Papa Noel brought a few days of calm but humid weather to the Chalten massif over Christmas, with poor conditions for rock climbing, but good conditions for crampon climbing. Jon and I hiked into the Torre Valley on the 23rd, and on the 24th we passed through the Standhardt Col into the Circo de las Altares with heavy packs. On Christmas day, we, along with an incredible 20-or-so other people, climbed Cerro Torre via the Ragni Route. It was of course a bit disheartening to arrive at the top of El Elmo and see about six rope-teams in the mixed pitches, but in the end everyone made it to the top on Christmas day, and everyone seemed to get along well and be at peace with the crowding.
After arriving on the summit of Cerro Torre, Jon and I made only three rappels down the Ragni Route, and then diverged for some adventure rappelling down the north face, arriving in the early evening for a bivy at the Col de la Mentira (also known as the Col of Conquest). On the 26th we slept in and started late up our main objective: the fantastic ice route, Venas Azules, established last year on the south face of Torre Egger by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun and Ole Lied. The climbing on Venas Azules was superb, but we were moving a bit slowly, and were still two and a half pitches from the summit when the weather took a fairly sudden turn for the worse. In ten minutes we went from an "everything is great," attitude to a decision to descend immediately.
The descent back down to the Col de la Mentira was quick and easy, but the descent from there down to the glacier took the entire night, and was fairly epic, with lots of shivering at rappel stations, and sometimes immense amounts of spindrift. We accidentally got off route on the very first rappel from the col, and it set us on a trajectory of rappelling down virgin terrain in the gut between Cerro Torre and Torre Egger. Jon did a great job of leading the entire descent, including the most insane rappel of my life - an enormous free-hanging rappel, which with 64-meter ropes and three directional pieces to stay close to the wall, we only managed to touch down on the wall below with two meters of rope to spare, all in total darkness with tons of spindrift!
Finally we made it to the base of Cerro Torre's east face, with no pitons left, one micro stopper left, and two cams missing as well, but that evening we were back in Chalten, safe and sound. I had hiked in with a slight sore throat, and after three days of high exertion and shivering my cold had degenerated into a nasty one, which of course Jon then picked up as well. So now we are resting in town, and hoping for strong immune systems to send us back into the mountains tomorrow.
Sunrise from low on the west face of Cerro Torre. A sea of clouds (very abnormal for Patagonia) below Cerro Adelas, Cerro Solo and Cerro Huemul:
The Cerro Torre headwall on Christmas day, 2012:
The Cerro Torre headwall in early January 2007. Photo by Kelly Cordes:
Parallel leaders on the pitch above the headwall:
The pitch above the headwall in 2007. Photo by Kelly Cordes:
Jon taking photos at the base of the last, crux pitch:
Norwegian climber Sigbjørn Veslegard leading the last, crux pitch:
The last pitch in 2007. Photo by Kelly Cordes:
Jon walking to the top of Cerro Torre:
Jon and myself looking a bit deranged on the summit:
Rappelling down the north arete of Cerro Torre:
Jon on the first pitch of Venas Azules:
Jon dry-tooling up a finger crack to avoid poor-quality ice on the second pitch of Venas Azules:
Jon starting up the A1 corner pitch of Venas Azules:
Jon coming up the fourth pitch of Venas Azules:
Jon on the fifth pitch of Venas Azules, a few minutes before we bailed:
Jon rappelling towards the Col de la Mentira in rapidly deteriorating weather:
Jon on the last rap into the Col de la Mentira:
Jon hiking down towards Norwegos, and eventually Niponino, with the sunrise behind: