Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poincenot Solo

I arrived in El Chalten, Patagonia at the start of a several-day good weather window. Unfortunately, the cold that I had caught right before leaving Seattle had not been cured by four days of stressful travel, and I was forced to pass two good weather days in town. Since I wasn't healthy to take advantage of the full weather window I told Rolo he ought to find another partner, and I made solo plans for myself to use what remained of the good weather. The Whillans Route (650m, 5.9, M4) on Aguja Poincenot was the first route I ever climbed in Patagonia, and would make a good solo I thought. It is an elegant and classic route, winding up an amazing spire but with moderate climbing.

On Monday I hiked from town to a bivy at Laguna de los Tres. It is typical to hike up the glacier and bivy at Paso Superior, but temperatures were much higher than normal, and I hoped that if I waited until early morning the glacier would re-freeze from the sloppy condition it was in. Thus, I left Laguna de los Tres at 4:30am yesterday morning, but to my dismay the glacier was still in terrible condition, with lots of slushy post-holing. I arrived at Paso Superior at 6:00am, and rushed up the glacier above as quickly as I could, because the 300m meter snow ramp that comprises the first half of the Whillans Route was already bathed in sun.

I decided to attempt the route in what I call "Yosemite Style" - that is, without a backpack and instead just a few bare essentials clipped to my harness. Thus, with one liter of water, six GU packets and a windbreaker I crossed the first of three bergshrunds at 7:30am, in rapidly deteriorating snow conditions. The ramp was in terrible shape, with knee-deep slush on an exposed 60-degree angle. From climbing in the Cascades I am very familiar with all sorts of bad snow conditions, so I still felt comfortable with the climbing, but nonetheless the ramp was much slower and more tiring than normal. At the end of the ramp is a mixed chimney, that was dripping with water in the exceptionally hot conditions. It is also the crux of the route, and in this section I made two "back-loops" (a rudimentary form of self-belaying).

Above the mixed chimney the route follows broken rock for about 300m to the summit. Conditions were just barely dry enough to climb entirely in rock shoes, and this allowed me to comfortably free-solo sections that would've required a self-belay in boots. I reached the summit at 11:30am and began the long descent. I had hoped to down-climb most of the ramp, particularly since I had brought only one rope, but given the increasingly slushy snow conditions I was concerned about getting swept off in a wet-slide, and opted to rappel all of it. After rappelling and jumping over the bergshrunds, all that was left was to swim down-glacier through the slush and then batter my knees on the hike back to town. Fortunately I arrived just in time for an asado de cordero...

My moment of fame - an interview on Radio FM Chalten. It seems that at 7pm on a Sunday the radio is run and listened to exclusively by teenage girls.

Aguja Poincenot from Laguna de Los Tres. The Whillans Route climbs the diagonal snow ramp across the East Face, a mixed chimney to gain the left-hand skyline, and then broken rock just around the skyline to the summit.

Looking down from half-way up the ramp:

At the entrance of the mixed chimney:

Looking down from the top of the mixed chimney:

Splitter 5.9 on the upper rock portion:

On the summit, with the Torres behind: