent), my ambitions were reduced quickly. The sheer size and exposure of those walls makes it hard to enter a "red point" mentality instead of "summit" mentality. No doubt there is a ton of potential for free climbing on those walls, as Marc-Andre stated after his ascent, but that will only be attainable to people with great courage and boldness. Great adventure and opportunity to push limits can be found there for the select few. In the light of this realisation, the ascents of Nico and Sean (once again this season) grow in amplitude even further.
In the crux 7b then, I rapidly passed the key section with a tension traverse and we carried on towards the summit. It was the only point where aid was used, and honestly, putting performance aside, we took great pleasure in moving fast, always climbing free, managing to strike that perfect balance between amount of gear/climbing speed on a climb that is sustained in both rock and ice.

I could go on and on discussing the Titanic strategy - you can imagine we discussed it at length! But maybe the best strategy is just to become stronger and faster.

frantic packing (already in the good weather!) at Sebastian's hostel
the next day, I went bouldering (conditions were poor, because there was no wind)
and then we hiked in.
On the approach to Torre valley. We hiked in and out in good weather, which was a nice change from the usual.
approaching on Upper Torre glacier, under the east faces of Torres, with the line of Titanic in red. The east face of Egger is approximately 900m, we climbed somewhere about 25 pitches, going at 7a A0, M4, WI4.
We changed from crampons to climbing shoes many times on this route, many opportunities to drop things. I sacrificed my best pair of gloves to the Wall gods to keep my boots!
The transitions from rock to ice and back were really cool: first you climb a few pitches in the 6th grade range, then you get to a 200 metre ice gully, then back to rock shoes for more steep climbing, then the mid-way snowfield. In the upper half, there's another hidden ice gully before reaching the final snowfield and snow mushroom!
The delicate ice in poor condition where I'd have surely bailed if it wasn't for David and his cat-like ice climbing instincts. On the first pitch of the ice runnel.
Higher in the ice runnel which was running with water at that point. The ice was more solid here but the higher temperatures that day made for lots of melting and we were literally pouring water out of our boots. In hindsight, starting a day later was maybe not a good idea, since temperatures rised steadily throughout this brecha. I guess it's hard to get good rock climbing AND ice climbing conditions on the same wall anyway. I found that to be a bit of a shame, since this section of the route I absolutely didn't enjoy, while it looked sooo good in that photo from Marc-Andre's ascent.
coming up the mid-way snowfield at the start of the second day
In the crux pitch, connecting two ramp systems.
David on the second-to-last lead, up the snow mushroom, with Cerro Torre north face shining in the background. The rime mushroom on Egger is not particularily difficult, but it adds a nice extra level of excitement! Like climbing a giant cotton candy!
It was nice to share the wall with the ultra badass team of Brette, Quentin and Horacio. They climbed a new variation of Brette and Quentin's route from last year (in the wall left of Titanic), the "Marc-Andre's Vision", took a day of rest half-way up, and then climbed on Titanic to reach Egger summit just in front of us. A great ascent, dedicated to the memory of a climbing visionary, Marc-Andre Leclerc.

