Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Corkscrew

After Sarah and I had rested from Fitz Roy, we unfortunately squandered several more days of good weather. However, this weather window turned out to be longest I have ever seen here in El Chalten, and I had yet another chance to go climbing. Sarah headed to Bariloche to start an intensive Spanish language course, and I teamed up with fellow Seattle climber, Chad Kellogg, for another crack at Cerro Torre. Chad had just made back-to-back attempts on Cerro Torre's Southeast Ridge with another friend from home, Jens Holsten. We waited in town for Chad to get two full rest days, and then hiked up to Norwegos on the 23rd.

I first met Chad when I was sixteen years old, at a dinner gathering at our friend Andreas Schmidt's house. Despite having been friends for over a decade, Chad and I had never climbed together before, apart from a few belays at the crag and climbing gym, and a few ski touring days. So, as we organized our equipment and strategy, we also got to know each other a bit better. Our plan was to attempt the "Corkscrew" linkup, which climbs up most of Cerro Torre's southeast ridge, then crosses the upper south face on a hanging icefield, and finally follows the Ragni Route to the summit. This linkup had been discussed for decades before it was finally completed in 2008 by Norwegian climbers Trym Atle Saeland and Ole Lied. Trym and Ole had planned to climb the "Salvaterra variation" on the southeast ridge, but finding it covered in rime ice, settled to use the 90-meter Maestri bolt ladder to the right.

On the 24th Chad and I got a leisurely start, and had a slow, relaxed day climbing from Norwegos to the Col de la Patienca, at the base of the Southeast Ridge. On the 25th we left all our bivouac equipment at the col, and departed at 2:00am with just daypacks. The rock was incredibly dry (in fact, the conditions in the mountains here were the driest I have ever seen - even more so than last season), and we made fast progress, starting up the Salvaterra Variation at first light. As is common practice for greatest efficiency, we divided the leading into two large blocks based on our skills, so I led all the rock on the Southeast Ridge, and Chad would take over on the Ragni Route. Not only did this allow us to lead pitches fastest, but we were also able to save weight, by bringing only one pair of rock shoes.

At the top of the Salvaterra variation Trym and Ole had made one rappel to access the hanging icefield on the upper south face, but we found we were able to traverse onto it easily, and reached the Ragni Route in two long simul-climbing pitches. It was cool to be on a seldom-visited aspect of the mountain, and it was also cool to see a few relics from Infinito Sud, Ermanno Salvaterra's epic journey on the south face. Upon joining the Ragni Route, at the top of the feature known as "El Elmo," Chad took us swiftly up these classic ice pitches. It was getting late in the afternoon though, and I was worried that the last, crux pitch would start turning to slush in the full sun. Thus, when Chad needed a short break to re-fuel at the base of the last pitch, I took one more lead, simply to make sure we got up the last pitch before it got any softer.

We reached the summit just before our Slovenian friends Luka Krajnc and Tadej Krišelj, who had made the third fair-means ascent of the Southeast Ridge, and got to high-five at the base of the summit mushroom! The rappels down the Southeast Ridge went as smoothly as can be expected, but of course we took our sweet time to not get any ropes stuck, and, as is par for the course, spent most of the night rappelling. At 1:45am, just under 24 hours after departing, we returned to the Col de la Patiencia, and spent a few hours eating, drinking and chatting with Luka and Tadej. As the sky began to grow light on the 26th we got on our way again, finishing the rappels down to the glacier, and slogging down the glacier to Norwegos, where we took another short break. Down at Niponino we finally stopped to sleep a couple hours, but then hurried off to town while the fantastically-long weather window finally began to break down.

Chad and my climb gets the distinction of being the first "fair means" ascent of the Corkscrew, but since I know Trym and Ole personally I am 100% sure that they would have had no problem doing it without the bolt ladders as well if they had experienced such phenomenal conditions. Also, it is worth noting that in the last couple of weeks preceding our climb, the Corkscrew had seen two attempts by Thomas Meling (NO) and Joel Frans (SE). They had attempted to link the southeast ridge directly into "Directa Huarpe," a variation of the Ragni Route that was established just earlier this season. This would for sure make a more difficult and more aesthetic version of the Corkscrew, that is a worthy objective to be finished.

Evening light on Fitz Roy and Poincenot from our bivy at the Col de la Patiencia. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Chad following low on the Southeast Ridge:

Chad following a few pitches higher:

Chad nearing the base of the Salvaterra Variation at first light:

Colin leading the A1 first pitch of the Salvaterra Variation at first light. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Chad nearing the top of the A1 pitch, with Torre de la Medialuna and El Mocho far below:

Chad nearing the top of one of the arete pitches on the Salvaterra Variation:

Chad at the top of the Salvaterra Variation:

Colin traversing across the hanging icefield on the upper south face. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Chad traversing across the hanging icefield on the upper south face:

Chad further across the south face:

Chad starting the second simul-climbing pitch across the south face, with Cerro Adela Norte to the left:

Chad leading the super-classic headwall pitch of the Ragni Route:

Colin jumaring the top of the headwall pitch of the Ragni Route. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Chad starting up the third-to-last pitch of the Ragni Route:

Chad leading the second-to-last pitch of the Ragni Route as it began to get slushy:

Colin leading the last pitch of the Ragni Route. It was easier than it had been in December, which was already much easier than it had been in November, which was already five times easier than it is normally! Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Chad coming up through the natural tunnel of the last pitch:

Chad heading up to the summit:

Colin arriving at the summit. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Cumbre! Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Luka and Tadej rappelling down Cerro Torre's east headwall. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Chad down-climbing to a rappel anchor with the east headwall above:

Colin rappelling below the Col de la Patiencia on the morning of the 26th, with the east face of Cerro Torre above. This is by far the driest I have ever seen Cerro Torre. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Looking back at the Torres as the two-week weather finally began to end. Photo by Chad Kellogg:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mate, Porro, y Todo con mi Dama

My girlfriend, Sarah Hart, is joining me for some of this season in Chalten, and arrived on the same day that Jon took off. We had a week of bouldering in relatively stormy weather, and then yet another weather window descended upon Chalten - this time an extended one. Although Sarah's only two previous ascents in the Chalten massif were Aguja Innominata and Cerro Solo, we decided that we had to try to profit from such a long weather window, and headed to the biggest objective we had planned to try together: the Goretta Pillar of Fitz Roy.

We decided to try the route, "Mate, Porro, y Todo lo Demas," which was climbed to the top of the Goretta Pillar in 2008 by Rolando Garibotti and Bean Bowers, and finished to the summit in 2011 by Matjaz Dusic and Lovro Vrsnik. Since then it has had a handful of subsequent ascents. Sarah, gracious and generous as always, agreed to a plan to let me do all the leading. Although our rock climbing abilities are very similar, we figured that all my experience climbing in the range would make us climb a bit faster with this strategy. Additionally, since I have already climbed Fitz Roy via the Goretta Pillar two times before, trying to lead everything myself would make it still an exciting challenge for myself. However, to make the experience still enjoyable and exciting for Sarah, we opted not to take jumars, which undoubtably is a less efficient strategy, and more challenge yet!

We hiked into the Rio Electrico valley on Friday, January 11th, but because of wind and rain decided not to continue up to the Piedras Negras camp, and instead camped down in the forest above Piedra del Fraile. On Saturday we left our camp early, and made our approach over Paso del Cuadrado and up the Glaciar Fitz Roy Norte. As we climbed up the snow slopes below the west side of the Goretta Pillar we realized that conditions were much worse than we had hoped - a lot of the rock was snowed up, especially on the lower portion of the pillar. Nonetheless, the weather window was forecasted to last long enough to afford a slow pace, and we started up the initial pitches wearing crampons and mixed climbing in our very basic ice gear. The first part of the route is 4th-class rock where one would normally simul-climb, but in the snowy conditions we decided to pitch it out. When the fifth class pitches began, I was forced to climb the first several mostly on direct aid, using an ice tool to chip the ice out for almost every placement. We lost a lot of time on these initial pitches, but as the sun came onto the rock the ice began to melt very quickly, and as we gained height the rock became drier and drier.

