Saturday, December 31, 2011

Torre Egger, east pillar

For Christmas Papa Noel brought yet another weather window to El Chalten, and on Dec. 24th Jorge Ackermann and I hiked into the Torre valley again, intent on trying the east pillar of Torre Egger, which we had previously attempted a few weeks earlier. We spent Christmas Eve at the Norwegos bivouac, and on Christmas morning hiked up the glacier to the base of Torre Egger's east pillar.

We climbed the O'Neil-Martin variation of the Titanic route, bivying a bit more than half-way up, reaching the summit in the evening of the second day, and then rappelling through the second night. I thought it was a long, difficult climb, and certainly one of the harder routes I have climbed in Patagonia.

Colin on Christmas morning, starting the first pitch of the O'Neil-Martin variation of Titanic. Photo by Jorge.

Looking down the second pitch of the O'Neil-Martin variation. Photo by Colin.

Colin leading up a basalt dike a few pitches up the O'Neil-Martin variation. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge starting up a pitch on the O'Neil-Martin variation, with the hanging glacier between Egger and Punta Herron behind. Photo by Colin.

Colin jumaring on the O'Neil-Martin variation. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge leading on the O'Neil-Martin variation, with Fitz Roy, Poincenot, Innominata and St. Exupery behind. Photo by Colin.

Jorge leading a steep pitch on the O'Neil-Martin variation, with old fixed ropes visible to the side. Photo by Colin.

Jorge nearing the snow-shoulder half-way up Torre Egger, at the junction with the Titanic route. The upper east pillar of Torre Egger is visible straight above, with Cerro Torre on the left and Punta Herron on the right. Photo by Colin.

Colin starting up the snow-shoulder, with the upper east pillar above, and Cerro Torre to the left. Photo by Jorge.

We bivied at the top of the snow-shoulder. Jorge chilling at the bivy ledge while we melted snow. Photo by Colin.

Colin starting the first pitch of the upper pillar on the morning of our second day. Photo by Jorge.

Colin starting the second pitch of the upper pillar, with the upper south face of Cerro Standhard visible to the right. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge coming up the second pitch of the upper pillar. Photo by Colin.

Jorge coming up the third pitch of the upper pillar. Photo by Colin.

The upper pillar is climbed via two large ramp systems, and the lower ramp and upper ramp are joined by a pitch of 6a, A2. Colin leading the connecting pitch. Photo by Jorge.

Colin re-hydrating at a belay, with the south face of Cerro Standhardt visible behind. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge following a pitch on the upper ramp system, with Innominata, St. Exupery and Aguja de l'S visible behind. Photo by Colin.

After the two ramp systems on the upper pillar, Titanic climbs to the upper snow-shoulder on Torre Egger via a steep chimney system. Unfortunately the ice in the chimney was almost completely melted out, and running with water, so I climbed the steep wall to the left, first on aid up steep (overhanging) cracks, and then free up slabs above. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge coming up the rock to the left of the melting ice chimney. Photo by Colin.

Climbing up to Jorge's belay at the base of Torre Egger's summit mushroom. Photo by Colin.

We skirted the worst part of the summit mushroom by traversing to the left. Colin traversing to the left, with Cerro Torre behind. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge climbing a step of rime to reach easier ice slopes above. Photo by Colin.

Colin following an ice traverse onto the upper south face of Torre Egger. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge climbing the last ice pitch to reach the summit. Photo by Colin.

Jorge just below the summit of Torre Egger, pointing out where we need to go next! Photo by Colin.

A party from Bariloche climbed the Ragni Route on the west face of Cerro Torre during the same window, and from the summit of Torre Egger we could see them half-way up the last pitch. Photo by Colin.

Just after we summitted, Bjørn-Eivind Årtun and Ole Lied topped out from climbing a really cool new route/variation on the south face of Torre Egger. Bjørn-Eivind climbing the summit slopes of Torre Egger. Photo by Colin.

Bjørn-Eivind and Ole feeling psyched just below the summit of Torre Egger! Photo by Jorge.

Colin setting up the first rappel off of Torre Egger's summit mushroom. We rapped off a buried stuff-sack that was left a couple days earlier by Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk, who climbed Torre Egger via the Huber-Schnarf route. During this weather window Torre Egger was climbed three times, by three different parties, by three different, completely-independent routes - which is pretty cool I think! Photo by Jorge.

Colin rappelling the upper east pillar, with many, many rappels still to go... Photo by Jorge.

After rappelling through the night, Colin on one of the last few rappels of the O'Neil-Martin variation, in the morning sunlight. Photo by Jorge.

Jorge and myself back on the glacier in the morning, feeling good! Photo by Jorge.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Aguja St. Exupery, Aguja de l'S and the "Seven Summits"

On my second trip to Patagonia, in 2005 with my friend Mark Westman, we had many days of good climbing weather. Thus, we had a very busy, fruitful trip, and I was able to complete a goal of mine at the time: to climb the seven main summits of the Fitz Roy ridgeline. This group of peaks includes Aguja Guillaumet, Aguja Mermoz, Fitz Roy, Aguja Poincenot, Aguja Innominata, Aguja St. Exupery and Aguja de l'S. Like any summit "collection" (such as the 14 8,000'ers, the 82 4,000'ers, the Seven Summits, etc), it is a basically silly idea, and depends on one's definition of "main summits." For example, this list does not include the more minor summits of Aguja Val Biois and Aguja Kakito, which are also on the Fitz Roy ridgeline. It also does not include Aguja de la Silla or Aguja Desmochada, which although they are not on the Fitz Roy ridgeline (they are part of a separate, spur ridge), are more difficult summits to reach than Aguja Guillaumet or Aguja de l'S. Nonetheless, these seven summits are generally agreed upon as the main summits of the Fitz Roy ridgeline, are all great peaks, and certainly make a much more interesting collection than the standard "Seven Summits!"

In January 2009, about to fly home from Argentina and return to sitting in a university classroom, I soloed Fitz Roy via the Supercanaleta route. Because of the marginal weather and conditions in which I climbed the route, it remains the most memorable and difficult day that I've ever spent in the mountains. When I arrived the following December in Chalten during the middle of good weather, I immediately hiked into the mountains and soloed Aguja Poincenot via the Whillans route. At this point I began to envision completing the "Seven Summits" by solo ascents, and later that season soloed Aguja Guillaumet and Aguja Mermoz. Although this project has never been my top priority in Patagonia, it has been a fun and challenging journey - perfect to chip away at when lack of big weather windows or good partners did not allow attempting bigger dreams.

After soloing Aguja Innominata last week, I realized that I was getting finally quite close to completing this project, so when another weather window arrived in the forecast a few days later (the Patagonia weather gods must be drunk!), I made plans to attempt Aguja St. Exupery and Aguja de l'S.

I hiked into the Torre Valley on Tuesday, Dec. 13th, and bivied on a small ledge about 300m above the normal Polacos bivouac. Early on the 14th I hiked up the approach gully to the Kearney-Harrington route on Aguja St. Exupery. Although technically easier and shorter than the more popular Chiaro di Luna route, the Kearney-Harringon involves both rock and mixed terrain, so one must climb all the rock with boots, crampons and ice tools in the backpack. With perfect weather, I was comfortable free-soloing the majority of the route, and rope-soloing six pitches. The descent went smoothly, and I arrived back at my bivouac shortly before dark, 16 hours after departing.

The next morning (Dec. 15) I allowed myself to sleep until the leisurely hour of 7:30am, ate some breakfast, and then headed back up the approach gullies, this time to Aguja de l'S. I was tired from climbing St. Exupery, but fortunately Aguja de l'S is a much easier climb. I climbed Aguja de l'S via the north ridge, which is a variation of the Austrian route. I belayed a short approach step, and then free-soloed all of the route except for one pitch. The descent went smoothly again, and that evening I hiked back to town.

Except for the Supercanaleta, none of the rest of these seven solos are among my best climbs. Mermoz, Innominata and St. Exupery are all technically more difficult than the Supercanaleta, but much shorter, less committing climbs. I am proud of the achievement as a whole though, and it has been a good journey. At the very least, I have learned a lot about soloing highly-technical alpine terrain, and perhaps some day I can apply those skills to bigger dreams.

Jugging back up the second pitch that I belayed on the Kearney-Harrington:

Climbing in the main ramp system that is the defining feature of the Kearney-Harrington route:

Taking a break on a ledge part-way up the Kearney-Harrington:

A lot of the Kearney-Harrington route is somewhat chossy, but it has some nice sections as well. In particular, the last pitch to gain the upper east buttress is excellent:

The upper part of the Kearney-Harrington route, on St. Exupery's upper east buttress, is mostly a mix of snow ramps and short but steep rock steps:

I'm glad this didn't happen until the last hard pitch:

Jugging back up the last steep pitch on St. Exupery's upper east buttress:

The summit of Aguja St. Exupery:

Self-portrait on the summit of St. Exupery:

The upper north aspect of Aguja de l'S after climbing the approach pitch. I climbed the obvious, deep chimney:

Taking a break in the chimney on Aguja de l'S:

Handcracks on all sides!

This is the pitch on Aguja de l'S that I decided to belay:

Some low-angle squeeze-chimney near the top of Aguja de l'S:

The summit of Aguja de l'S:

Self portrait on top:

On the hike back down to Niponino from Aguja de l'S, I ran into Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy, who had just climbed Aguja St. Exupery via Chiaro di Luna. Thursday was one of the hottest days I have ever experienced in Patagonia, and generally mountains begin to fall apart when it gets hot. We witnessed a massive rockfall coming off of El Mocho:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Aguja Innominata (aka Aguja Rafael) Solo

After my Standhardt adventure with Jorge, I got in two days of rest in town before another mini-window appeared in the forecast, and I hiked back into the Torre Valley. I spent the night of Dec. 7 at the Polacos bivouac, and departed at 5:00 am the next morning for a solo attempt on the Anglo-American route on Aguja Innominata (aka Aguja Rafael).

This past summer in Squamish I dedicated some time to teaching myself how to rope-solo, and I went to Innominata in part to test these skills. However, all my rope-soloing in Squamish was on routes with bolted belays and 100% sound, clean rock. Due to the often flakey and loose rock on Innominata, I sometimes put 5 pieces of gear in to make belays that I felt were completely trustworthy of upwards and downwards loading.

I think that I rope-soloed approximately 50% of the terrain on the route, and free-soloed 50% of the terrain. However, I would estimate that I spent 90% of the time on the ascent rope-soloing, and only 10% of the time free-soloing. All in all, soloing Innominata took a lot more time and effort than I had expected!

Correction (Dec. 16):
In 2005 Jon Walsh fixed two ropes on a new route on Innominata (called "Comono"), and returned a few days later to complete the route to the summit by himself, making the first solo ascent of Aguja Innominata in the process. In 2007 Chilean climber Jimmy Mora soloed the Anglo-American route, making the second solo ascent of Innominata.

Morning light on the Torres from the Innominata-Poincenot approach gully:

Looking up at Aguja Innominata from the Innominata-Poincenot approach gully:

Rope-soloing a pitch on the lower ramp:

Jugging back up the last pitch to gain the west ridge:

Jugging back up one of the last pitches:

The view of Aguja St. Exupery from the summit of Innominata:

On the summit of Innominata, a lot later and more tired than I had expected!

The next morning, rain showers and morning sunlight mixed in the Torre Valley for some awesome lighting. The view of Cerro Solo from the Polacos bivouac:

And yet again, a Torre valley rainbow!