Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tour of Duty: 10 Days on the Front in Patagonia, Part 1

Meat, wine, litros, bouldering, sport wanking, meteograms, wind, ice, slpitters, friends, beatdowns, summits, near misses, smooth operations, shredded ropes, crevasse falls, short nights, long nights, bitter cold, stupid hot, empty stomachs, full stomachs, Domo Blanco, Senyera. Patagonia is all these things and more.

The words above capture the last month here in Chalten. Rob Smith, Mark Westman, and I mostly engaged activities associated with town life, clipping bolts, eating food, watching the weather, and hoping beyond hope for a few climbable days. I was sad to see both leave empty handed, especially as sunnier skies rolled into the area.

With my partners gone, I sought out a new friend to help me make the most of a coming window of opportunity. Enter Jon Schaffer. Enter an absolute crusher. This guy is strong, which is good, because his first ever tour of duty was to be full of hardship, despite what appeared to be a solid forcast.

We left town with big plans. The idea was to traverse over Paso Cuadrado, contour around the western side of the Fitz Roy group, climb the famed Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy, and then drop into the Torre Valley and knock out a rock route on one of the many fine spires accessed from Niponino, the main base camp under the Torres.
 Looking up at the Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy 
Jon Schaffer photo

The approach went relatively well, despite the typical knee deep, isothermic slush slog so typical of an afternoon approach in Patagonia. A few hours of sleep and we were soloing up the awesome gash which is the Supercanaleta. We made good time up the intitial 1,000 meters. The climbing was mostly steep snow with a few bits of AI3 here and there. Clouds swirled around us, but the forcast was good. Surely they would go away.
 And they did! By the time we roped up, blue skies swirled above and the climbing became even more beautiful. Perfection in my book.
Enter the feared and unexpected Patagonia storm. Its tentacles wrapped around us softly, smothering us with a steady, yet gentle pecking of snow flakes. I kept leading. It would stop right?
A few more pitches and the white stuff was really piling up. Quite a bit of spindrift was pounding us. I began to think about my wet boots, my one jacket, my one liter of water, and a night on top of Fitz Roy. I wanted it so bad, I almost pushed on, but I knew better.
I thought back to past experiances and readied myself for the mission ahead. We had to get out of this funnel before it squeezed hard, took us in, and then spit us out. We started rapping. And rapping. And rapping. The descent grew ever more harrowing as the spindrift morphed into hard sloughs that sometimes filled the entire coulior, waves of snow sweeping up the sides of the slot. I was scared, but focused. I balanced making safe anchors with speed. One piece back ups became the norm. This was a balancing act. By the final rappels I was unclipping from the anchor in case I needed to solo higher on the side walls to get away from the river of snow that was constantly churning down. By the end of our descent the sun shone, but a hard rain fell anyway. By the end of the night, the Supercanaleta was spitting rocks. It was scary to say the least, but we finally rapped over the bergschrund and ran down the avy cone to the safety of our camp. We had made it.
The next day, despite being a bit shaken up (we almost bailed back to town), we headed towards the Torre Valley. The previous day had been cold and wet. Now it was hot as balls. I led across the glaciers, falling over and over again into hidden slots. I even dropped my axe into one, sparing it an eterinity in the black void using a clever rope trick.
We finally stumbled into Niponino tired and hungry. We tore away at the stones that covered my dry bags. Soon we were chowing on the bit of food I had there. It wasn´t enough to help us recover from the past three days and we discussed the next days activities. We talked about some grand plans, but eventually realized we didn´t have the energy to go big. We were wrecked.
Wrecked, but not beaten, we painfully climbed the 400 meter Benitiers Route on El Mocho the following day. It hurt so bad. My swollen feet bulged out of my rock shoes and each jam was a shot of pain.
But the climbing was good and we refused to blow off such a gorgeous day.
Cracks and huecos led us higher above the valley and the beauty of our position dulled the pain.
On the rappels we moved sluggishly. I was naseous. So damn hungry. The rope got stuck, we cut it, and kept going down.
We arrived back in Niponino too late to make it back to Chalten. The food was gone save a few goos and bars. The situation seemed grim until some Canadien friends made us dinner and then another dinner after that one. We passed out right after a wind gust broke the tent and rain started falling. The weather window broke down. Again. I turned over in my sleeping bag.

¨Welcome to Patagonia Jon,¨ I said.

¨Thanks,¨ he replied.

I shut my crusty eyes and passed out as the wind shook our broken shelter in its mighty hand.

Part 2 Coming Soon!

All Photos by Jon Schaffer except the ones of him!

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