Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guillaumet Solo

Aguja Guillaumet from the east, showing the Amy Route.

Much of my time in Patagonia is spent waiting for a large weather window to try a difficult objective, and I often let pass many mediocre but nonetheless climbable days, which are suitable only for smaller objectives. However, after festering for a while, and with no properly good weather in sight that could be potentially compromised by not being well rested, I figured I might as well head up to Aguja Guillaumet with a mediocre forecast for Dec. 20th. I had already climbed Guillaumet, one of the easiest summits in the range, three times before, so to make it more challenging I opted to head out alone. I chose to attempt the Amy Route because the first half is a snow, ice and mixed gully, and there was no doubt in the forecast that it would be far too cold to wear rock shoes.

Thus, I left El Chalten in a taxi to Rio Electrico early in the morning, and started the approach up to Paso Guillaumet. After spending a while at Paso Guillamet to eat, drink, and rack up, I finally walked up the short bit of glacier to the bergschrund, and started climbing around 10am. The bergshrund was gaping, and required a bit of tricky climbing up some snow and ice plastered to the right wall of the couloir. The couloir itself was easy, however, with a bit of steep snow, easy ice and blocky mixed climbing.

From the notch at the top of the couloir, I took off crampons and headed up the easy rock ridge above, occasionally taking off my gloves for harder moves. The crux pitch is a short 5.9 dihedral, which with rock shoes I would have been happy to free-solo, but with boots and gloves I decided here to use a rudimentary self-belay. Since I knew I would be rappelling down the same route, I could leave several nuts and cams on this pitch for my self-belay and retrieve them on the descent. I re-donned crampons half-way up the last rock pitch because a wide crack was ice up, and soon was walking up the summit snowfield.

I topped out at about noon, and made quick work of the descent - on schedule for an afternoon return to El Chalten, and a nice, relaxing day in total... However, at the notch at the top of the couloir I found an inexperienced climber, by himself, who was very confused as to the whereabouts of his partner, and did not have means to descend, considering that he had with him only two carabiners, a belay device, a single 50m rope, but no hardware whatsoever. After a lot of shenanigans looking for his missing partner, we rappelled the couloir together and began the hike out. His missing partner was soon found, and no harm done except that I ate a much later dinner!

On this climb I experimented with a new toy: a helmet cam. Through my first, laborious experience of editing video footage, I put together a video of the climb for the Black Diamond website:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poincenot Solo

I arrived in El Chalten, Patagonia at the start of a several-day good weather window. Unfortunately, the cold that I had caught right before leaving Seattle had not been cured by four days of stressful travel, and I was forced to pass two good weather days in town. Since I wasn't healthy to take advantage of the full weather window I told Rolo he ought to find another partner, and I made solo plans for myself to use what remained of the good weather. The Whillans Route (650m, 5.9, M4) on Aguja Poincenot was the first route I ever climbed in Patagonia, and would make a good solo I thought. It is an elegant and classic route, winding up an amazing spire but with moderate climbing.

On Monday I hiked from town to a bivy at Laguna de los Tres. It is typical to hike up the glacier and bivy at Paso Superior, but temperatures were much higher than normal, and I hoped that if I waited until early morning the glacier would re-freeze from the sloppy condition it was in. Thus, I left Laguna de los Tres at 4:30am yesterday morning, but to my dismay the glacier was still in terrible condition, with lots of slushy post-holing. I arrived at Paso Superior at 6:00am, and rushed up the glacier above as quickly as I could, because the 300m meter snow ramp that comprises the first half of the Whillans Route was already bathed in sun.

I decided to attempt the route in what I call "Yosemite Style" - that is, without a backpack and instead just a few bare essentials clipped to my harness. Thus, with one liter of water, six GU packets and a windbreaker I crossed the first of three bergshrunds at 7:30am, in rapidly deteriorating snow conditions. The ramp was in terrible shape, with knee-deep slush on an exposed 60-degree angle. From climbing in the Cascades I am very familiar with all sorts of bad snow conditions, so I still felt comfortable with the climbing, but nonetheless the ramp was much slower and more tiring than normal. At the end of the ramp is a mixed chimney, that was dripping with water in the exceptionally hot conditions. It is also the crux of the route, and in this section I made two "back-loops" (a rudimentary form of self-belaying).

Above the mixed chimney the route follows broken rock for about 300m to the summit. Conditions were just barely dry enough to climb entirely in rock shoes, and this allowed me to comfortably free-solo sections that would've required a self-belay in boots. I reached the summit at 11:30am and began the long descent. I had hoped to down-climb most of the ramp, particularly since I had brought only one rope, but given the increasingly slushy snow conditions I was concerned about getting swept off in a wet-slide, and opted to rappel all of it. After rappelling and jumping over the bergshrunds, all that was left was to swim down-glacier through the slush and then batter my knees on the hike back to town. Fortunately I arrived just in time for an asado de cordero...

My moment of fame - an interview on Radio FM Chalten. It seems that at 7pm on a Sunday the radio is run and listened to exclusively by teenage girls.

Aguja Poincenot from Laguna de Los Tres. The Whillans Route climbs the diagonal snow ramp across the East Face, a mixed chimney to gain the left-hand skyline, and then broken rock just around the skyline to the summit.

Looking down from half-way up the ramp:

At the entrance of the mixed chimney:

Looking down from the top of the mixed chimney:

Splitter 5.9 on the upper rock portion:

On the summit, with the Torres behind:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fall in Yosemite and the Halloween Linkup

I'm posting this a bit late, but here is a summary I wrote a few weeks ago of my fall pilgrimage to Yosemite:

When most climbers ask me what they should do to prepare for a Patagonia trip, I recommend winter climbing in the Cascades. However, because I come from a snow, ice and bad-weather climbing background, the best preparation I can do is to climb a lot of steep granite, and Yosemite is a perfect training ground. I drove down to Yosemite in early October, and first spent a couple weeks free-climbing. I soon decided though that it was time to finally climb my first El Cap big-wall route. As a warm-up, and to refresh my memory on short-fixing techniques, I first climbed the West Face of Leaning Tower with a friend from Squamish, Nick Elson. Next up was an enjoyable day-trip up Lurking Fear with fellow Seattle-ite, Graham Zimmerman.

Lurking Fear had gone quite smoothly, and so I decided I ought to finally climb "the best rock climb in the world," The Nose. Several of my friends had already just recently climbed The Nose and thus weren't interested, so I scanned the Yosemite Lodge cafeteria in search of a partner. Big-wall soloist Dave Turner has already climbed El Cap countless times, and rarely climbs with a partner at all, so I doubted he would be interested, but nonetheless I offhandedly asked, "Hey Dave, wanna climb The Nose tomorrow?" A pleasant surprise, Dave agreed immediately, and a few hours later we were racking up.

To take full advantage of Dave's superb aid-climbing skills, we decided to break the climb in two lead blocks: mine the longer but technically easier block to the base of the Great Roof, and Dave's the steeper block from there to the top. Starting by headlamp at 4am, we weren't dilly-dallying but also weren't especially trying to climb fast. Thus we were nicely surprised to top out in bright afternoon sun eleven-and-a-half hours later. Considering how easily the route had gone by, Dave suggested on the hike off that we try the Half Dome - Nose linkup a few days later. I hadn't ever heard of anyone doing the linkup so late in the season, with such short, chilly days - but what the hell, at least it'd be good Patagonia training! I agreed it was an excellent idea, and a few mornings later, on the last day of October, we were hiking up the "Death Slabs" to the base of Half Dome's Northwest Face.

There were spots of water-ice on the "Death Slabs," and so considering the chilly air we decided to start Half Dome at the warmest time of the day, and started our linkup at 3:58 pm. Like on El Cap, I led the first half, and Dave took the trickier upper half. I had only climbed Half Dome once, four years ago, but Dave knew the route well. Topping out at 9:30 pm, we were enthused to be ahead of schedule, and scurried down the cables, back down the "Death Slabs," and to our bikes at Mirror Lake.

By midnight we were parked in El Cap meadow, blasting Ace of Base, MC Hammer and other appropriately cheesy music to psyche up for The Nose. After cramming in some food and chugging water, we walked up to El Cap, and started The Nose at 12:30 am. Since our previous climb of The Nose was my first I had taken some extra time to find the route, but now that I knew where to go I could climb a bit faster, even by headlamp. I finished my last pitch, to the base of The Great Roof, at 6:30 am, thankful to finally take off my rock shoes and headlamp.

Dave blasted off, efficient-as-ever, and soon I was jugging up behind him. As the upper pitches flowed by, I began to look at the watch more often - Our intention was to complete the linkup in under 24 hours, but I began to make 20 hours the new goal in my mind, and yelled up to Dave that it ought to be our new goal, although it was hard to say if it would be realistic or not. As Dave started up the final bolt ladder I yelled something like, "Fifteen minutes to twenty hours!," and he yelled back, "Well, I'll make it under twenty, but I don't know about you!" When the rope was fixed I jugged as fast as possible, and then ran up the final slab with a huge cluster of rope and gear hanging off me. At the tree I immediately pulled out the watch: 11:58 am - 20 hours to the minute!

Serious climbing? NO. Are these Yosemite linkups and speedclimbing just fun and games? YES. But it's certainly good Patagonia training! Dave is en route to El Chalten right now, and I will be a couple weeks later...

Climbing "Butterballs" at the Cookie Cliff.

Butterballs is a spectacular splitter finger crack. Still though, the Cookie Cliff is no comparison to The Lower Town Wall at Index.

Tom Evans shot some photos from El Cap meadow while Dave and I were making our first Nose warm-up. This is me leading near the end of my block, in the grey bands.

The beauty of short-fixing: Dave already thirty feet up the next pitch as I finish the last lower-out on the Great Roof.

Dave beginning the third pitch of his block, as I'm jugging the second.

Powered by MC Hammer, Dave in El Cap Meadow, half-way through the linkup.