Monday, December 15, 2008

La Nueva Patagonia

I've been in El Chalten about a week and a half now, and have had some time to soak up the new changes. El Chalten has been growing and changing very dramatically in just the five years since my first trip here, and each time I come there are a slew of new buildings and paradigm shifts in the climbing scene here. Last year I realized that there were just as many climbers here to boulder and sport climb as there were for alpine climbing, which is not particularly surprising since the bouldering is very good and much of South America is too hot for good rock climbing at this time of year.

The most significant material changes to town this year are that half of the roads are now paved, Campomento Madsen has been shut down allowing for almost no free camping, and prices continue to rise (A good measure of the cost of living here is my beloved snack food: empanadas. Three years ago they were one peso each, and now they are three pesos each - a 300% price increase in three years!) For better or worse, El Chalten will continue to evolve from a rural outpost to a bustling tourist destination.

While I can't help but slightly lament the changes to town, the changes in the climbing scene are exciting. Continuing the trend of the past few years, virtually no climbers are staying at Campo Bridwell, Campomento Rio Blanco or Piedra del Fraile - everyone lives in town now, and simply caches equipment up high for quick approaches when good weather arrives. The most exciting change I have noticed this year is the frequency with which the local Argentine climbers are attacking the big routes. In the past years that I have climbed here it seemed like a few Argentine climbers (Rolando Garibotti of course, Ramiro Calvo, and a few others) tackled big routes, but most remained on the smaller routes. This year the local Argentine climbers are equally confident in attempting big routes as the European and North American visitors.

Cerro Torre's West Face has seen a huge amount of traffic recently. The last pitch was painstakingly "carved out" as usual by the first ascent of the season (Ackerman-Aguilo-Cabezas-Villavicencio-Pietron-Garibotti), and subsequent ascents have benefited from the hard work. Rolando Garibotti, the most expert historian on Patagonian climbing, has compiled an excellent summary of the activity on Cerro Torre:

Via dei Ragni, Cerro Torre West Face.
Info compiled by Rolando Garibotti

Twenty one people have climbed the Ragni route on the West Face of Cerro Torre in the last two weeks, more than all previous ascents combined. In comparison, this season there has been only one ascent of the Compressor route. It appears that the climbing community has finally come to understand that an ascent of the Compressor route is not really an ascent of Cerro Torre. It is as if overnight everyone stopped climbing Everest with oxygen, fixed rope and sherpa support. This is a humongous step forward for the Patagonian climbing scene. While Maestri’s bolts remain in place, the climbing community appears to have been able to finally give them a cold shoulder.

Ascents to the summit.
1- Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri (Italy), January 1974. This was the first ascent of the mountain.
2- John Bragg, Dave Carman and Jay Wilson (USA) January 1977. Second ascent of the peak. First Alpine Style.
3- Michael Bearzi and Eric Winkelmann (USA) February 1986. First free ascent.
4- Simon Elias and Josu Merino (Spain) February 1997 via the West Face Route.
5- Ramiro Calvo, Gabriel and Luciano Fiorenza, Max Odell, Walter Rossini (Arg) and Bruno Sourzac (France) December 2005. Bruno Sourzac made the first free and leash-less ascent.
6- Kelly Cordes and Colin Haley (USA) January 2007 approaching via Los Tiempos Perdidos (south face).
7- Jorge Ackermann, Tomas Aguilo, Charly Cabezas and Matias Villavicencio (Arg), and Rolando Garibotti (no country-or 3?), and Doerte Pietron (Germany). Doerte's is the first female ascent of the route, and the 6th female ascent of the peak (after Rossana Manfrini, Inez Bozic, Cathy Cosely, Monika kambic and Tanja Gromosek), and the first female ascent without using Maestri's Compressor route bolts. December 1, 2008.
8- Ole Lied and Trym Atle Saeland (Norway) approaching via the SE ridge by traversing above the south face. A snow mushroom along the SE ridge forced them to use some of Maestri's bolts before traversing west. December 2nd, 2008. This is the much talked about "Corkscrew" link-up, originally discussed by the English and Argentine expedition in 1968 (Fonrouge, Haston, etc). A "bolt-free" ascent of the "Corkscrew" link up remains to be done.
9- Mateo Bernasconi and Fabio Salini (Italy). December 2nd, 2008.
10- Julien Dusserre, Pierre Labbre, Baptiste Rostaing Puissant and Jerome Para (France). December 9, 2008.
11- Walter Hungerbuhler. First solo ascent of the route, first solo ascent of Cerro Torre without Maestri’s bolts, 5th solo ascent of the peak. December 9, 2008.
12- Nico Benedetti, Flavio "Manzana" Renzacci, Fernando "Capi" Irrazabal and Jimmy Heredia (Arg). December 9, 2008.
13- Cullen Kirk (USA) and Bjorn-Eivind Artun (Norway). In 13 hours from Niponinos to the summit via the Standhardt col. December 9, 2008.