Torres del Paine
Two weeks after the initial arrival to Chalten, I unexpectedly ran into my friend Christophe whom I'd knew from my trip to Squamish and my time living in Grenoble. Since we'd both be without partners later, we made plans to climb at Torres del Paine in February. Getting domesticated in Chalten was cool, but I thought it would be a shame to miss the opportunity, since who knows when, if ever, I would come back to Patagonia. It's far away and super mentally taxing, I prefer doing laps on Triglav - just kidding.
The national park of Torres del Paine at the southern end of Chile gets A LOT of visitors, it is undoubtedly beautiful and worth seeing - incredible biodiversity in far southern longitudes, not far from the oceans, with wild weather and many awe-inspiring peaks. Because of the number of people, it's also very regulated, but luckily they have a special clause for climbers, it just takes some extra effort. We made sure to obtain our permit beforehand and spent some time planning our little expedition.
As of this moment, there's no guidebook for Torres del Paine. We consulted Rolando Garibotti before leaving Chalten to give us some ideas and topos. As there was a three-day window appearing in the forecast, he suggested we traverse the three Torres, then gave us plenty of useful betas, including a hand-drawn topo of the traverse with approximate times we'd need. Rolo is a true connoiseur of Patagonia, a knowledge base, a dedicated climbing historian with the same old psyche burning within. I feel very grateful for his help as well as some interesting conversations which shed a new light on climbing here.
We made the move to Puerto Natales, the small town in Chile serving as a hub for Torres del Paine. We were told to stay at Redpoint hostel, so we did, and got to meet a bunch of motivated Chilean climbers who worked there and climbed in the park. We're much obliged to the homies from Redpoint for the hospitality, useful info and buena onda throughout!
After a couple days in Puerto Natales during which we recovered adequately from all the exercise in Chalten, we were ready to leave for the park, in time to align with the start of the Brecha. On February 19th, we hiked to "la Cueva Bonnington" and bivvied there - an unforgettable birthday spent portering a 20kg haulbag. Anyhow, early the next morning we got up to a wind-less Valle del Silencio with no clouds in the sky - it's the big brecha, baby!
We scrambled up to the base of the North tower, which we quickly climbed via the Monzino route - the shortest, easiest way up. We were looking at doing something nicer on the North tower, but eventually we wanted to have good chances at doing the three towers (since we're not exactly Honnold) in the given time, which was 2,5 days.
We didn't take long for the Monzino and we were on the summit of Torre Norte at about noon. We realised we should absolutely keep going, so we rappelled back to Col Bich and started up the classic route on Central tower, the Bonnington - Whillans. It was this expedition that apparently put Sir Chris Bonnington on the course to become a great alpinist. The route is really cool, and must have been visionary back in the 60's. The granite here is more fine than in Chalten, the rock quality on these towers is amazing. Pitch after pitch followed and we made quick progress. We resorted to some aid in the crux 7a pitch because it was running with water, but the rest was pure climbing delicacy. After pitch 14, still in daylight, we reached a nice terrace and made out first bivvy there. The bivvy was comfy with plenty of food and water and incredible views - I feel like having cheated a little bit as this traverse was the best way to see the most of the park! On day 2, we soon summitted the Central tower and then spent the rest of the day navigating rappells through the steep southwest face. Chris did an excellent job worthy of a Chamonix guide by rigging all the rap stations and making a few comitting descents down an unknown wall. It took us about 7 hours to descend 1000 metres approximately, with Chris managing to break the hammer on his small ice-axe while setting up raps! The descent to the base of the routes in Central tower southwest face was quite straightforward, but to reach Col Condor (the col between Central and south tower) you still have to descend a band of gray rock which had quite some stacked blocks in places and was not obvious at all.
We reached our second bivy on a small shoulder above the Col Condor, under the South tower, early in the evening and enjoyed the second comfy night. The temperatures stayed high throughout this brecha and we really slept well.

The South tower is a true giant, even taller than the Central tower, and even it doesn't have a 1300 metre face like the Central, it has steep walls from every side and an impressive, slender, sail-like form. The golden-coloured upper half sits on the same band of gray rock of dubious quality underneath. Starting from the colouir between Torre Central and Sur, in the north-east face there's only one route, the Aste, which we had to climb in order for our last summit. The Aste tackles the most improbable looking face I'd ever seen - it seems steep, hard and grim with potentially lots of loose rock. On our third day, we took some time to figure out where to start, but once we got that going, some in-situ gear helped steer us in the right direction. It took 10 pitches to reach a big break half-way up the tower where the rock changes from gray to golden-yellow. From there, we simul-climbed another 500 metres of amazing golden granite of wicked shapes and splitter cracks, not difficult climbing, but we hardly took time to breathe. We knew bad weather was on the way so we tried to lose no time. And the forecast proved to be spot-on correct... We reached the summit, immensely proud of having pulled it off, and quickly started rappelling in an ever-increasing wind. As we got to the base of the wall some 4 hours later, the wind had picked up so much already that the gusts were literally knocking us off our feet. Having completed the 'W' traverse of the Torres, we staggered back to our Cueva, thanked mr. Bonnington for having picked such a nice, wind-secluded spot and floated off into sleep.

The 'W' traverse is actually more like a link-up - the true challenge would be literally traversing all the towers (going up on one side and coming down on the other, instead of rappeling the same route as we climbed on North and South tower). And adding the Peineta, the slightly shorter but no less impressive tower just north of the three Torres. But anyhow, what a stroke of luck it was to get a major weather window once more, do a big climb and make it back just in time before the crazy winds!? We made ideal use of the brecha and I thought it was cool we stuck with the original plan and just kept climbing until it was done. What a privilege to be on the top of those incredible formations that are so unaccessible, looking at the vista in every direction, for three days in a row!

One curious observation is that Torres del Paine has much less climbers than El Chalten. In the whole brecha, we saw 6 other climbers. Most of the activity here seems to be focused around the Torres (there's many other interesting walls though), while any other wall is more often than not a serious big-wall undertaking involving siege tactics, fixing ropes etc. There's a number of walls with few or no established lines. If there is to be a guidebook soon, as rumour has it, this might change - and I thought it was cool to have gone here before that happens. It felt a bit less like choosing your route from a menu and a bit more of unknown.
On Col Condor - with some more big mountains around, Fortaleza and Espada, towering above Valle del Silencio

The hippie climber home, Redpoint hostel in Puerto Natales, including a bouldering room that also sometimes served as dorms
the man vs. the haulbag
Hiking towards Valle del Silencio. A rare shot with no crowds in sight. The park has a great number of visitors, but luckily they all flock to the same spot, so once you leave the main trail, you're alone.
"Hello, I'm here to climb the towers!" Left to right: Peineta, the two summits of Torre Norte, Torre Central and Torre Sur
scrambling up towards the North tower with its distinctive two summits, Central tower in background
me following on Bonnington-Whillans
an amazing bivy ledge on Bonnington-Whillans (at pitch 14)
Chris rappelling the south-west face of Torre Central

looking at the monumental South tower. The lower portion of Aste is not visible, while the second half climbs the knife-edge arete in front.
The sketchy looking start of Aste on Torre Sur. We received a hand-drawn sketch of the route and the instructions  "the first pitch is runout. Place a cam in an undercling flake, then climb until easier ground..."

coming down from Torre Sur with Torre Central, southwest face on the left
looking not so fresh, finally on the ground after Torre Sur!
A testament to the proverbial Patagonian bad weather in one of the climbers' shelters.
last day in Puerto Natales: amazing pumpy sport climbing on potato-like conglomerate blobs at Laguna Sofia!
 The short visit to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine was a great way to finish the trip - another big adventure to sign off a memorable 3 months of the wildest climbing trip in my life.
The two blog posts were intended to share those highlights and some info about the ascents. As I'm reflecting on it now, it seems very distant already - hopefully one day, I can get to climb some more over there...
Thanks for reading. In the times of isolation and counter-virus measures, I hope this was a good diversion from the daily preoccupation. Keep the spirit of climbing alive people, and to everyone sharing the passion, I wish we will be back at this noble, purposeless activity in the shortest time.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A trip to the land of giants

The land of giants!


I am back after treating myself to 3 months of a mega climbing trip. After having climbed a number of big walls in different places, travelling to climb the granite spires of Patagonia was perhaps the obvious next destination. The size increases while the commitment level undoubtedly raises. I embarked with a vague sense of what's it like but plenty of desire to try myself at it, I found myself lacking experience, there was lots of learning on the go, but this only increased the intensity of the experience. It has been a whirlwind of climbing activity and unprecedented physical efforts, interspersed with amazing moments of the climbing trip's B side, the people and the moments spent with them. El Chalten's vibe sucks you into a parallel world where real hero stories blend with the myth of climbing. I was consumed by it, for the length of my stay the peaks and the climbs became the most important thing, without contest. Such is the power of this pursuit of questionable purpose.

Now, to the actual climbing... I intended the rest of this post to cover the more terrestrial aspect or the details of the climbing. I'd like to reflect on the things learned and pen down the experience of certain climbs.

An exciting bus ride!

la brecha - the gap in bad weather; esperando la brecha 
when the weather is generally bad, you're waiting for a break, for that high pressure spell that clears the skies and calms the windsthe brecha is everything, it's the Chalten climbers' holy grail, with the brecha arriving, it's like sounding an alarm, everybody scrambles to go big! also brechon when it's really big

After arriving to Chalten on 11th of December, the initial weeks were turning out quite poor. This, combined with the arriving number of keen climbers, led to rumours of a possible extremely bad season happening. With no reference of a good season, this made me savour the few micro-windows even more, trying to make at least something. However, until the end of February, there had been 3 major weather windows and in conversations with locals I'd started to realize we were indeed having a stroke of luck! The high pressure area off the west coast of America swaying down south creates days of perfect weather which are almost hard to believe the first time you see it. When it's good weather, it's really good weather!
Nonetheless, if I am not wrong this season has been anomalously wet, creating unfavourable conditions for many climbs. Snow accumulating on ledges subsequently leads to wet rock, while snow accumulating in cracks turns to ice and makes progress super slow. I reasoned wet and icy offwidth is kind of the name of the game here in Patagonia so tried to not mind it, but I also enjoyed doing some more ice and mixed climbs instead. Indeed, only in the last weeks warmer temps have finally led to much of the walls cleaning up.

turning back after a disheartening approach through waist deep snow to Paso Superior
Chalten, and the life on the ground
Chalten is being consumed with rising numbers of travellers, trekkers, people coming to marvel at Fitz Roy and the beautiful nature - and a considerable number of climbers, too. I have made sure to savour the delights of civilized living in the village between bouts of activity in the mountains, although perhaps, at the end of the day, I would have preferred it the old-fashioned way, expedition style, fording rivers and porting with horses to a basecamp in the lenga trees, at the sides of the glacial lakes... Those times are gone, however, and the flux of international travellers sometimes makes it feel like another tourist resort somewhere in Europe. Meeting the very friendly and motivated community of local climbers has made it feel special, and leaving it after 2 months was like leaving a dear place!
The life in Chalten, when not climbing, can be immensely entertaining, as long as the weather is at least marginally ok, which turns out to be most of the time (in stark contrast with the mountain range only 10k away). Meeting and hanging out with your fav climbing celebs, bouldering on world-class problems within a short walk's distance, Domo Blanco ice creams along with plenty other good eating options, a bouldering gym that will surprise you in many ways... I stayed at El Mochilero campsite which is definitely recommended if you want to economise, meet Argentinian climbers, improve your Spanish and eat lots of asados. It definitely looked like the most hippie campground (least aimed at gringos) - I'd stayed at Relincho as well and didn't like it as much, even if it had an important asset, which was a good Wifi.

two amazing things about Chalten: a really good gym (in the black building) and world-class bouldering next to it!
some good limestone sport climbing in La Platea to keep forearms fit

never miss a chance for a mate!
Climbing partners
I had been reassured by Chalten regulars that arriving alone, it shouldn't be too difficult to find people willing to climb with me. I had planned a longer trip and my friend David could only join me for a month, so I would be without a partner at the beginning and the end of the trip. Finding a partner was no fuss and in addition I had a stroke of luck, too, since all the rope teams we formed worked really well. After quite some solo climbing trips and sometimes finding less than perfect matches, once again psyche was stoked by making new friends with very similar climbing appetites and preferences for fun. A great thank you is due at this point to all of those for sharing the rope! The most obvious advantage of my one-year Erasmus in Grenoble finally showed and it has to be speaking french, for I ended up climbing a bunch with the French, and once again, what a privilege it was to climb these big mountains with strong, experienced and well focused people.

Sometime during the second or third outing, while hiking back to town, I started feeling pain in my right knee, located on the outer side. The long approaches with heavy backpacks started accumulating the fatigue and wear. I soon concluded I was having a classic presentation of iliotibial band syndrome, or the so-called "runner's knee" (one of the two types, the other being inflammation of the patellar ligament). Every hike-out (involving lots of downhill) made it come back with intense pain, so the next day I could hardly walk, but after 2-3 days, it subsided and I could move well enough. Clearly, rest is the only real treatment here (well, there's physio and surgery too, but at least in the short term), but that was a hard proposition. It was looking slightly tragic and slightly lame to be on a climbing trip with an inflammed knee. My fears got worse after Colin Haley stated that, despite having had broken bones and other injuries, the ITBS inflammation has been the most persistent and most pesky little injury of his career. I resolved to resting as much as possible between trips to mountains, doing some good stretches, keeping Ibuprofen handy in the pocket and gritting the teeth a little bit every time coming back to town.
Miraculously though... after a month, I noticed I was having less pain, and during the last trip to Torres del Paine, I'd even forgot I had any pain before (and yet we walked a LOT). So that was without really making any particualr effort to heal it... I'm a lucky guy. It was the first time I had this happen, and it's hard to say why it appeared and why it went away. For the duration of it, it was really annoying and depressing - walking was painful and running was out of question. Maybe though, it was a matter of adapting to the much increased amount of difficult hiking. I tried to prepare at home with some uphill training with weight in my backpack, but in hindsight, my training was nowhere near the effort in Chalten!
So my story with the pesky ITBS is rather optimistic... it may not be the case for everyone though. Apparently, it's super common as well. Ibuprofen definitely helped me in short term, and some good stretching too. There's a lot of conflicting evidence on what helps, and I am by no means an expert. Best advice is probably: try to learn about it yourself, try different things to see what helps, give rest an absolute priority and consult a physio for professional advice. Good luck!

The climbing
Even if lots of fun was of the second type,  it was one of the most fun climbing trips ever, but... I will now stress that in the technical terms the climbing in Chalten has not raised the bar (ok well, hard to beat Yosemite or Squamish or Marmolada or...). In fact, I think it was about 5 pitches in total that required chalking up, and an equal number that weren't icy, dripping wet or it wasn't windy. Anyway, rock climbing highlights were a couple of pitches on Voie des Benitiers and some of the climbing on the W traverse in Paine, which also happened during a very warm brecha, which made it that more enjoyable. Saying this probably underlines the fact I've always been a rock climber and will most likely remain one, more so than an alpinist. That said, this trip was an incredible experience and I would love to come back to Chalten one day.

Here the list of ascents and attempts:
16th December: climbing Aguja Guillamet via Amy-Vidailhet in a single push mission, a great intro, the first taste of Patagonian summits, with Fernando and Wernix. Making use of short windows.

19th December: an overly eager attempt directed at Poincenot which had to be aborted even before reaching Paso Superior, after wading through waist-deep snow

20th - 29th December: sport climbing, chilling, killing time, even a tourist trip to Perito Moreno glacier west of El Calafate.

31st December: summiting Fitz Roy via Supercanaleta, an experience bordering onto surreal with a lot of things aligning (super strong partners, good route choice, starting as 1st party in the colouir, persevering through the rimed-up upper pitches) for a dream-like last light of the old year, and a dreamy 8 hour rappeling session to reach our bivi next morning.

6th Jan: hiking into Niponino with Ross but ending up "only" drinking mate in a drizzle at the foot of El Mocho

11th-13th Jan: first climbs with David, doing Aguja de l'S via Austriaca approaching from west side and Voie des Benitiers on El Mocho (high quality climbing on the crux pitch which I sadly didn't manage to red-point)

18th Jan: an attempt on Whisky time in the east face of Poincenot, which, after much hacking off ice and wet rock was aborted only 3 pitches up. Still a LOT of ice visible in the offwidths above... lots of effort and some frustration, while in hindsight it was an obvious poor route choice.

21st Jan: getting success on 3rd time attempting Poincenot, this time with David on the classic Cochrane-Whillans route, an incredible route up a majestic spire. Descending in rappel across the epic verticality of the east face (via Patagonicos desesperados). A micro-window well timed, except for some strong winds on the summit, we avoided the big rain that came in afterwards.

26th Jan: hiking into Niponino with a double rack and big cams for an attempt at Grey yellow arrow on El Mocho. I bailed in the (wet) crux offwidth 3 pitches up... this is the little tough one that deserves somebody with courage and skill to free it! It felt similar to the Monster offwidth on El Cap, it's about the same size. Wider than #6 cams would be needed if you wanted to bounce the cam all the way up.

31st Jan: climbing Hypermermoz on Mermoz within some meters of the point where it joins the Argentina route. Besides the delicate 6a-6b slabs below (which are cool), the 6c crux pitch on this route is a gem. Once again with plenty of ice in cracks, but at least I could use my axe in an offwidth!
Then, strong winds inspired palpable fear and a quick bail was carried out, reaching the foot of the wall before dark.

4th-11th February was the arrival of the mother of all brechas, a veritable brechon... lots of activity went down with myself and David climbing Titanic on the east face of Torre Egger over two days (7th-8th Feb). It has been a wish of mine to try climbing in the Torre group before leaving, and with David leaving in a couple of days, this badass route was perfect choice for the last route in Chalten.

20th-22nd Feb: after making the move to Puerto Natales with my friend Chris, we took time to organize a mini-expedition to Torres del Paine: obtain the permit, some information on routes and access, buying food, sorting out gear etc. We got lucky with the 3rd major window of the season, in which we managed an enchainement of sorts between the three Torres of Paine, the Norte, Central and Sur (the "W traverse": Via Monzino on Torre Norte, Bonnington-Whillan on Central and Via Aste on Torre Sur). It was a lot of vertical ground covered, the best way for sightseeing in Torres del Paine, great use of the 3-day brecha. Comfy bivouacs, warm temps, enough food and lots of fun with a great partner.

-no more mountain climbing until the return home into coronavirus misery on the 3rd of March, with a honorable mention of El Comision, a great single-pitch trad/sport crag just out of El Calafate (Don't miss it if you have a day to spare in Calafate).

In the end, it was a lot of trying and dabbling at a bunch of different routes. I left without a particular objective (apart from a quiet wish of doing either Fitz or Torre, if everything goes well, maybe...) and we tried to make use of any little spell of good weather. Judging the ever-changing, tricky conditions for routes in Chalten is the intellectual crux... thus our diverse list of attempts and many failed ones.
in the cuoloir of Amy-Vidailhet
after climbing Guillamet with Fernando and Wernix
David on the last pitch of Aguja de l'S north ridge (Austriaca route)
morning approach to Poincenot east face
On the first pitch of Whisky time on Poincenot east face. After 4 pitches of flakes and face climbing, it goes into a straight crack leading to the summit. It has been freed almost in its entirety by Sean Villanueva and Siebe Vanhee in 2018. We found much ice in cracks and had to bail early on, but, apart from somewhat mediocre rock in the start, it's a really cool line that must be really good for free climbing!
third time the charm, finally on top of Poincenot, this time via Whillans - Cochrane, a super scenic, classic route!
epic rappels on Poincenot east face (on Patagonicos desesperados). Chalten is a real excercise in rappeling, since there's no tower with a walk-off... we tallied many stuck ropes but only one core-shot (even if other ropes ended up in poor condition, too)
The El Mocho offwidth, Grey yellow arrow. First climbed by the legendary slovenian team with the italian Roberto Pe. What an epic line!
Mermoz northwest face on a day with stellar weather but strong winds which eventually forced us to a hasty bail
yum climbing moments while getting bashed in the wind on Mermoz

La Supercanaleta

I carried out the ascent with Damien and Benoit, two french climbers from the Pyrenees I met at the crag in Chalten who soon became friends. The weather window had been eagerly awaited since there hasn't really been one up to that point. With lots of precipitation precluding it and relatively cold temps, the route choice was ideal (indeed, some friends going for east face of Fitz Roy found ice in cracks and water streaming down the face!).
We planned a 3-day round trip from Chalten, approaching through Piedra Negra and Paso del Cuadrado. We used the first day of the 3-day brecha for the hike-in. Setting up camp at the base of the wall, the diplomatic crux appeared: 5 other teams with the same plans as us. Crowds on Supercanaleta can definitely be a deal-breaker since most people consider climbing in an ice couloir with other people above too dangerous. My friends resolved to the diplomatic argument of power and decided to simply start super early and hope for the best. Thus, we set the alarm clock for midnight.
The start went well, there was a team in front of us, but with the ice being in good condition we were advancing unroped with a fast pace and finished the couloir  in 2 hours, arriving to Bloque Empotrado at first light. Cruisy, entertaining pitches of ice and mixed followed, allowing us to make good progress, arriving to the little shoulder on the south ridge at around 1 PM. We chilled out for a bit, not realising the rimed-up pitches on the ridge (which were well visible) will slow us down considerably. In the last 5 pitches on the ridge, the angle steepens and the route weaves through a system of ledges, interrupted with vertical walls. Here, we encountered rime-plastered rock which, alongside with winds, made climbing in rock shoes impossible. Damien put on a fine display of climbing in crampons (on some grade 5+, I was happy not to lead it), while I battled through a sort of dihedral/chimney blown full of rime to get us to the summit ridge. We were buzzing with excitement to have the summit so close at this point, and the efforts of the last pitches made that sensation even stronger. So we climbed the final slopes (slabs of hard blue ice and some snow-covered rock) and stood on the summit at 9 PM, alone on Fitz Roy on the last evening of the year. The views were amazing... the massive shadow cast by Fitz, the pampas and lakes in the east, the Patagonian Ice Cap in the west, the Torres, everything else... looking small from high above!
However, we were concerned about getting off, since the wind was pretty strong and that could make rappelling the couloir difficult. Rappelling Franco-Argentina, the normal descent route, seemed out of question since nobody of us had been on it. We got ourselves off the summit quickly and were relieved to find the wind easing off a slight bit. We commenced the rappells into the 1200 metre couloir... With the rappel stations in place and reinforced by some team in November, rappels went fast, but their number was soul-destroying. Some 30 rappels later, I stopped counting, we stopped talking and started falling asleep on rappel stations. Finally, some 8 hours later we pulled the last rope, coiled it and stumbled back to our bivy, falling asleep with dawn.
After a few hours nap, we hiked out, wrecked but elated, and hitched a ride to Chalten. The episode finished with a couple of beers, some good food and a deep sense of satisfaction.

One thing I remember from the rappels was how much of the ice of the previous day has melted. It has not been a very warm day, but the couloir does get some hours of sun. Anyway, it would have been much trickier already that second day. We got lucky, and that is in several ways! It was a great time on an epic mountain, and I really enjoyed climbing this route. To think that the first ascent was done in 1965 in two days is simply mindblowing. That must have been an adventure!

Thanks for reading! In the second part, on climbing Torre Egger and the Traverse of the Torres del Paine.

keeping the shape after Fresco/asado sessions in the Chalten roadside crag
at the base of Fitz Roy southwest face, looking at our line of ascent

fun mixed pitches on middle section of Supercanaleta
Benoit fighting through the gnarly rimed-up rock on the summit ridge pitches

the allure of the summit
after 20 hrs of climbing, the summit!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Še enkrat Široka peč

Razmere v slovenskih hribih letos obetajo.

Torej ravno prav, da se jaz odpravljam v Patagonijo. Ampak to so zares first world problemi, tako da lahko med pakiranjem robe le zaželim drugim plezalcem, da padeta še 2 metra, se vse skupaj zabetonira v najboljši škripavec, se zleze vse kar si človek lahko zamisli, potem pa se na referendumu ljudstvo odloči, da demoliramo cele Julijce in jih postavimo na novo, na natečaj pa povabimo slavne arhitekte. Moja skromna želja je, da triglavska stena postane bolj strma in monolitna, uporabljeni material pa naj bo po možnosti granit, hvala.

Pred novo plezalno avanturo sva z Davidom uspela stisniti eno zadnjo turo, malo za vplezavanje v zimo in gojenje motivacije pred odhodom. David je predlagal prečenje grebena Široke peči, kar se je izkazalo za super izlet. Teren sva že malo poznala, martuljške gore so bile kot vedno divje in neobljudene, z belo preobleko pa so sploh zasijale v malodane surrealno prikazen nad oblaki. Na surovem, razbitem grebenu se je včasih zdelo, kot da ne bi smela biti tukaj, ob žarkih sonca skozi oblake pa bolj prijazno, vendar sapo jemajoče, čudovito. Ko nekaj časa tega nisi videl, skoraj pozabiš, kako navdušujoči so razgledi iz zasneženih vrhov.

Izlet sva začela z vzponom po Jugovi grapi do Dovške škrbine, potem pa po grebenu do večje škrbine, ki ločuje Vzhodni steber od grebena, kjer sva sestopila v Amfiteater in v dolino s povratkom do avta malo po stemnitvi.

Fotke so pa večinoma od Davida, dve sta pa moji.
hasta la proxima!

vzpon po Jugovi grapi
bedrca dobivajo na obsegu

Široka peč iz juga, spodaj Amfiteater. Pred zadnjimi tremi vršički sva pobegnila v dolino.

David na začetku grebena, v soncu zadaj Špik
slalom med zahrbtnimi vehtami in strmimi pobočji
tehnika: okobal
kaj pa, če bi se odločila za prečenje v smeri vzhod-zahod?
Razmere bolj slabe, ker je bil sneg še nepredelan, ampak pravega plezanja je bilo samo za en raztežaj.
Kako je že tisti citat od Nejca Zaplotnika? "Kako malo imajo ljudje, ki zdajle v dolini v oblakih cigaretnega dima razpravljajo o dnevnih dogodkih in novih avtomobilih..."
No ja, mene Pot zaradi takega moraliziranja ni navdušila. Ti ljudje imajo marsikaj, od časa za henganje, cigaret, novih avtomobilov... ampak nimajo pa razgledov :)