On Friday we hiked into the once-popular and now-deserted Rio Blanco basecamp, for one last shot of alpine climbing on Saturday. On Saturday we left Rio Blanco at 4am, and hiked up to the east side of Aguja Mermoz for a crack at the "Red Pillar." We were soon over the bergschrund, and knowing that the summit ridge would be very dry, we left our boots, crampons and ice tools at the base of the pillar, free to enjoy the climbing with almost no weight on our backs. The quality of the climbing on the Red Pillar was as good as everyone says, and a bit harder of a route than I had expected. The route does have a lot of bolts immediately next to perfect cracks, but to be honest it wasn't as atrocious or offensive as I had expected.
Dylan has a true passion for rock climbing, and thus wanted to try to free-climb all the pitches on the Red Pillar. Although that's not normally my style in the mountains, I was happy to go along with such a plan - after all, if there's any route here that is really worth trying to free-climb, the Red Pillar is probably it, with almost zero commitment, very safe climbing, and very high-quality pitches. This made us a bit slower, but in the end we both managed to free everything first try, although in my case that was only because Dylan led all the crux pitches, and I enjoyed the luxury of "sending" the cruxes with a top-rope! We reached the summit in the early evening, and despite two stuck rappels managed to re-cross the bergschrund just after dark. We slogged down the glacier, took a one-hour nap at Rio Blanco, and then hiked back to town - arriving at my apartment an hour and a half before Dylan's shuttle to the airport! A classic finish to a quick Patagonia hit!
Dylan leading the third pitch, the first of the crux 5.11+ pitches:
Colin following the third pitch. Photo by Dylan Johnson:
Dylan on the fourth pitch, also 5.11+:
Colin following the fourth pitch. Photo by Dylan Johnson:
With Fitz Roy behind, Colin starting up the fifth pitch - the first of two perfect hand-crack pitches. Photo by Dylan Johnson:
Colin leading perfect 5.10 handcrack on the sixth pitch. Photo by Dylan Johnson:
Dylan following the sixth pitch:
Dylan leading the seventh pitch - another 5.11+ crux:
Colin following the seventh pitch. Photo by Dylan Johnson:
Dylan starting up the tenth pitch, another 5.11+:
With Fitz behind, Dylan leading the eleventh pitch, another 5.11+:
Colin following the eleventh pitch. Photo by Dylan Johnson:
Dylan on the summit of Aguja Mermoz: