Monday, January 31, 2011

Back To The Lake

NE Buttress time...

Since I returned home from Patagonia, life has resumed as usual. Of course "usual"means climbing all the time, watching the weather constantly. and jumping at the windows of opportunity. Last week high pressure pushed away the clouds and inspired Dan Hilden and I to have a look at a few lines we had in mind on Colchuck Peak.
Getting started on the NEB

Our first priortiy was the NE Buttress of Colchuck Peak, a climb that has been on mind for a few years now. A firm approach under stars brought us to the base of the route with the first light. Our chosen start is a cold place with no sun. The snow was marginal and the ice thin, but we made progress, aiming for the ramp that cuts the face. Although we were making headway it was not fast enough to race the coming of the icy night. Unprepared for this, we turned tail and bailed quickly and safely. Although I was dissapointed in my tactical decision regarding no bivy gear, it had been a fun experiance on a cool winter project.

Good ice on the starting pitches of Colchuck Peak's NE Face
That night we left the gear under plan two, a winter ascent of the NE face of Colchuck Peak. I have never heard of anyone doing the NE face in any season, although a summer route from the 70's winds up moderate and blocky climbing directly to the main summit. The last few winters I had noticed appealing ice smears leading to classic mixed climbing on the broad face. I don't know if our route followed the summer route exactly, but it was quality and fun.

Spindrift and ice on the NE Face

The first 400 feet were stellar alpine ice. It felt so good to be climbing easily and fluidly, especially after the tedious nature of the previous day's leads on the NE Buttress. After the ice we crossed a snow field up onto a rocky ridge. Traversing mixed climbing brought us to a steeper gash of frozen moss, powdery snow, and solid orange granite. Out of the gash a thin ice step led us onto a ridge falling from the summit.

Fun mixed climbing
A burning sunset lit the North Casades and Stuart dominated the shadowed valleys. I stared in awe as I belayed Dan up. "Where are we?" he asked, swinnging to the belay. I too had hoped the summit was closer, but reality was a wide crack and more traversing mixed climbing in a dark, cold world. Our headlamps bounced around the face as we connected features to the summit.

All the way down the glacier back to camp I felt the buzz of our adventure and savored it. The experiance had been perfect, a balanced outing of challenge and enjoyment. I would highly recommend the NE Face of Colchuck Peak as another awesome winter route to consider in the Stuart Range.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Type 1 Fun On Aguja Innominata's West Ridge

The West Ridge of Aguja Innominata (700 meters, 5.11a)

"I haven't worn rock shoes for the last 90 pitches I've done in Patagonia."

"That's crazy," I reply to Mike, my eyes scanning the golden towers exploding above my head. We are both salivating at the massive rock walls above Nipinino, the main base camp in the Torre Valley. Temperatures remain warm even after the sun sinks into the ice cap. Our bellies swelling with pasta dinner we organize our gear for the next day. This time, boots, technical crampons, and ice tools aren't part of the equation. Our cold line on Mermoz seems a life away and psyche is high. It's time to go rock climbing.

The Fitzroy group shadowed on the Torre Glacier

The next morning we leave camp with the first pale light. Up and down, we roll over the dry glacier before climbing the entrance ramp that gains the west faces of Poincenot, Aguja Innominata, and Exupery. We have chosen to spend this warm, even hot day dashing up 700 meters of amazing granite on Aguja Innominata's West Ridge. In a go for broke fashion we stuff bars into our pockets, clip half liters of water to our harnesses, and start charging up the winding rib. We hope the snowy descnt gully will be soft as mush later in the afternoon as we haven't even brought our approach shoes along.
Pinch me, I must be dreaming. The "railroad track" cracks (5.10d)

A long simul block leads us to the "railroad track cracks", the defining feature of the ridge's lower buttress. With absolute joy I climb the beautiful splitters for an entire ropelength and bring Mike up behind me. The following pitches stretch the rope and the fun factor. We hoop and holler at friends on Exupery. Far from suffering, we peel off layers as the sun comes around and then simul endlessly through the middle portion of the ridge.

No suffering here...big fun on a big roof (5.11a)

By early afternoon, Mike is leading us to the summit. The 5.10 cracks in this section are without rival. Golden scalloped stone cradles the world's most perfect cracks. The Torres shed ice in booming symphony while the sky paints itself blue as the deep sea.

The summit is an airy, but windless perch. We enjoy ourselves and take pictures of future objectives. Scorching hot rappels land us in soft snow, and soaking wet rock shoes back to the base of the route. Checking the watch I am excited with our 12 hour round trip. Rarely do big routes go so smoothly, especially in Patagonia.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jardines Japoneses: A New Route On Mermoz For Team Washington

On December 26th, Mike Schaefer, Colin Haley, and myself completed a new route on the east face of Mermoz. A few weeks prior I underwent my Patagonia baptism on the same feature, the driving snow and bitter cold stopping Mike and I seven pitches up.
Colin and I enjoying the fine mixed moves of pitch 3 (m5)

With the next window of good weather and more reasonable temperatures, we sped up to our high point before tackling the crux rock exit to the upper Argentine Ridge. Full on alpine trickery had the three of us swinging between crack systems searching for a reasonable way up. After an exciting whipper and jedi route finding Colin finally planted us on a huge ledge where we ditched our tools and reminded each other to mentally block out the wind. Sure, it was blowing hard, but it couldn't stop us from going to the top. We were fired up.

Does it get any better?? Pitch 6 (AI3)

I slipped into my rock shoes and raced as fast as possible up the summit tower. Six pitches of pleasant jamming later and an easy ridge traverse planted us on the summit block, the shrieking wind helpless against our enthusiasm. My first Patagonian summit felt extra sweet since it was a moment I had waited for since 2008, the same year I came to Chalten only to watch one of Patagonia's best weather windows ever slip by as I battled pneumonia.

To the top!

I've realized in my time here that the descents off these towers defines the difficulty of the experience as much as the steep ice and technical rock that guards each summit. I have done routes of similar difficulty and size elsewhere, but walking off the top pales in comparison with travel back down the route, all the while battling relentless winds that throw your ropes straight out from the wall.

To the bottom!

Our descent was challenging, but we finally made it down to the glacier. Unfortunately, our two half ropes suffered greatly, one core shot and part of the other buried under a ton of snow and ice after a piece of the bergshrund collapsed under Colin's feet. "It ain't over until it's over," was a statement that echoed in my head during the isothermic snow slog from hell back to our base camp.

"Jardines Japoneses" is fondly named after one of the best rock pitches in the world (in our very biased opinions!) found at the Lower Town Walls at Index. Washington represent!