On the approach to Niponino, basecamp for the route
Two days ago, Joel Kauffman, Mike Schaefer, and I picked our way up the Torre Valley to a basecamp suitable for reaching our chosen line, a new set of cracks up the south face of Poincenot. Mike had been kind enough to share his first ascent idea with Joel and I only a few days after his arrival in Chalten. We traced our fingers over a high res photo of the mountain, wondering if we could climb what we thought we saw. Joel and I had camped near the route only the week before and could not stop staring at the wall, especially in the evening light. Mike’s specific details sealed the deal. We all felt inspired to have a look.
Day one finds us approaching the base and then climbing to a distinct ledge system a third of the way up the route. Joel races up the best climbing we could ever hope for. Mike and I hoop and hollar our way up splitter hand and finger cracks. We tackle overhangs on gritty jugs and dance across slabs on shiny ripples. So far, so good.
The classic nature of the lower pitches ends as abruptly as the headwall starts.My first lead on the wall proper is a flairing trench of kitty litter. Enough solid cam placements make it safe enough, but my heart skips beats on the way to the belay. I gingerly french free off a downward pointing, half driven angle after climbing an aider attached to an ice tool stuck in the trench. The artsy, but crappy stretch launches us into pitch after pitch of sustained, steep fissures. Unfortunately, the rock itself leaves something to be desired and both Mike and I constantly scrape at the cracks with an ice tool.
Myself leading on pitch three of the headwall
Free climbing in my final block
The next morning Joel charges out of the bivy, inspired to finish our ascent. He climbs quickly and within one hour we are moving into the established terrain of the upper mountain. Joel fires to the summit as Mike and I try to keep our eyes open. I’m glad he’s feeling strong. The fatigue wants to overtake me, but I can’t let that happen. I squint at Chalten from the summit, so many thousands of feetbelow. There is still so far to go.
I lead the upper rappels. They are short and easy. It’s the least I can do for the team. Before we drop back into the steep wall we had ascended, I hand the gear to Mike, master of big wall rappeling. Deciding to finish the cannister, Joel makes water and some food. My thoughts swim in my dry brain, sludgy and thick. The water again rejuvenates. Mike takes one last swig and drops in.
A look up the face during the rappels
FA of Rise of the Machines
South Face of Poincenot
VI 5.11 A2+
Big thanks to Mike Schaefer for the awesome photos. To see more of his great work check out: