Cerro Torre, Torre Egger and Cerro Stanharhardt, as seen from the approah on the Torre Glacier. The Ragni route on Cerro Torre approximately follows the left skyline.
It's been a great 4th trip to Patagonia, and once again I got lucky with the weather. Since I arrived on the afternoon of December the 10th, to the 2nd of January, Colin and I managed to get in 5 big days of alpine climbing (a couple of updates in the last blog post), which by Patagonian standards is quite good. It was only on "Venas Azules", the hardest route we tried, that we got thwarted by a storm and were forced to descend a mere 80 meters from Torre Egger's summit. Despite it being the only 'failure", it was definitely the highlight of the trip for me, as for me, the journey is far more important than the often overrated summit.
The last two weather windows fell exactly on christmas and new years. On Christmas morning, about ten parties of climbers climbed the infamous Ragni route on Cerro Torre's west face. I've never seen an alpine route so crowded and so many ropes intertwining like macramé, so high above tree-line. But everybody was good with it, the mood was festive, and everybody made it to the cumbre of Patagonia's most aesthetic Torre. The climbing although only moderate in difficulty thanks to a well blazed trail to follow, was incredibly fun! Weaving around so many wild fluffy rime mushrooms on a path of perfect blue ice. To top it off, a natural tunnel right through the summit shroom led to the top. It was exquisite!
Because it was looking like big window, Colin and I hauled a light-weight tent, and extra food / fuel, with intentions of rappelling the north side of the mountain to the Col of Conquest, where we'd camp and attempt Venas Azules on the south face of Torre Egger the next day. This all went smoothly, and the following morning we started up Venas with no expectations. We didn't even get a glimpse of the third pitch until we were right below it, despite being so close to it on the rappel. It was natural tube facing just west enough that it was impossible to see until right below it, and otherwise the cross-chasm view revealed only a giant overhanging white mushroom with no possible climbing features. A couple of easier thin ice and mixed pitches wrapped around to it. Then a few rock moves led up to some steep rime, which I climbed onto. Eventually the steep rime would gain an overhanging tube of perfect blue ice, but with no protection available, I'd needed to find another way. After down-climbing, I was able to traverse left a few meters to a splitter fingercrack up the face that offered great drytooling and protection. After 15-20 meters of pure crack, it became possible to traverse into the tube. The stemming and chimneying inside the tube got steeper and steeper until I was forced to exit onto vertical+ ice, which eventually led to a sheltered belay before the next overhanging corner pitch. My biceps were barely recovered by the time Colin arrived at the belay. I started up the next pitch as soon as possible with the first 15-meters of 85-degee ice going quickly. The pace slowed as the overhanging corner, above took a fair bit of work to clean snow and ice out of the crack and find adequate protection. With crampons skating off the smooth walls, it didn't take long before I pumped out and had to resort to some A1. Colin got a nice combo of mixed ground, and tube climbing on the fifth pitch, and I got 20-meters up another tube on the sixth. When the blue turned to white, I hacked a my way through a fin of rime on left, getting ready to get fully pumped on a few bodylengths of 90 to 95-degress ahead. But the wind was suddenly howling and a storm was upon us. Both us and our gear were instantly growing rime ice! It was time to bail. I clipped my last screw and lowered back to the belay. The ropes were blowing sideways as we tried to rappel below and they had to be kept in coils hanging from the harness. After a few airy and scary rappels, we were back at the col. We climbed a 50-meter to get to the rappel line of the American Torre Egger route, and began down by headlamp. The spindrift began to pound us as the storm intensified, and I missed the exit ramp that led to the fixed rappel line down the East face of Cerro Torre. Now we were committed to making our own anchors all the way down into no mans land. One particular rappel was very memorable. Even with 3 directional pieces of gear in the rock, it was 62 meter's of completely freehanging rappelling. Finally I was able to snag the rock with an icetool, and make anchor with only 2-meters of rope left. It would have been the prussik of a lifetime had it not worked out! Eventually we made it down safely, minus all our nuts, pitons, cordelletes, a few biners / slings, and a climbing rope that got stuck on a pitch impossible to re-ascend. On the Torre Glacier we brewed as the eastern sky slowly became light, and by 7 am, we were back in our tent at Niponinos. The window had slammed shut a day early and had made our escape slightly more intense that we had hoped for!
After three days of rest in town, we were hiking back up. Plan A was to give Venas Azules another go, but temperatures seemed a little high, and the window was looking on small side for it. Plan B was go rock climbing on "Festerville", a route up the north ridge of Cerro Stanhardt that came highly recommended by friends. On the 1st of January, the alarm went off at 1:30 am, while many in Chalten were still ringing in the new year. We were at the Stanhardt Col by sunrise, and climbing in rock shoes shortly after. By the time the sun rolled around it was hot enough to climb in t-shirts! The positions and the quality of Festerville were superb and it was so nice to have the pointy stuff inside the pack for a change. A true choose your own adventure up a smorgasbord of splitters, Festerville delivered the goods. Some 15 pitches later, we were climbing around mushrooms on the summit ridge, and soon standing on the top of the highest one, enjoying calm winds and evening sunlight shining across the icecap. By the time we rappelled Exocet and hiked back to camp, it had been a 27-hour round trip, and was once again the light of day was upon us! Sure enough by the time we awoke in the afternoon, it was starting to rain. Once again, the window was closed. Time to hike out and go home!
Summary of the trip:
Dec 12th - Guillot Gully, M5 5.9,Aguja Guillaumet
Dec 18th- Tobbagan, M6, Cerro Stanhardt
Dec 25th Ragni Route, AI 5+, Cerro Torre
Dec 26th Venas Azulas attempt, AI 6+, on Torre Egger (high point was approx 80 meters from summit)
Jan 1st Festerville, 5.11b AI 3, Cerro Torre
Some b roll:
Paul, Tony and Chris on the Torre Glacier - a force to be reckonned with
On the West side of the Torre's at around midnight, while approaching the Ragni route under a full moon.. The Ragni route is the right skyline of Cerro Torre (rimed up peak on the left), and Venas Azules is the right skyline of Torre Egger - the rimed up peak in the center
The top of Torre Egger at Sunrise
If you look really closely, there are about ten climbers in this photo, xmas day on Cerro Torre
Colin, Sean, and Stephanne enjoy the first rays of the day on Cerro Torre
Bottleneck on the headwall looking up
Bottleneck on the Headwall looking down. It just didn't seem to matter.
Amazing views to the north from high on the Ragni route. The southern Patagonia Icecap on the left and a sea of clouds hids the valley bottoms on the right.
Sig-Bjorn leads the last pitch of steep ice and tunneling
The Belay at the last pitch
Colin and I at the summit
Argentino climbers about three pitches below the top. We passed them on our way down.
Our tent site at the Col of Conquest wasn't quuite big enough for the entire footprint of our Firstlight.
The North Face of Cerro Torre looms above. It was about ten long rappels from the mushrooms at the top to here.
Colin in the finger crack of the third pitch of Venas Azules
Colin emerging from the overhanging tube on the third pitch
Colin starting up the fourth pitch of Venas Azules. The north face of Cerro Torre on the right, and the south face of Torre Egger on the left
From left to right: Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, and Cerro Stanhardt. Festerville follows the left skyline of Stanhardt
Colin on the first pitch of Festerville from the Stanhardt Col.
A little higher up
Getting near the top of the rock climbing
Colin Leading the summit mushroom
The nice view of Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, and the Southern Patagonia Icecap from the summit
A summit fist pump!