January was a beautiful month in Patagonia and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Media Luna was a great warm up, but I was ready for a more user friendly hiking approach. We opted for Piedra Negra camp. I had spent time here with Janet Bergman Wilkinson 8 years ago. I remember making rock walls back then and Freddie Wilkinson and Dana Drummond carving out a site next to us for hours with their ice tools. That was the year they climbed Fitz Roy twice on new routes. Now, Piedra Negra camp was quite busy with loads of new tent sites filled with colorful tents. Actually, the tent that got destroyed by the wind at Lago de Tres, was the same tent Janet Bergman, Sarah Garlick and I used 9 years ago in the Torre Valley and again in 2007 with Janet here. That little Mountain Hardware tent had a good life and I suppose it was appropriate for it to die in Patagonia.
It was fun to hear so many climbers say they were going to climb “The Care Bear Traverse”. I think Freddie and Maddog had just as much fun naming it that knowing people would have to say it! Coming back to Patagonia after so many years brought back some of the best memories of my life. Meeting Sarah Garlick for the first time on the dirt road in El Chalten with her giant haul bag 9 years ago; “you must be my climbing partner” I said to her as there weren’t too many other girls roaming the streets with that equipment. Janet had arranged the trip and knew that we would be a good team. We were a great team with very different personalities and strengths and I would realize on this trip how special that bond is.
I love climbing with Tim. We climb fast together and we climb harder routes than I would choose if I was leading everything. With the girls, we were slower, but more accountable for sharing the leads and all the decision making. Patagonia is an intense place, pick your partners wisely!
We arrived at Piedra Negra with rock and ice gear and plenty of food because we did not want to have to leave again in good weather because we were out of food. The camp is beautiful with a clean stream flowing just outside of the tent. The rock still looked a little wet and temps were forecasted to be cold, so we decided to go have a look at the famous Supercaneleta on Fitz Roy. We hiked over Paso Cuadrado and gazed up at one of my dream routes, Mate Y Poro, on the North pillar of Fitz Roy, and around to the base of the Supercaneleta. It was 10:30pm when we arrived and the sun was still hitting the final pitches. We brewed up and talked about our strategy. Two tents were at the base. Two dead bodies were still on the route. Chad Kellogg was hit by rockfall on the descent and his body was still secured on the descent route. We had talked about rappelling the Franco-Argentine route so we would not see him, but another body, Frank who fell from the Affanasief years ago, was now melting out on the route. We would have to free solo the first 2000ft. It was easy terrain, but as the name implies, it was a garbage chute. Everything funnels right down. I didn’t want to hit Tim with ice or be hit by ice and, I really did not want to be responsible for hitting anyone else with ice or rock. Tim felt uninspired looking up the route. I was in if he wanted to go up, but really my heart was in for quality rock climbing and not set on summits. Technically, this is the easiest way to Fitz Roy, El Chalten, the smoking mountain’s summit. We turned around and walked the 4 hours back to our camp. Several days later, Colin Haley and his partner would climb it in less than 21 hours from car to car.
With the temps still remaining cold, we decided to let the rock dry another day and climb an ice route on Guillamet called the Guilot just left of the Amy couloir. We got an early dark start and summited at noon before the crowds. The climbing was fun, the ice sticky, but I got hit by a big chunk that bruised my arm and knocked the wind out of me. I dreamed of the perfect granite to be had and was glad I wasn’t really injured. The summit was calm and the skies were blue. The last time I was up here was with Janet, we climbed the Comesana-Fonrouge from the lower ridge. It was awesome and hard climbing with a pack on with ice gear for the summit ridge. It was also sunset and we descended in the setting sun and walked back to camp in the dark. This time, we planned to bivy on the pass and climb the Red Pillar an Mermoz the following day.
Our luck continued, as we were able to use Clint Healander and Tad’s tent they left on the pass. They were off to climb Fitz Roy on the California route. We started early as there is a big steep snow slope to get to the base of the climb and the a Sun hits it at first light. I had attempted this climb with Janet 8 years ago, and had been dreaming of coming back ever since. The cracks are splitter and the rock is splendid! Tim was psyched to lead the whole climb and I was happy to try my hardest on top rope as I knew I would take lots of rests if I was leading. We climbed 7 pitches, about the same I did with Janet, before the clouds rolled in. After Poincenot, we were highly sensitive to clouds and wind. Our dream was to climb this free and we needed a better day. The rock still had some wetness and the clouds looked intimidating. We went down.
We returned to the pass the following day for an open bivy. It was a wonderful spot carved out by an Italian guide and his 72 year old client the nite before. They successfully climbed the Amy! The views were excellent and the night was warm. We returned to the Pillar Rojo in the rising sun.
It was a dream come true. We both climbed well. Tim never fell, even in the wet wide crack! I did. You could have climbed in a T-shirt! It was hot and calm! It was so much fun! We met up with our new friends Alik Berg and Fred Mcguinness near the summit. They had climbed the Argentine route on the other side. Some clouds rolled in and we reached the summit enveloped in a dreamy cushion of drifting clouds. The anchors are bolted and the descent went smoothly. The glacier was still hot and the walk home was a scarey wallow thru soft snow over crevasses. We made it back safely and enjoyed the friendship of many successful climbers at Piedra Negra camp.
Our next adventure was up the Torre Valley again. This time taking the Tyrolese across the river and approaching on the old trail which was taken out by a giant landslide. Ultimately, it seemed better than the right side of the lake. However, neither side would be a good place in the rain. The sun was still shining strong. We hiked lighter with only rock gear. The following morning, we hiked in the dark up to Saint Exupery. We saw lights ahead of us and realized it was a party descending from the day before. I had been on this climb a couple times before. The first time with Janet and Sarah in 2006. There was no que back then and not many cairns and no weather forecasts, so it was quite a bit different. We didn’t summit, but made a good effort with a bivy just below the chimneys. We were frozen in the morning and went down. The next year, I climbed it with Zoe Hart and Max Turgeon to the summit. The wind was nuking on the summit pitch and the entire descent. It was a long day. This time, we summited at 3:00pm and it was calm. There was a party ahead and behind us. I loved every different experience I’ve had on this climb. I always think of meeting Silvo Karo at Augostini camp and him saying he liked to do this climb as a warm up each season. Tim lead us up this one as well. He didn’t want to spend the whole night out, which seemed to be my mode of operation in the past. We climbed quickly and enjoyed the great views of Poincenot and laughed about our epic journey into the lenticular the month before.
The following day, we went up to El Mocho and climbed the Frader-Pisaf a beautiful dihedral on the North face. I “guided” Tim up. It felt good to be leading. I want to be a faster leader and Tim suggested I put less gear in on easier terrain. This made me realize our vast differences in our comfort zones. I can run out 5.6, Tim can run out 5.10. After the crux pitch, the rock quality became poor and the clouds began to pour over the Torres and I got scared. It was hard not to be bummed, because I really wanted to lead us all the way up. We went down. Regardless, we did some super fun climbing and made it back safely through the yucky glacier/serac debris. We cached our gear and hiked out the following morning.
We were back soon after with our ice gear. We had been fulfilling my dreams, and now it was Tim’s turn. He so badly wanted to climb Cerro Torre, or any of the Torres, and thought Festerville on Cerro Standhart would be a good choice. The forecast was good and he hoped we could link it with Punta Heron, thus more food and bivy gear. Our packs were heavy. We ran into Colin as he was descending from his solo ascent of Cerro Standhart and Torre Eiger on the start of the snow slopes. It was still dark. He told us to keep following the tracks that traversed right to make it to the Standhart col. It was hard to imagine all that he accomplished in a 27 hour push alone.
We continued climbing towards the col. Tim was fired up and climbed the crux pitches with a heavy pack and no falls no cheating. I could barely pull myself up. My pack felt so incredibly heavy on overhanging 5.11 terrain. I arrived at the belays without my usual smile. This wasn’t really fun for me. The rock was perfect and I couldn’t really climb it. We were moving slow, mostly because of me. I told him I would be faster on the easier terrain. “We’re going down”, he said. I looked at the terrifying hot glacier below and encouraged him to go up because I definitely didn’t want to be down there. He suggested we go down to the ledge, get some of the melting snow and take a nap. We had just learned a lot about our own capabilities and of what we can do as a team. We talked about different tactics we could use to be more successful in this terrain. I dreamed of the North Pillar on Fitz Roy while Tim dreamed of Cerro Torre. We got sun burnt on the ledge. When we got down to the glacier, we found the snow bridges had melted away and we had to jump the crevasse. The glaciers were melting fast in these long windows of good weather and the changes in the past 10 years were impressive. We walked to our camp in the dark and packed up all our gear the following day. When we arrived at the base of the landslide hill, a few raindrops fell. A wave of emotion came over me as I begged” Please not now”.
It was as if the gods were only joking and the rain stopped as we ascended the fixed line. We stopped in the forest to camp one last nite. I always say “I’m an okay climber, but I am an expert camper”. We had a great night looking at Cerro Torre under the moon and woke up to put the rain fly on when we heard a few drops. In the morning, we awoke to a heavy downpour. It was calm and pouring. Tim wanted to sleep and wait for the rain to stop. I reminded him that sometimes it just gets worse. “The wind hasn’t even started to blow yet”.