Ascents to the base of the final 40 foot summit mushroom.
1- Dan Cauthorn and Jon Krakauer (USA) 1992.
2- David Authemann, Patrick Pessi and Fred Valet (France) 1994.
3- Thomas Ulrich, Stefan Siegrist and David Fasel (CH) and Greg Crouch (USA). Winter 1999.

Several other teams have reached the base of the mushroom pitch preceding the summit mushroom. This 50 meter vertical wall of cotton candy has turned numerous parties back, including Bruno Sourzac in 1997 that, not unlike a passionate lover returned after being rejected and finished the job eight years later.

The list of non-Compressor route ascents of Cerro Torre has now grown to 14 ascents, including the 12 of the 13 mentioned above (minus the recent Corkscrew ascent which used a few bolts), plus Alessandro Beltrami, Ermanno Salvaterra and Rolando Garibotti’s November 2005 ascent of El Arca de los Vientos; and Colin Haley and Rolando Garibotti’s January 2008 Torre Traverse finishing also via El Arca.

As for me, I arrived in El Chalten having already missed several days of incredible weather. Fortunately, more was on its way, and a few days later Rolo and I made a repeat ascent of "The Care Bear Traverse," a ridge traverse of Guillamet, Mermoz, and Fitz Roy, established last season by Freddie Wilkinson and Dana Drummond. Two young Argentine climbers, Jorge Ackermann and Tomas Aguilo, also repeated The Care Bear Traverse immediately behind us during the same weather window. All four of us descended Fitz Roy via the Franco-Argentine.

Rolo leading on the first day of our traverse, on the Brenner Ridge of Guillamet:

Jorge and Tomas below the summit of Mermoz:

Rolo leading a traversing pitch on the ridge between Mermoz and Fitz Roy:

Rolo following a pitch on the North Pillar of Fitz Roy (which we climbed via a combination of the Casarotto, the Kearney-Knight, and "Mate-Porro"):

Luciana and Doerte bivying on the top of Fitz Roy's North Pillar, having made the first female ascent of "Mate-Porro" to this high point:

Trym and Ole also repeated "Mate-Porro" to the top of the North Pillar. Between Rolo and I, Jorge and Tomas, Trym and Ole, and Luciana and Doerte, there were 8 people bivied on top of Fitz Roy's North Pillar at the same time! Rolo pointed out that 8 people have bivied here together once before: when Alan Kearney and Bobby Knight topped out their variation on the North Pillar, and encountered 6 Polish climbers who had just reached the top of the pillar from their gigantic dihedral route. "Mate, Porro, y Todo lo Demas," established last year by Rolo and Bean Bowers, has been one of the most popular routes on Fitz Roy recently, but has still yet to see an integral ascent from the base of the route to Fitz Roy's summit (all ascents have stopped at the top of the North Pillar).

Bad weather has finally returned to El Chalten, and thus things are beginning to feel a bit more normal...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Viaje al Verano!

I'm currently en route to El Chalten, Argentina, for my fifth trip to Patagonia. I just looked at the weather maps, and tragically there is a great weather window at this very moment, that looks like it will be closing just after I arrive in El Chalten... C'est la vie.

The rest of my time in the Red River Gorge was great, and I made good progress on my sport climbing. It is an almost totally unrelated form of climbing from alpinism, but nonetheless useful training, and super fun too.

My friend Bart snapped a few photos while I was working on "Resurrection," my first 12c, and "Tuna Town," my first 12d:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sport Climbing 101

I was fortunate to hit a week of perfectly sunny weather while home in Seattle, and got in several great days of rock climbing at Index and Equinox Wall. But then of course the weather turned to more typical fall conditions (rain, rain, rain), and it was time to move on... to Kentucky (seriously)!

I've got just over three weeks here in the Red River Gorge before continuing down to Patagonia, which should be just long enough to regain rock climbing fitness from six weeks at 4,000+ meters. The climbing here is super fun and forgiving - almost all overhanging with big holds.

My friends Micah, Nellie, and John, along with the locals who make the Red River Gorge their home, are teaching me how to be a true sport climber. Lesson 1 was stick clipping:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back in Seattle

Tomorrow evening will be the first time I've been home for more than 48 hours during the past 4 months! In mid June I left Seattle to spend 6 weeks in redneck, Southwest Montana, taking a 6-week geology field course that is the capstone of my geology BS. It was painful to spend 6 days a week in school, from 8am to 5pm, but I must admit that I learned some stuff.

After Montana I flew down to Salt Lake City for a few days for a Black Diamond meeting, and left almost immediately afterwards for Pakistan. This summmer I went to the Choktoi Glacier with Maxime Turgeon, Josh Wharton and Whit Magro - Max and I to attempt the Southeast Buttress of the Ogre, and Josh and Whit to attempt the north aspect of Latok I. In the end, none of us were able to make an honest attempt on our routes due to the weather. Early in the trip we had two 3-day windows, but they weren't quite long enough for Latok or the Ogre, and we weren't yet adequately acclimatized. Later we had a 6-day period of mediocre weather when, in hindsight, we should have made an attempt, but it's unlikely it would have been good enough for a decent summit chance. At the very last hour of the trip we thought a good window had finally come and set out for our routes, but Max and I had to turn around because our two cached ropes were hopelessly lost under about 3 meters of new snow (seriously), and Josh and Whit bailed because it was so cold (I have since concluded that the last week of September is getting a bit late for 7,000m peaks in the Karakorum, especially north-facing objectives).

Although absolutely insignificant compared to our main objectives, we did all get to do some satisfying climbing while acclimatizing. Josh and Whit climbed a 5,700m peak by a new route, and believe it was the first ascent of the peak. Max and I climbed a 5,900m peak by its aesthetic south ridge, and we are about 85% sure it was the first ascent of the peak, but we need to do more research to be sure. We are tentatively naming it "Baintha Kabata," which in Urdu means "Ogre's Son."

Basecamp below the spectacular north side of Latok I:

Max carrying gear up to the col at the base of the Southeast Buttress of the Ogre:

Setting V-threads while rapping down from the 5,500m col in a storm:

Max leading a rock pitch on the morning of the second day on Baintha Kabata:

Max following a slabby pitch a bit higher:

Max following a traverse across an icefield near the summit:

Back on the glacier. After a cold bivy at 5,700m, a full day of climbing and a night of V-threading down the west ridge, we were very tired:

On the way home from Pakistan I decided to stop in Oslo for a week. I had a wonderful time climbing and skiing further north in Norway a couple years ago, but had never checked out Oslo before. There are several crags and bouldering areas in Oslo that are accessible by the subway!

Camilla bouldering at a couple different subway-accessed areas:

I had about 20 hours at home after Norway before flying down to Ventura for a Patagonia design meeting, and then about 15 hours at home before flying to Anchorage for a slideshow at the Bearstooth Theatre. I had two days to play in Anchorage after the slideshow, and spent them mixed climbing up on Ptarmigan Peak in Chugach State Park. On Friday Scotty and I climbed a steep 4-pitch route called "Three-Headed Bitch," and I Saturday Clint and I climbed a longer, more moderate route called "Ski Tracks Gully." Scotty describes Ptarmigan well as "urban alpinism."