At the end of our first day we had only climbed about half-way up the Pillar, and were forced to bivouac on a small uncomfortable ledge, rather than the large terrace two-thirds of the way up the Pillar. We got a leisurely start on our second day, and climbed up to the large terrace on pleasantly almost-dry rock. After a lunch break on the large terrace, we tackled the upper pitches of the Pillar, which now were unfortunately running with large amounts of water. We arrived to our second bivouac, the top of the Goretta Pillar, the same way we had arrived to our first bivouac - by headlamp. The one time I have previously slept on top of the Goretta Pillar it was quite comfortable, but this time it was very snowy and we spent at least an hour and half chopping ice before we settled onto our bivouac ledge.

Already quite tired, we got a leisurely start again on our third day, rappelled into the notch between the Goretta Pillar and the upper mountain, and tackled our last block of hard climbing. We once again had to deal with a lot of ice in the cracks and running water, but at least at this point we were quite accustomed to it! We reached the summit of Fitz Roy in the early evening, and were joined there by two young climbers from Provincia San Juan, Carlitos and Iñaki, who had just climbed El Corazon, on the east face. Sarah and I decided to start descending immediately, as the wind was already beginning to pick up. However, after a couple of rappels, Carlitos and Iñaki yelled to us to wait, and asked if they might rappel with us. As it turned out, they had core-shot one of their ropes on the ascent, and with only one usable rope were going to be in for a tricky descent. Additionally, since they had originally planned to descend El Corazon, they had only one pair of crampons, and to top things off, Carlitos had taken a big fall on the ascent that had left him with a broken heel! Rappelling as a group of four is of course much slower than a group of two, so we ended up spending another night on the mountain, at La Brecha de los Italianos, but it was all OK because Iñaki treated us to mashed potatoes and soup - a welcome trade since Sarah and I were now out of food! We finished the rappels and hiked out the next day, completing a very satisfying adventure!

We were joined on "Mate, Porro, y Todo lo Demas," by two other teams, Kate Rutherford and Madeleine Sorkin (from the US), and Luciano Fiorenza, Jorge ____, and Sergio Tartari (from Bariloche, Argentina and Salinas, Brasil). Everyone was happy to share the route, and congrats especially to Kate and Madeleine for making an all-female ascent of Fitz Roy (I believe the first via the Goretta Pillar, and perhaps the fourth ever of Fitz Roy).

Colin on the approach up the Glaciar Fitz Roy Norte, with Aguja Pollone looking pretty above. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Starting up the snow slopes below the northwest side of Fitz Roy. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah getting psyched on the approach:

Sarah climbing up the snow slopes below the route:

Sarah climbing in snowy conditions on the fourth-class terrain at the base of the route:

Colin aiding low on the route. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Still snowy... Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah at a special belay stance, as the ice started to melt out of the cracks:

Still aiding up a slushy dihedral:

Finally some drier rock! Getting into some of the nicer pitches. Photo by Sarah Hart:

High quality rock climbing! Photo by Sarah Hart:

Always more granite... Late on our first day:

Colin at the first bivouac. Photo by Sarah Hart:

On day two, Colin starting up the pitches above the large terrace. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah climbing above the large terrace on day two:

Colin nearing the top of the Goretta Pillar. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah near the top of the Goretta Pillar:

Sarah on day three, climbing one of the last hard pitches, with the top of the Goretta Pillar below:

Sarah still psyched after two cold, uncomfortable bivouacs:

Colin on one of the last steep pitches. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah finishing the last rock-shoe pitch:

Sarah coming up slushy ice near the top of Fitz Roy:

On the summit of Fitz Roy, for my seventh time and Sarah's first time! Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah on the steepest rappel of the Franco-Argentina descent:

With all the rappels finished, myself, Sarah, Iñaki and Carlitos relax a bit on the Glaciar Piedras Blancas: