Monday, December 20, 2010

Welcome To Patagonia

On a calm, clear day its hard to imagine the intensity of climbing in Patagonia. The rock is splitter, the ice bullet proof and the protection plentiful. When it all goes right its absolutely phenomenal climbing. What Mikey and I have experienced the last few days is more like excruciating battle. Just arriving at our base camp at Paso Superior was difficult. Between scary wind gusts we dashed across exposed snow slopes, burying our axes and laying on the slope when we felt we could be flicked off the ridge. The power of the wind here is humbling and by the time we were at base camp a deep respect for the serious nature of this place had settled deep in my gut.

The alarm in our snow cave beeps at 3 AM, but it is not until 10 AM that the forecasted clearing shoves aside the dark clouds. Soon we are on the glacier, making our way towards the route, a day and a half of good weather still available; supposedly.

Amazing climbing, bad weather!

Easy mixed climbing, a challenging gash, and aqua blue water ice pulls us up the wall. The climbing is incredible but by 8 PM the snow begins a soft dance around us. Pushing on into darkness, the climbing gets better, but the weather worsens. The cold settles in and we battle to fight off numbing toes and fingers. While people stumble from the closing bars of El Chalten we make ramen and try to stay afloat in the smothering spindrift.

Amazed and a bit perturbed, Mike and I watch our belay and each other blend into the crystalline whiteness of our vertical world. We are seven rope stretching pitches up a new route on Mermoz, standing on a minuscule foot ledge while the weather crumbles into a blanketing storm. I'm the first to say it. "I don't think we can do this anymore." A ghostly cloud of snow rolls down the couloir and buries us again. Behind thick clouds the sun comes up, but with new light we pull out our second rope and begin the journey down.

Mike leads the rappels as the waves of spindrift pound harder and tougher. My fear elevates with the strength of these dusty avalanches, the route we came up barely visible under all the new snow. As a Patagonia newbie I am truly blown away.

It's over!

Our relief at finally touching down on the glacier is short lived. The milky white out has me stumbling blindly through crevasses as Mikey directs my swaying movement towards the Paso. Finally, after a couple of tense hours we collapse in our snow cave amidst a pile of frozen gear. I brew coffee while Mikey sleeps under a wet bag atop a frozen back pack. Eventually we manage to stumble the eight miles towards town, the prospect of food fueling our tired muscles.

Sitting here now, reliving the experience through words, I realize how excited I am to head back up and finish the route. I've always been amazed at how the inspiration of the mountains can demolish the worst of memories. Like the Balti poet Bowa Johar wrote, "All is temporary. The sky outlives everything. Even suffering."

4 comments:

sol said...

thanks for the update Jens. sounds like you guys are having a classic patagonia experience. much love from Ltown brother.

maxhasson said...

Good to hear you guys survived a round of battle, looks like a sweet line. I'll keep trying to send some El Paso sunshine your way, we'll trade you for some Argentine sending breeze...

megan said...

Nice to hear your still psyched! Always love to read about your adventures, keep pushing and stay safe! Lot of love your way.

Kyle O'Meara said...

Sounds like you're doing what you do best dude! Glad you're inspired and getting after it! See you upon your return...