Kate Rutherford & Mikey Schaefer Establish Washington Route, a New One on Fitz Roy
I sat in a cloud of dust; pants dirty, my hand planted in the sewing needles of some patagonian flora. I'd just landed there after my tired muscles failed to correct a small foot slip on the steep gravel. We were headed down from Fitz Roy on this 5th day. I stood and wiped the pinprick of blood from my throbbing finger. There must be poison in those stupid needles. I was listening to a song about a "threadbare Gypsy soul,” the singer had a "wild streak in his heart." He had a cowboy hat . . . I had those too; different hat.
Later, on a bus, I'm still thinking about threads and whether my gypsy soul is threadbare. I'm that jittery kind of exhausted; excited and tired to the bone. But I relished it, the fatigue makes me know it is real; the only souvenir I had of our new route. It makes me smile how bare those threads feel. Cerro Fitz Roy was pink in dawn light as I climbed aboard this ride. Our new route was the left sky line, it looked so far away.
- Ed note: We're pleased to share this update from Patagonia Climbing Ambassadors Kate Rutherford and Mikey Schaefer. The two just returned from Patagonia, where they established a new line on Fitz Roy that they're calling the Washington Route. This is fresh news - apologies for the lack of photo captions. Check Kate's personal website and Mikey's blog for more details, and hit the jump to hear the rest of the story and see more photos from the climb.
Two nights ago Mikey Schaefer and I shiver bivied on the summit of Fitz Roy. What we are calling the Washington Route had deposited us on top at dark, and rappelling through the night sounded doable but horrible, worse than shivering all night in a sack thinner than my rain jacket. Yes we have the most high-tech clothes, sleeping bags, and tents available. But we had left them, wanting to be lighter and faster. We decided to rely instead on the incredible human body's capacity to shiver and warm itself. It works great but is not an enjoyable technique.
I was trying to recall how many pitches and other details of the route, but in my climbing frenzy, I'd lost track. I can say is there was a 400 meter vertical crack system that I had climbed until we got to easier terrain. Mikey, with great alpine skill, had deposited me at the start of "our route," a quarter of the way up Fitz Roy on day two. It had taken a day of post-holing across the glacier, mixed climbing La Brecha - which was running like a waterfall - traversing La Silla on boilerplate blue ice (scariest part of the climb in dull crampons and a little third tool), and "sleeping" in a small slot of flat on a steep mountain, to finally arrive at the "base." This is when we started talking about the new "light-and-slow" trend in climbing ... I'd recommend it; though a sleeping bag would have been worth it.
My mind wanders back to the bus, there are these wild streaks running along with it this morning. There are six silver strands of light on the fence out my window. The threads of light are racing along to keep up. Here are the bear threads of my life. I love these little moments when the beauty of sun reflecting off a wire, and crooked stick fence, in Argentian's southern pampas contrast greatly with the huge accomplishment of a new route up Fitz Roy. The bus turns a corner and I can see the peaks again, they are looking even larger than before. The sun still shines on them in this rare window of weather.
Although I would like to have climbed the Washigton route in light-and-fast style, I think I'm just too slow. Or the conditions were slow. Or was I too scared and tired to go any faster? Regardless, that second morning I started up the rock part of the mountain, chipping ice out of the dog-leg crack which led to thin hands on a pillar. After that, we passed through at least 12 pitches of perfect cracks with many splitter-wide sections and run-out, ice-slicked chimneys. Those led to fifty hand jams here, and delicate face climbing there, more hand jams over chockstones and then improbable face holds in a spectacular bomb-bay chimney. Finally, in the golden evening light, just as I was loosing my mind, easier terrain appeared, and I handed the lead back to the alpinist.
Mikey found and lead us up the path of least resistance. The golden light was a beautiful, but ominous reminder that it was about to get dark. The wind stung, crampons were put back on and darkness crept over the snowfield near the top. Down to the east was the glittering orange jewel of El Chalten, looking very far away. To the west a pink line defined the ice cap from the sky, and the stars were popping out as we picked our way up the rime-covered boulders.
The summit was dark, so we rested. There were many people rappelling and it sounded stressful. We spent an hour pimping out the little sheltered spot right under the summit boulders. The activity kept us warm. Hot water bottles and hand warmers in the boots made sleeping a possibility. We ate some cheese and salami while hiding under the bivi sack.
The next morning, pink clouds made all the teeth-chattering worth it. I was so happy to be there, in our gypsy home for the night, looking down on Cerro Torre, the ice cap, the desert. Now we finally got to enjoy the prized view.
The Washington Route VI, 5.10, A1
Located on the proper south face of Fitz Roy, a few hundred meters east of the California Route. After La Brecha, we traversed La Silla, slept at the base of the California Route, and then rappelled from the top of the snow patch 60m back to the base of the dog-leg splitter that starts the route. We climbed the obvious left-facing corner system for 10 pitches, then headed up the first system that veers right. Another two pitches of steep climbing lead to 90m of rambling 5.8 and then simul-climbing to the summit.
stoppers: one set
cams: double set to 4