Climbing Season in Patagonia – Season Goals
By Kelly Cordes
I came here with one goal. A New Year’s goal, despite my avowed no-resolution resolution of a year ago: Don’t un-send the Torre.
My prolific spray about the single climb I’d done in Patagonia, a link-up on Cerro Torre with Colin Haley in 2007, might lend the illusion that I’ve climbed a lot here. Nope. I’ve just been meaning to climb a lot here. Anyway, now I’m here and I ain’t touching the Torre because a guy like me needs to protect those memories, not undo them.
Every year, Patagonia ambassadors, along with climbers from around the world, visit the small town of El Chalten in Argentina. Their goal: climb huge granite peaks in the Patagonia region, some of the most challenging in the world. Follow the updates from our ambassadors and friends on these Patagonia channels and #vidapatagonia:
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So Craig Scariot (formerly known as CFS) and I rolled into town with a ton-minus-one of possible objectives. We promptly ran into my good friends Chris and Justin. They’re animals, motivated, and had returned a few hours earlier from climbing Poincenot. Chris, aka The Chief, is one of my longest-running climbing partners, from back in the Missoula days (sordid story of me and The Chief here). Justin and I climb together back home in Estes Park, and he and his wife own Ed’s Cantina, my favorite local margarita eatery.
[Above: Justin, The Chief, and Kelly at Piedra del Fraile. Photo: Crampon Craig Scariot]
Soon after – like, real soon, starting the next day – a tiny and marginal weather window opened. OK, time to go. But big winds. So maybe not. No, wait, fitting for us might be the easiest route to the easiest summit in the Chalten massif: the Amy Couloir on Aguja Guillaumet. It’s only about a thousand feet high and of moderate climbing, but a big day – over 5,000 vertical feet of approach slog just to reach its base, on the east face, sheltered from the wind.
One problem: It’s mostly a snow-ice-mixed climb. Craig did a couple of ice climbs a decade ago, and he’d never done a real alpine climb. No problem. New nickname: Crampon Craig. Crampon Craig knows how to rock climb, and, most importantly, is a tough little bastard. He’s had more surgeries than me, and runs ultra-marathons. If we can do it, Crampon Craig can do it.
So we hiked to Piedra del Fraile in the evening, set up our tents and tried to sleep. All through the night we heard it, blasting, racing, like a fleet of jet airplanes nonstop above – that damned Patagonian wind. When the alarm rang at 2:45 a.m., we all thought the same (revealed only later): Too windy. We should bail, not even bother with the approach.
The wind here does that to you. It’s funny, even though everyone knows that the wind can steal your soul, from the comforts of home or even outside in a relative calm, you think, I can suck it up. A little wind won’t bother me.
[Midway up the approach. Photo: Crampon Craig Scariot]
But down in camp nobody wanted to be the wimp who spoke up. So we slogged a heinous slog of four hours to the base of the sheltered couloir that allowed the illusion of fortitude, helped Crampon Craig fit his crampons, and thought, This ain’t so bad, it’s mellow. Sure, it’ll be breezy at the notch, and on the ridge above, but a little wind won’t bother men of our intestinal fortitudes.
We finished the couloir and reached the notch, where I hid behind a rock wall. This ain’t so bad.
Then I stepped a meter to the right, fully exposed to the wind-funneled notch. WHEEEEEEWWWWWWHHHHH!
[The incoming “Wall of Hate” from the notch atop the couloir. Photo: Cordes-Crampon]
[Crampon Craig cramponing up the Amy Couloir on Aguja Guillaumet. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
Whatever will and fortitude you thought you might have had disappears in an instant under Patagonian winds. It’s funny how fast and furious it goes, much like the wind itself. Immediately, involuntarily, without analysis: Holy sh*t, screw this, we’re bailing!
Retreat behind the rock wall. This ain’t so bad.
Peek your head back around right just for kicks and yank it back, like your hand touching a hot plate.
Above, The Chief and Justin raced up the rock, meaning we sure as hell couldn’t bail. Besides, everyone can use a little JV-hardman training.
We climbed up and left, where the wind dispersed across the ridge, then back right, climbing easy rock in boots and belay parkas, and an hour later Crampon Craig and I hiked up a snowfield to the summit. I think.
[Crampon Craig climbs easy rock near the top. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
What’s really the top? How’s that summit thing work, anyway? I mean, ya have to be honest if you want to tell yourself that you summitted (even on the mighty Guillaumet). The top of the final block is an exposed boulder problem. So do I have to stand on the highest point (even if it were an overhanging cornice?), or can my head be as high as the highest point (does it count if I jump?)? Can I just touch the highest point? Screw it, I think, good enough. I sit on the boulder just below the tippy-top summit block. For a second.
Then I think, That doesn’t count, dude, and you know it.
I stand back up. Look at the tippy top. It’s taller than your head, so you can’t really say you were higher than the summit – even if you wanted to count it that way. And you know you can’t jump.
I reach up with my arm and balance on my tippy toes. A gust of wind nearly blows me off the mountain. Back down.
Wind subsides. Try again, reach high. Your hand is still a foot below the top, so you didn’t touch the summit.
I reset, grab my ice axe and reach toward the top. Oh, so this is what you’ve come to, using your axe – you know that’s aid, don’t you? – and chopping the summit down to your level, huh?
Yup. I tag the top with my magic wand and bring up Crampon Craig.
A few hours later, the weather window slams shut as I wobble through the door of the cabin at Piedra del Fraile – damn, can’t remember the last time my gimp ass went 2,000 meters up and down in the same day. Crampon Craig strolls in ahead, where Justin and The Chief sit grinning, laughing, and hand us pizza and beer.
It’s still early in 2013, but we haven’t un-sent anything yet. Good enough start in my world.
[Justin DuBois climbs mixed ground to cross the bergshrund. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
[Justin on the first rock pitch above the couloir. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
Adhering to a life-long avoidance of full-time work, Patagonia ambassador Kelly Cordes specializes in margaritas, maximizing outdoor time and climbing alpine-style routes. Kelly is a regular contributor to The Cleanest Line and his unfiltered personal blog.
Here's a taste of the Instagram and Tumblr photos that have already come in from our ambassadors and friends down in Patagonia.
Finally unpacking and organizing the climbing gear after the #megaproj and the #musandamexpedition. Next up, two months of climbing in Argentina. #vidaPatagonia. Photo: Mikey Schaefer (@mikeylikesrocks)
So excited to be back down in Patagonia trying to claw my way up these magnificent walls! #vidapatagonia @patagonia. Photo: Mikey Schaefer (@mikeylikesrocks)
There is never a lack of people excited to go bouldering around town. Hiding behind the pads is @corn_silk @annegilbertchase @oceangoingmonkey @emstifler and Colin Haley. Photo by @mikeylikesrocks #vidapatagonia
Jumbo is back and training for the Care Bear Traverse @ the madsen boulder. #vidaPatagonia. Photo: Lisa Bedient (@corn_silk)
Colin Haley crushing. Photo: Lisa Bedient (@corn_silk)
@oceangoingmonkey comes up a little short on the Gato Negro problem just outside of town. Photo by @mikeylikesrocks #vidapatagonia
Brazilian beans and rice will power you. Photo: Lisa Bedient (@corn_silk)
Muesli power mix a la @mikeylikesrocks. #mountainfood #vidapatagonia. Photo: Josh Huckaby (@oceangoingmonkey)
Señor Cheyne Lempe!!! En la casa. #travelin'man #welcomewagon #vidapatagonia #windmakesmestrong. Photo: Josh Huckaby (@oceangoingmonkey)
Rolo going over the last minute details, before the boys launch in the mountains to tab a few cumbres! @corn_silk #vidaPatagonia. Photo: Josh Huckaby (@oceangoingmonkey)
Here we go! Madaleine and I are headed towards the Fitz Roy! #vidapatagonia #suerte. Photo: Kate Rutherford (@katerutherford)
On top of our world! Madaleine Sorkin and I stood on top of Fitz Roy on Monday, couldn't be more proud of us hypothermia princesses! I've always, always wanted to climb the North Pillar! #vidapatagonia #fitzroy #mateporro #climbing #cumbre. Photo: Kate Rutherford (@katerutherford)
The cumbre! @madaleinesorkin and I ate this best ever Panforte on top of Fitz Roy one of very few women's teams to stand on top of this big mtn :) @clifbarcompany #vidapatagonia. Photo: Kate Rutherford (@katerutherford)
Nice job, Chicas. @madeleinesorkin @katerutherford just back from sending mate y Porro on Fitz Roy. Photo: Lisa Bedient (@corn_silk)
Fitz Roy hands. @katerutherford. #vidapatagonia. Photo: Lisa Bedient (@corn_silk)
Just got back from an epic five-day mission into the mountains of Patagonia with Josh Huckaby (@oceangoingmonkey). Photo: Mikey Schaefer (@mikeylikesrocks) #vidapatagonia
Where do we go now? That is the question @oceangoingmonkey asks while doing the first traverse of Agujas CAT, Cuatro Dedos, Atchachila and Pachamama, a seven-summit traverse that we dubbed Manos y Mas Manos (hands and more hands). The name is in reference to amazing amount of hand jamming we encountered on the route. Photo: Mikey Schaefer (@mikeylikesrocks)
Mikey Schaefer (@mikeylikesrocks) straight off the trail (the trails start/leave from town), after finishing a new route on Aguja de l'S -- his seventh new route on one of the peaks of the Fitz Roy skyline. Photo: Kelly Cordes
Evening walk around town. #vidapatagonia. Photo: Josh Huckaby (@oceangoingmonkey)
#vidapatagonia. Photo: Lisa Bedient (@corn_silk)
More stories on the way. Stay tuned.