Saturday, January 26, 2013


After a whirlwind of a last week in Patagonia, I've completed my travels north and am now safely at home in Leavenworth, WA.

Within 48 hours of arriving at my doorstep I had already snuck in a few ice routes.

Prework lap on Clandestien Right
This ice season seems to be better than most. The last time I remember conditions (they where even better!) like this was in 2009. Needless to say, I'm excited to take advantage of a fat year in L-town and work on some new and unique climbs.
Fist pump of psyche on the second pitch of Plastic Fantastic Lover

Make sure to check the blog in the next few days for Tour of Duty: 10 More Days on the Front in Patagonia: Part 3!!

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!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tour of Duty: 10 Days on the Front in Patagonia, Part 1

Meat, wine, litros, bouldering, sport wanking, meteograms, wind, ice, slpitters, friends, beatdowns, summits, near misses, smooth operations, shredded ropes, crevasse falls, short nights, long nights, bitter cold, stupid hot, empty stomachs, full stomachs, Domo Blanco, Senyera. Patagonia is all these things and more.

The words above capture the last month here in Chalten. Rob Smith, Mark Westman, and I mostly engaged activities associated with town life, clipping bolts, eating food, watching the weather, and hoping beyond hope for a few climbable days. I was sad to see both leave empty handed, especially as sunnier skies rolled into the area.

With my partners gone, I sought out a new friend to help me make the most of a coming window of opportunity. Enter Jon Schaffer. Enter an absolute crusher. This guy is strong, which is good, because his first ever tour of duty was to be full of hardship, despite what appeared to be a solid forcast.

We left town with big plans. The idea was to traverse over Paso Cuadrado, contour around the western side of the Fitz Roy group, climb the famed Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy, and then drop into the Torre Valley and knock out a rock route on one of the many fine spires accessed from Niponino, the main base camp under the Torres.
 Looking up at the Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy 
Jon Schaffer photo

The approach went relatively well, despite the typical knee deep, isothermic slush slog so typical of an afternoon approach in Patagonia. A few hours of sleep and we were soloing up the awesome gash which is the Supercanaleta. We made good time up the intitial 1,000 meters. The climbing was mostly steep snow with a few bits of AI3 here and there. Clouds swirled around us, but the forcast was good. Surely they would go away.
 And they did! By the time we roped up, blue skies swirled above and the climbing became even more beautiful. Perfection in my book.
Enter the feared and unexpected Patagonia storm. Its tentacles wrapped around us softly, smothering us with a steady, yet gentle pecking of snow flakes. I kept leading. It would stop right?
A few more pitches and the white stuff was really piling up. Quite a bit of spindrift was pounding us. I began to think about my wet boots, my one jacket, my one liter of water, and a night on top of Fitz Roy. I wanted it so bad, I almost pushed on, but I knew better.
I thought back to past experiances and readied myself for the mission ahead. We had to get out of this funnel before it squeezed hard, took us in, and then spit us out. We started rapping. And rapping. And rapping. The descent grew ever more harrowing as the spindrift morphed into hard sloughs that sometimes filled the entire coulior, waves of snow sweeping up the sides of the slot. I was scared, but focused. I balanced making safe anchors with speed. One piece back ups became the norm. This was a balancing act. By the final rappels I was unclipping from the anchor in case I needed to solo higher on the side walls to get away from the river of snow that was constantly churning down. By the end of our descent the sun shone, but a hard rain fell anyway. By the end of the night, the Supercanaleta was spitting rocks. It was scary to say the least, but we finally rapped over the bergschrund and ran down the avy cone to the safety of our camp. We had made it.
The next day, despite being a bit shaken up (we almost bailed back to town), we headed towards the Torre Valley. The previous day had been cold and wet. Now it was hot as balls. I led across the glaciers, falling over and over again into hidden slots. I even dropped my axe into one, sparing it an eterinity in the black void using a clever rope trick.
We finally stumbled into Niponino tired and hungry. We tore away at the stones that covered my dry bags. Soon we were chowing on the bit of food I had there. It wasn´t enough to help us recover from the past three days and we discussed the next days activities. We talked about some grand plans, but eventually realized we didn´t have the energy to go big. We were wrecked.
Wrecked, but not beaten, we painfully climbed the 400 meter Benitiers Route on El Mocho the following day. It hurt so bad. My swollen feet bulged out of my rock shoes and each jam was a shot of pain.
But the climbing was good and we refused to blow off such a gorgeous day.
Cracks and huecos led us higher above the valley and the beauty of our position dulled the pain.
On the rappels we moved sluggishly. I was naseous. So damn hungry. The rope got stuck, we cut it, and kept going down.
We arrived back in Niponino too late to make it back to Chalten. The food was gone save a few goos and bars. The situation seemed grim until some Canadien friends made us dinner and then another dinner after that one. We passed out right after a wind gust broke the tent and rain started falling. The weather window broke down. Again. I turned over in my sleeping bag.

¨Welcome to Patagonia Jon,¨ I said.

¨Thanks,¨ he replied.

I shut my crusty eyes and passed out as the wind shook our broken shelter in its mighty hand.

Part 2 Coming Soon!

All Photos by Jon Schaffer except the ones of him!