Clint following a pitch in Ski Tracks Gully:

Clint right below the summit of Ptarmigan, with saltwater behind:

Now I'm doing massive amounts of laundry, and catching up on all sorts of small tasks and errands. I swear I'll be home for at least 10 days...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Outer Space and Prusik Peak

Justin was visiting Seattle for just a few days, and didn't get very lucky with the weather. So, chasing drier air we headed to the east slopes, and climbed Outer Space on Saturday and the West Ridge of Prusik on Sunday. Pretty good climbs considering that Justin had never been more than a single pitch off the ground before!

A goat hungry for halite:

On the West Ridge:

Right after the slab:

A still snowy traverse back to the base of the West Ridge:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mt. Stuart, Upper North Ridge

The forecast for Memorial Day was wishy-washy, with both the west slopes and the east slopes looking iffy. Dan Aylward and I decided to go try the Upper North Ridge on Stuart, and figured we could just climb the West Ridge if the weather was truly nasty. The Teanaway River Road is not totally snow-free yet, so we left the car about 6:30am, still 2.5 miles from the trailhead. I would estimate that the road will be drivable to the trailhead by next weekend.

The approach was characterized by lots of work kicking steps in the slush. Almost to the climbing, Dan traversing across the Stuart Glacier:

Dan on the partially snow-covered slab pitch:

Dan nearing the Great Gendarme:

Colin on the first pitch of the Great Gendarme, which was still a bit wet and icy. Photo by Dan Aylward:

Dan following the first pitch of the Great Gendarme:

Colin at one of the Cascade's best belay ledges. Photo by Dan Aylward:

Dan climbing above the Great Gendarme:

On the summit at about 6pm. The torrential rain, hail, and lightning didn't start until we returned to the car, at 9:30:

Dan dropped me off at the Park and Ride at midnight. In the dark, and in my tired state, I didn't notice the artwork someone left on my car until the next morning. This pastoral scene, depicting a climber's passion, is typical of the style pioneered by Bellingham ice climber, Crazy Polish Bob.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Early Winter Spires in Late "Winter"

With freezing levels dropping back down to 3,500 ft., Sunday promised to be the last day of the season with wintry conditions. So after some 3am antics due to a slept-through alarm clock, Mark Bunker, Dylan Johnson and I drove up to Washington Pass for the Early Winter Spires. From the hairpin turn we climbed the Early Winter Couloir, to the notch between North and South Spire, then up the ridge to the summit of the North Spire.

Mark on a short ice step in the Early Winter Couloir:

Wallowing was the norm for most of the couloir:

The cornice was big and overhanging. Since tunneling through snow seems to be my specialty these days, I started digging... Mark exiting the cornice tunnel:

The terrain from the notch to the summit had one spicy section of mixed slab climbing, but was otherwise pretty juggy. Dylan starting up above the notch:

Me, Mark, and Dylan on top of North Early Winter Spire.

After some down-climbing and a few rappels down to the west, the hour was still early, so we rambled up South Early Winter Spire via the SW Couloir:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rainier Skiing

Friday was forecasted to be sunny, so Dan Aylward and I headed up to Rainier for some spring skiing. From Muir we headed up the Gib Ledges route, to the base of Gibraltar Rock at 12,000 ft. We had planned to traverse from there to the top of Gib Chute for a nice steep descent, but changed plans upon seeing all the seracs that loop above Gib Chute. I'm willing to accept some serac risk for an amazing climb, but not for a little ski gully. The skiing back down the way we came was good nonetheless!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday Night Alpinism

So, you're a 9-5 business man/woman, planning an alpine-style attempt on the Shining Wall of Gasherbrum IV this summer. While hitting up the climbing gym after work is probably beneficial, those round, plastic holds won't, by themselves, adequately prepare you for soloing M4+ at 7,600 meters...

The solution for you is Wednesday Night Alpinism: Leave work at your usual time, drive straight to the mountains, and go alpine climbing all night, preferably in horrendous weather. The difficulty of staying awake at work the next day will help train you for the 40+ hour summit push on GIV...

Dylan and I climbed the East Face of The (Mighty) Tooth on this not-long-ago Wednesday: