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."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Going South

Huge Thanks for the folks who made this trip possible! Patagonia, Powerbar, Tendon Ropes, Petzl, and Icicle Ridge Winery...none of this happens without you!

My fingers ache and my heart beats quick. The packing and cramming is over and psyche is erupting like a volcano. It's officially Patagonia time.

Tomorrow I board a jet plane, cross my fingers, and push towards El Chalten, Argentina. If everything goes smoothly (it certainly may not, but that's part of the fun, right?) I should arrive by mid day Wednesday. It's hard to believe the time to depart is finally here. The training, the working, and the dreaming have given way to the reality of a windswept collection of rimey spikes way down south.

For me, a trip of this magnitude does not fall together easily. In my climbing, as in my life, I have formed special relationships that see me through challenges big and small. None of us can make it alone, that's for sure. I wanted to not only thank all my supporters, but also to specifically point out what they do for me.

Patagonia: While my cams and biners may last a decade, my clothing surely does not. I came into this winter with tattered jackets and blown out layers. One of my largest concerns after Mike Schaefer invited me on this trip was my clothing. Great technical wear is a must, but it's really expensive! Patagonia calmed my anxiety and threw down the best jackets and pants I've ever worn.

Tendon Ropes: Like clothing, ropes don't last forever. I am proud to use Tendon Ropes not only on this trip, but on my daily jaunts to the crags and peaks around my home. A good cord is imperative, especially in a place like Patagonia where wind and coarse granite tears at your line constantly. I am bringing a 9.7 Master down with me, just one great rope in Tendon's line of stellar products.

Powerbar: Anyone who pushes themselves athletically appreciates a tasty and effective bar. As my climbs grow bigger and my training more intense, I have focused a lot of time on finding the best way to stay energized on the go. Laura Omeara, a friend, a Powerbar devotee, and an amazing triathlete (fifth lady overall at the 2010 Ironman Canada!) helped provide me with the best product to push me through long training runs and big routes in wild places.

Petzl: Without a doubt, Petzl creates incredible ice gear, slick low profile harnesses, and amazing hard wear. I love their equipment, but am even more thankful for their generosity in helping me on all my expeditions. They never hesitate to get me what I need and their enthusiasm is infectious.

Icicle Ridge Winery: My biggest supporters (and my employers), Icicle Ridge Winery has set the foundation for my lifestyle. Their flexibility has allowed me to live a climber's life. Not only do they go above and beyond to allow me a schedule that allows me to train and climb, they are friends I cherish and just thinking of them fills me with strength when the going gets tough. Love you guys!

Ok ya'll. It's off to the races. Stay tuned.