Friday, January 11, 2013

Alpine Adventures In Patagonia

The Torre Group from the west

As most of you know I broke my tibia/fibia and needed my ankle realigned just after New Years. I am sure some of you are wondering how and why this happened. Well I am going to give you a run down of what I have been up to since October and give a detailed description of how I ended up the couch at my parents house in Sackville NB.

On October 10th I flew to Coyhaquie, Chile to start working a 45 day mega hike/mtn section of the Patagonia Year program with NOLS. Once there my co-instructors and I got all the gear sorted and maps pulled and on the 16th the students arrived. They got oriented to the NOLS Campo and then we started right into the gear issue and rations process. On the 17th we were off into the field.

Our trip started from the balsa (cable ferry) across the Rio Baker about 20km from the small town of Cochrane. Our first day was challenging due to a student being sick and also not being on the map until we actually got to our X.

After some long chats with co-instructors and our sick student we decided to evac him on the morning of day 3, we were still at our same location as day one to wait to see if he improved.... he didn't and was evaced and unfortunately didn't rejoin to course.
Pretty cool clouds!
The moon

When Felipe got back from doing the evac we started on our way. The next 12ish days we travelled through beautiful lenga forest, had another evac, crossed a number of creeks and rivers, had some wonderful cultural experiences with a family on the Rio Neff and learned the basics of self arrest and living in the mountains.
Lenga Forest
Self Arrest practice

The last day of travel down to Lago Bertrand we set the students off on there own. They had the skills and knowledge to do this and did extremely well. The day started in the snow and as we descended the rain came and came in classic patagonian style. Erik, Felipe and I arrived at our X soaked to the bone with little food.....3 hrs later the students showed up also soaked to the bone and with little food but in good spirits regardless. Nice work guys! 45km under our belts.

So now it is transition time from hiking to mountains. Fergy came to join us to make a 4 person Mtn I-team and one more student left the course. Our X was on Fergy's campo and it was a nice way to spend a few days getting things organized for the mountains. We got all the mountain gear and food sorted and bags packed fairly effectively and then back up into the mountains.

Our route looked something like this: Puerto Bertrand up to Cordon Soler traverse Cordon Soler to Rio Soler 8 days, travel up the Rio Soler and Rio Cacho to Cordon El Canal and over to Cordon La Torre 11 days, and then traverse Cordon La Torre to Cordon Diablo Nergo and out into the Leones Valley. The route isn't overly long 100km yet it had a number of, I think 5 800-900m days and 1 1200m day.
Lago Plomo

During our time in the Cordon Soler we got slammed by wind and snow 3 tents where damaged and fixed even with our 3-4m high snow walls. Also we travelled in white out for a few days to make progress on our route. Fortunately the wind let up and we got in the Rio Soler in good form.
Felipe and Erik building our huge snow wall

Glacier Travel practice

Once we got our food we headed up the valley and set up a day of ice climbing and dry glacier travel on the Soler Glacier. After some fun ice climbing and learning opportunities we started the bushwack up into the alpine. It took a few days and a lot of hard work but we got to Cordon El Canal and base camped for 3 days... during those days we worked on glacier travel skills, did some peak climbing and ate a lot of food. The weather was great as we moved down glacier to traverse up and over into the Cordon La Torre area. Days where long and the snow was soft but the guys worked hard and we all enjoyed amazing views of San Lorenzo and San Valentine (the 2 largest peaks in Patagonia).
Pretty nice place for Mate!!
The crew

The next few days where resting and getting our next re-ration. We put ourselves in good position and got the food back up into the mountains before the weather came in again. Then we started our traverse on Cordon La Torre, a cordon full of great climbing with little exploration.

We set up a base camp on the glacier at about 1800m and stayed there for 3 days... taught single team crevasse rescue, some leadership classes, did more ice climbing and had a fun walk through some large seracs. Also a rest day that allowed for Erik and I to climb the SW face of Cerro Melquina which was unclimbed. We climbed the route in 10hrs camp to camp. It was excellent climbing with challenges up to 60 degree ice and low 5 class rock.

The next day we continued our traverse of the Cordon and camped at our descent pass into the Cordon Diablo Nergo. We decided to scout and also get up early the next morning to do some climbing before we left the mountains. At 4am I left with 6 students, we climbed La Torre, and 3 other peaks on our way back to camp..... as far as I know none of these peaks have been climbed by NOLS until now. Nice work guys..... then at around noon we started our technical glacier descent down to get off glacier. Oliver led the way and then handed the leadership over the Patrick once we got out of the steep terrain. Then it was of glacier and only 3 days left.

The last 3 days had the students travel independently of instructors for 24 hrs and the last day we exchanged evaluations and had a traditional Chilean Asado.

Thank so much to my I-Team Fergy, Erik and Felipe and to the students who accomplished so much!! Nathan, Nate, Packy, Peter, Stuart, Farm, Wilson, Alastair, Oliver, Cristian, Miguel, Paul, Marcus, and Ike. If any of you read this, sorry I'm not going to be climbing with the old leg needs to heal..... have some much fun!

On December 3 Mita arrived at the NOLS Campo in Coyhaquie (my climbing partner for El Chalten) and we discussed gear and things and were on our way to the land of bad weather, long approaches and granite spires before we knew it. We arrived in Chalten on Dec 7th bought the new guidebook by Patagonia legend Rolando Garibotti and started wishing for good weather.
The view on the way into Chalten.... that is Fitz!
Fitz and Pincenot
Mita walking into town
Mita hiking into Nipinino with El Mucho.

We waited for about 10days before we got to climb in the mountains and out first objective was Cerro Pollone which stands at 2600m and is set back closer to the Southern Icefield. During those 10 days we met lots of climbers and did some sport climbing at the local crags around town. I also went for a run to Laguna Torre which is a beautiful 16km round trip... highly recommended. And Mita and I also hiked into one of the advanced base camps in the Torre Valley called Nipinino.
Mita and Fitz!
Having fun

The Supercanalata!

To get to Pollone we hiked in to Piedra Negra, about 8 km from the road and set up our base camp and then headed up to Paso del Cuadrado to stash gear so we didn't have to carry it up in the morning. The next morning around 3 am we started off for our climb, we made good time to the pass and down to the Fitz Roy Glacier. As we travelled up the glacier the fresh snow slowed us some but we still made good time to the base of our route. We started climbing a beautiful 65 degree snow/ice couloir up to the Pollone Glacier and then travelled up the glacier to some lower angle ice. We got into some waist deep trail breaking for a bit but fortunately thing steepened up and we got into more ice climbing terrain maybe up to 70 degrees... at this point visibility was low and the wind was hollowing.... we were only 1 pitch from the summit but turned around and headed back to camp. The climbing was excellent and going for that route next time I would have bivied closer. We ended up travelling 10km round trip from Piedra Negra to our high point. All in all a wonderful outing in one of the most spectular climbing destinations in the world!!
Mita and Piergorgio's West face
Me and Piergorgio's West Face
Mita climbing a steep pitch on Cerro Pollone

When we arrived back in town my buddies Cory Hall, James Monypenny, Chris Ru, Luca Vallata and Dani had just climbed Pincenot via the Whillans-Cochrane which is a beautiful looking line and from there photos it looked awesome!

We checked the weather and things didn't look great for the next coming days so we ate food and did a litte climbing around. As the days progressed the weather was starting to look really good so Cory, James, Chris, Luca and I where talking about going to climb Cerro Torre. Mita wasn't so much keen for ice climbing so she got another partner and they where going to go rock climbing on Fitz Roy. As the weather forcast got closer it was obvious we were going for the Torre. We organzied food and gear and started in on December 23rd via Paso Marconi.
Probably unclimbed
The duct tape sponsored athletes!
Team "Duct Tape" Cory and James

This way in is long but with little elevation gain. We camped over the pass at around 1400m (20km 8hrs) and cached some gear and then the next day moved to El Elmo high on the SW face of Cerro Torre (15km 18 hrs). Chris decided to head down before El Elmo due to not feeling well and at our camp on El Elmo on Christmas Eve James was vomiting so in the morning when we were getting ready to go he stayed and waited for use.
Our camp on El Elmo

So then it was 3 Cory, Luca and I. And 3:30am we started climbing. I took the first 3 pitches and when we arrived to the mixed section Luca (italian) took over and led through that section. At the headwall Cory jumped on the sharp end and led us to the summit by around 1pm. Then down we went..... got to James and continued down to the edge of the icefield where we bivied (+700m -1600m 22hrs). The next day we hiked out 33km (12hrs) to the road and back to Chalten with the high of climbing one of the most spectacular Granite Spires in the world.

Luca working through the mixed climbing

Luca on some beautiful climbing
Belaying the second last pitch
Cory on the final pitch on Cerro Torre

Summit... Merry Christmas!

Again the weather turned and more snow and wind came in true Patagonia style. But as usual you are checking the weather each day to know when to be ready and to try and figure out your objective. As New Years came so did the good weather! James, Cory and I teamed up again and with a lot of talking and debating we ended up deciding on going to try the Supercanalata on Cerro Fitz Roy. This route is 1600m long with difficulties up to 60 degree snow, WI4, 5.9 rock.
Looking up the Supercanalata the day before

We started in on Dec. 31. Part way in Cory was having some achillies issues and opted out.... James and I kept going. As we where reach the bivy spot we met up with Japanese climber Cazu. He ended up joining us for the climb. On Jan 1st we started out of camp at 1:30am, got to the base of the couloir at 2:30am and started climbing! The first 1000m is 40-60 degree snow/ice with a few short mixed sections.... we simu-climbed this and reached Bloque Emportrado at around 6am. I lead out and right for a few pitches of easy snow/mixed and then James took over for a few and we continued this way to the top. James rope gunned some hard mixed pitches that would probably be 5.9 in dry conditions but felt like M5 and I used a variety of techniques including rock shoes and ice axes in one section and clean aid through anothers. We summited around 5:30pm.
James on probably the crux pitch M5ish
Aiding the cold cold rock probably 5.10
Some nice warm golden granite
James on the ridge of Fitz
Great Pitch!!
Last Scottish mixed pitch
James belaying from a magical place!
A fun snow, icy traverse
Just below the summit brewing up

On the summit we ate some food and rehydrated before starting the long rappel down the route. At 8:30pm we started rappelling. Our 4 rappel saw the ropes get stuck so I did a little climbing and ascended the ropes to get them free. From here we had little challenge with the ropes and things went fairly smooth.
Rapping off 1600m left

I was the first one to exit the couloir the next morning at 4am. As I was descending the glacier I was wondering, "oh i bet I can sled on this hard snow pretty well and that would save me a little energy", so I sat on my butt and started to slide with my crampons on... not smart. As I was sliding I decided I needed to stop and take my crampons off so I didn't hurt myself. Unfortunately I didn't get my right foot up in time and my crampon caught the snow and I fetched up and did and summer-sult then stopped.

I heard a crack when my crampon caught and knew right anyway I broke my lower leg. So I slow slide my way down the glacier to the moraine below to wait for James and Cazu. When James came I told him right away and then we moved down to our camp. Once there we ate food and splinted my leg. At around 12:30 James headed out to get a rescue started.
Splinted up

That evening at 8pm 3 climbers who had heard, there was someone with a broken leg up the Fitz Glacier, came in and started to rescue process. We moved maybe 1km before the wind and light stopped use. The 4 of use camped in my 2 person BD single-wall tent for the night... with my splint and all. The next morning around 5:30am the rescue team came with a flexible stretcher they put me in that and dragged/carried me along the glacier and up over Paso del Cuadrado. When we got over the paso there were more people to help with the carrying down in a hard stretcher. So I got into the hard stretcher and we started down. The team and I arrived to the valley floor at around 6pm where a 4 wheeler was waiting for me. I was at the hospital getting Xrays 45 minutes later.
Juan, the rescue crew and me in the stretcher
Getting carried out

I'd like to thanks James and Cazu for the climbing and getting the rescue started and to everyone that helped carry my ass out. Special thanks to Cory for getting the gear we left at the bivy, Carsten, Lukas and Mike for coming early and checking in on me through out the rescue process, Cazu for being patient and helpful and all the rescue folks who took time away from there families and work. Thanks for putting yourselves out there for me! When I come back next year there will be a huge asado that is for sure!!!! Sorry there wasn't one this year.
The ever so classy James Monypenny
An the classier Cory Hall

Well that is it. Hope you enjoyed the read... Hopefully my next post doesn't involve any broken bones.
Aguja Pollone... what a spire!

1 comment:

  1. Impressive set of peaks and an impressive story. My thanks for sharing. Cheers and hope you heal well.