Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tour of Duty: 10 Days on the Front in Patagonia, Part 2

Shadows of flame danced on the corrugated metal walls of Planta Establa´s asado frame. Aromas of beef filled the air. When it came time to thank the Asador, 30 people beat the side of the building until the ground shook. You could see the energy in the smokey room.

When I needed a breath of fresh air I stepped outside with Joel Kauffman. All that good vibe had me thinking. The stamp of Fitz Roy against the stars had me inspired.

I turned to my good freind and said, "You, me, and Neil should go for the West Face of the Torre. We pick up your stash on the Marconi and head into the Cirque of the Altars via the ice cap. We can do this."
Two days later the brothers Kauffman and I were fresh as flores, psyched to the max, and ready to approach their ninja base camp up a branch of the Marconi glacier.
As I had only had a day and a half of rest since the last mission, we planned to chill an entire day in the tranquility of the mountains. Town can be a stressful place. We needed the peace of the high country.
Our day of rest was spent eating, sleeping, and sharpening the pointy stuff. With my A-list gear stashed in the Torre Valley I whittled away at a nubby pair of Sabertooths. I was a little worried about how they would perform, but naivley thought I could manage anyway. Luckilly, I didn´t even notice that one of the frontpoints was cracked or I might have had an anxiety attack.
We set out on the last day of 2012. A dusting of new snow delicately hung on the surrounding peaks. Conditions on the ice cap, although not horrible, were far from perfect, and it took seven hours to reach the Cirque of the Altars.
 Walking into the Cirque I felt reenergized and intimidated! What a fantastic place!
With the approach taking a bit longer than we had thought, the heat caught us on the flats before the start of the route. We commenced post holing, falling towards our dream climb one punchy step at a time.
Despite oppressive heat we climbed up the lower slopes of the route, which is really more of an approach to the actual climb. Since several other teams were on the moutain we were able to milk a boot track, making the mash potato crap snow a bit more bearable.
Did I mention it was hot? Like really F·#!ing hot! We roasted below the Col de Esperanza for a few hours before realizing we could go no further that day. It was time to switch to night mode.
At 11:30 PM I crossed the shrund and daggered towards the Col de Esperanza. Joel and Neil followed in the blackness below my boots. With my super worn crampons affecting my ability to move confidently and Joel´s extensive experiance on ice, I handed off the rack to him after 150 meters. No egos here. We needed to move fast to beat the heat of the coming afternoon. Joel weaved through easy, but magical ground, and then climbed a steep, fun pitch up El Elmo. I then took advantage of a section that didn´t require sharp frontpoints, and led a block through the ultra fun mixed pitches mid way up the route. I wanted to lead what I could.
Joel powered through the headwall, shot up another easy pitch, and then fired us to the top of the Torre. It was awesome to see Joel fully in his element. I learned so much as I followed his great leads.
At 11 AM on the first day of 2013 we stood on top of a peak we had dreamed of for years.
Psyche was high, but we were only halfway. I reminded myself to stay focused as I made the first free hanging rappel. We were still far, far away from the safety of Chalten.
The descent went fairly smoothly, but the heat caught us in the end. The last few rappels down the slushy ice face I had lead the night before were terrifying. A block of ice with my name on it missed my head by a few feet. I zipped down the last soggy rappel, carefull not to lose control. I hadn´t even rigged my prusik on the rope as it would take too much time to undo once I was at the end of the lines. I downclimbed off the end of the ropes, jumped the shrund and ran towards a protected nook. Back at our sleeping bags, we laid down and decompressed. Yikes!
The following morning we bagan our trek out the ice cap. Conditions were perfect. Anything less and we would have been sunk. We were worked, losing the plot really. Joel and I started the day with wild rants and jokes that only made sense in the moment. I think Neil was really concerned that we had lost our minds. When the going get´s tough, you´ve gotta have fun!
The last day we hiked 40 K through some of the most incredible terrain you could ever witness. Add deep fatigue and hunger and the recipe is set for a true vision quest. By the time we stumbled onto the road we were on another plane for sure.

A friend gave us a bumpy lift back into Chalten. I stared out the car window at the Rio Fitz Roy and lost myself in it´s undulating rapids. The colorful tapestry of town appeared on the horizon. Did it happen at all?

It surely did because when when I got out of the car my legs screamed with pain. Man was I sore!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats!! See you back in the PNW!