Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mojon Rojo - El Zorro

Sarah is back in El Chalten with me again, and after a few days of bouldering and sport climbing, we were back up in the mountains with yet more good weather. On Wednesday the 20th we hiked into the Torre Valley with our sights set on the enigmatic west face of Mojon Rojo. Mojon Rojo, while very modest from the east, is actually quite impressive-looking from the Torre Valley, with a steep face of red rock. There were rumors for a long time that the face had been climbed by Jim Bridwell, but Rolo finally did the research and found that Bridwell and Robert Staszewski had actually just climbed the couloir between Mojon Rojo and Aguja de l'S, and then reached the summit via the north ridge. Since the regular climbers here in the Chalten Massif are used to climbing on nearly-perfect-quality granite, there is a general fear of the non-granitic rock, and I think the only reason that the west face of Mojon Rojo remained unclimbed until now is because everyone had feared dangerously loose rock. With this possibility in mind, Sarah and I hiked in with a bunch of pitons, and expectations of intense, potentially scary pitches.

On Thursday morning we got an early start from Niponino, and after slogging up some loose talus slopes, reached the couloir between Mojon Rojo and Aguja de l'S at first light. From the very beginning, we were delighted with what we found - the rock, while not perfect, was far from loose or poorly-protected. It was in fact on par with some of the very best rock in the North Cascades. And, after climbing so much this season on granite, it was a delight to climb on a different type of rock, with many more face-climbing features. Although I posses of bachelor of science in geologic sciences, I am not really a geologist at all, and I can't tell you what the rock type was, except that it is metamorphic. And while my limited geology knowledge makes me skeptical that quartzite might exist right at the margin of a massive granite batholith, I have to say the rock was quite reminiscent of the "Back of the Lake" at Lake Louise.

We followed our noses up the path of least resistance and nicest-looking climbing. The first half of the route climbed a subtle buttress, and was mostly simul-climbing up mid-fifth-class, with one section of 5.10, A0. At the top of the buttress we followed an easy gully feature, which took us to the crest of the west ridge, at a notch with a tower. The route from here climbed spectacular crack systems on the face just left of the west ridge, with features always connecting just enough for enjoyable 5.10 climbing. As we neared the top of the face we almost joined a giant squeeze-chimney, which is clearly visible from down on the Torre Glacier. However, after taking one look up the squeeze chimney, I opted instead to continue connecting face cracks. The climbing remained 5.10 until the last few meters of the face, which I climbed at A1 off of knifeblades. The A1 section gained the west ridge, and from here one more pitch gains the lower, northwest summit of Mojon Rojo. From the northwest summit a spectacular section of simul-climbing on a true knife-edge ridge, and one short rappel, took us to the base of the main summit tower. Two rope-lengths of mid fifth class allowed us to join the scrambling terrain on the east face, and soon we surmounted the exposed V0 boulder problem that is the true summit of Mojon Rojo.

As we now rapidly approach the autumnal equinox, the days have been getting noticeably shorter in Patagonia, and we reached the summit of Mojon Rojo only a half-hour before dark. We had planned to return to the Torre Valley via the Bridwell-Staszewski route, but upon seeing how easy it would be to descend to the east, it was too great of a temptation, and we decided on the spur of the moment to descend to Laguna Sucia. I hadn't been to Laguna Sucia since 2003, so my very dim recollections of the route, combined with the darkness, made our descent to the lake longer and and trickier than necessary. We finally caught a couple hours of spooning/shivery/sleeping near the Rio Blanco campground, and made the weary hike out of the mountains.

This ascent felt like a real coup, because the quality of the climb far, far exceeded our expectations. The route felt to me to have rock reminiscent of the South Face of Ingall's Peak, architecture reminiscent of the East Ridge of Inspiration Peak, and a scale and overall feel reminiscent of the Greenwood-Jones on Mt. Temple. We named our route "El Zorro," in reference to the distinctly red rock, and in honor of the friendly fox, who has been hanging around Niponino this season, visited us the night before the ascent, and is probably at this moment destroying the tent which we left set up at Niponino (in search of the cheese and chorizo inside). It is a route I highly recommend. El Zorro, 700m, 5.10, A1.

Sarah in the approach gully between Mojon Rojo and Aguja de l'S:

Sarah climbing low on El Zorro:

Colin climbing low on El Zorro - the rock is better than it looks! Photo by Sarah Hart:

Colin nearing the top of the lower buttress. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah psyched but with cold fingers, near the top of the lower buttress:

Sarah reaching the notch in the west ridge:

Colin on the first pitch above the notch - the start of the really great climbing. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah climbing the first pitch above the notch:

Spectacular climbing on the upper face. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Hand cracks galore! Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah jamming on the upper face:

Sarah following yet another spectacular pitch on the upper west face of Mojon Rojo:

Colin traversing out to inspect the squeeze chimney (and declining to go that way!). The south face of Aguja de l'S is in the background. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Colin climbing more awesome terrain, near the top of the west face. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah following near the top of the west face, with the Torre Glacier far below:

Sarah coming up thin climbing on beautiful, red rock:

The short section of A1, with a condor flying above. The top of the squeeze chimney can be seen on the left margin of the photo. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah at the top Mojon Rojo's west face, with the west ridge of Techado Negro behind, Laguna Torre far below, and Lago Viedma in the distance:

Colin on the last pitch of the west ridge, which gains the northwest summit of Mojon Rojo. Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah at the start of the knife-edge traverse towards the main summit tower, with the Torre Valley behind, and the south face of Aguja de l'S on the right:

Colin traversing on the knife-edge towards the main summit tower, which we climbed on the left side (climbing through the patch of grey rock, and gaining the easy terrain on the east side). Photo by Sarah Hart:

Sarah on the knife-edge traverse:

Sarah turning the corner to the easy terrain on the east side of the summit tower, with the south face of Aguja de l'S behind, and the Torre Valley in the background:

A nice Torre Valley sunset! Photo by Sarah Hart:

On the summit of Mojon Rojo!

A cool, old piton on the summit of Mojon Rojo. Left on the first ascent?

The line of El Zorro (700m, 5.10, A1). Photo by Sarah Hart:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Red Pillar of Mermoz

With the clock ticking on Dylan's two-week Patagonia sojourn, we have continued to try to make use of every bit of decent weather. Last Wednesday we hiked into the Torre Valley and up to the Niponino bivouac, with plans to try something on the Torres on Thursday. When our 2am alarm went off the winds were very strong and we went back to sleep. At the 4am alarm the winds were still very strong, and at the 6am alarm we finally turned off the alarm completely. At 9am we woked up to good weather, but at that point it was too late to try any of our hoped-for objectives, so we hiked out to town.

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:

Monday, February 4, 2013

La Via Funhogs

My good friend Dylan Johnson has managed to briefly escape his responsibilities as a new father and self-employed architect to come down to El Chalten for some alpine adventure. Since he is only here for a whopping two weeks, and since he arrived exactly at the end of the enormous, two-week weather window, he was understandably a bit stressed as to whether or not he would get to go alpine climbing while here. Given these circumstances, we have been watching the weather forecasts like hawks, looking for every possible opportunity to do something in the mountains. Last week we hiked into the mountains to try something off the Glaciar Fitz Roy Norte, but with very high winds when the 3am alarm went off, it ended up being just another hike with heavy packs.

After looking at the weather forecasts on Friday morning we wrote off alpine climbing for the weekend, and figured we'd go bouldering in the afternoon. However, while eating our pre-bouldering empanadas, we watched the skies getting clearer, and rationalized that perhaps the weather forecast was good enough for alpine climbing after all. So, it wasn't until 3pm that we made plans to try Fitz Roy the next day, and not until 6:30pm that we finally started hiking towards Laguna de los Tres. We reached our bivy at Laguna de los Tres at dusk, and lay down for a few hours of sleep.

On Saturday morning we left Laguna de los Tres at 3:45 am, and headed up towards Paso Superior with good snow conditions. Our plan was to climb up to the Col de los Americanos (the col between Aguja de la Silla and Cerro Fitz Roy), and decide at that point if the weather was good enough to try the California Route (aka Funhog Route) on Fitz Roy, or simply Aguja de la Silla as a back-up plan. With a bit of fresh snow from the previous week of stormy weather, and no other climbers around due to the marginal weather forecast, it felt like the "old Patagonia," that I often miss.

At the Col de los Americanos it was chilly and definitely windy, but not unreasonably windy, so we decided to stick with Plan A, and headed up the California Route. The California Route is among the easiest routes on Fitz Roy, and ended up being the perfect route choice for the day. I think it was the biggest objective we could've succeeded on that day, considering the wind and cold. The Supercanaleta could've also been reasonable in such weather, but is currently in terrible condition.

The climbing on the California route is mostly very moderate, with only a few pitches of mid-5.10. But, with the weather conditions preventing us from ever donning rock shoes, we still eagerly pulled on gear here and there. We finally reached the summit a bit after 7pm, and eager to get off the mountain before the winds increased, headed down immediately. The descent fortunately went quite smoothly, and at 3:15, just a bit under 24 hours after departing, we reached our tent back at Laguna de los Tres. A great climb, and particularly satisfying to have snuck it in to a marginal window!

Colin harnessing up at the bergschrund below La Brecha de los Italianos, with an awesome sunrise over Lago Viedma. Photo by Dylan Johnson:

Dylan climbing up to La Brecha de los Italianos, via the left-hand route, with Laguna de los Tres far below:

Dylan in some 4th-class mixed terrain below La Brecha de los Italianos:

Dylan climbing 4th-class terrain from La Brecha up to La Silla:

Dylan climbing up to the Col de los Americanos, with La Brecha behind:

Dylan low on the California route:

Colin doing some low-angle aid climbing low on the California route. Photo by Dylan Johnson:

Dylan leading a short squeeze-chimney:

Dylan mid-route, with Cerro Domo Blanco in the background:

Dylan nearing the junction with the Supercanaleta:

Dylan reaching the junction with the Supercanaleta:

Colin climbing a little squeeze chimney near the top of the Supercanaleta. Photo by Dylan Johnson:

Colin happily belaying on the upper portion of the Supercanaleta. Photo by Dylan Johnson:

Dylan high on the Supercanaleta, with the Torres behind:

Dylan near the top of the Supercanaleta, as clouds engulf the Pollone group:

Colin leading the last hard pitch of the Supercanaleta. Photo by Dylan Johnson:

Dylan at a spectacular belay near the top of the Supercanaleta:

Colin on 3rd-class terrain above the top of the Supercanaleta. Photo by Dylan Johnson:

Dylan nearing the summit:

On top of Fitz! Dylan's first time, and now my eighth!