Jim Herson and Anne Smith live in the Bay Area. They’re in their fifties. Jim has worked the same computer science job since he graduated college in 1982, and he and Anne have been together nearly that long. They have two kids, a 17-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, who they shuttle around the city in a maroon Subaru wagon. An all-around American family.
Except for one thing: Jim and his kids get their family bonding time a thousand feet off the deck on Yosemite’s classic routes.
“Great climb, eh?” said a voice from up and over my right shoulder.
“Yeah,” I replied, while clipping the anchor on After Midnight one of Mount Wellington’s most prized pitches and no giveaway at 24 (or 5.11d in Yosemite terms), “incredible, actually.”
“Where you from?” the voice asked.
“Canada!” I said.
Above: Later in the trip, Sonnie Trotter begins to feel the exposure as he nears the top of pitch #2 of the Regular Free Route (5.12b) of the Totem Pole. He and his partner endured 18 hours of traveling time for this one amazing climb. Photo: Cameron Maier
After El Capitan, my desire for wall climbing diminished. Perhaps it was growing older, or perhaps it was just my surroundings. The Black Canyon was no longer an hour away. Yosemite was no longer in my waking dreams every day. Durango was so close to the desert, and thus the desert became all that mattered to me in climbing. Just like wall climbing, the desert is a fantastic rabbit hole to go down.
I started to view the desert in a multitude of ways. As a home. As a canvas to paint my art. My own field of dreams where I could return to a childlike state of being, with the hindsight of an adult. A place where I could progress my vision of what it meant to be an American climber.
Above: North Six Shooter, Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Keith Brett
In southeastern Utah, a battle has been brewing between conservationists, recreationalists and resource extractionists. The pressure on all sides has increased as the stakes grow higher. At risk is the preservation of climbing in Indian Creek, Valley of the Gods, Texas and Arch Canyons, Lockhart Basin, Comb Ridge, and other remote areas collectively known as the Bears Ears region. Not only is climbing at risk but also other recreational resources, the fragile desert environment and priceless Native American heritage.
Above: Valley of the Gods, Cedar Mesa, Utah. Photo: Andrew Burr
My previous Patagonia climbing season, climbing last year mostly with Marc-André Leclerc and Alex Honnold, had been my most successful yet. Among a bunch of other activity was the first ascent of the Travesía del Oso Buda, the first repeat and direct variation to El Arca de los Vientos, and a nearly complete, one-day Torre Traverse. It was the most successful climbing trip of my life, and I honestly thought that I would never have a more successful Patagonian climbing season.
One year later, and to my surprise, I can say that this season has been my most successful yet. Of course that is mostly the result of the three big factors (good weather, good conditions, good partner) fortunately coinciding again and again, but I can also say that this year I’ve felt more psychologically strong than in years past. For whatever reason, something clicked for me this season, and I felt, I think, more confident than I ever have before.
While many historic climbs occurred this past season, if I were giving awards, my “Patagonia d’Or” would go to a selfless and lasting non-ascent.
The momentum began in late 2014, with climber Steffan Gregory, who sent me an email: “I’m looking at returning to Chaltén next season and wanted to put some time in giving back. I am curious if you know if there is anything in the works regarding waste management. I’d be willing to write a grant for funding or help with an existing project.”
Above: Descending from Cerro Fitz Roy we can see Laguna Capri in the center-right portion of the photo. The team chose to build their wilderness latrine at Laguna Capri because of its popularity with hikers and relatively close proximity to El Chaltén. Patagonia, Argentina. Photo: Dörte Pietron
It’s 2002. Dan Malloy, the youngest of the Malloy brothers, is surfing in a contest at Sunset Beach on Oʻahu. He is 25 years old and upholding a foundation built by his two older brothers, which has made him the most hopeful of the Malloy clan to excel in the competitive surfing world. But it’s been a slow road. Although he is arguably one of the best “free” surfers in the world, his rankings on the pro tour show otherwise.
For his brothers, there aren’t many expectations to fill. They know how difficult it is to do well at Sunset Beach, an arena notorious for big, funky, irregular surf. Regardless, the day is sunny, the water an opaque turquoise blue, and the waves are big—the size of telephone poles. Dan, trying to match his freakish, natural ability with the nuances of contest surfing, is more discerning than ever with his wave selection. Just before the end of his heat he catches a set wave. He makes the long drop, fading confidently back toward the towering whitewater, turns at the bottom, and pulls up into a giant tube ride. Dan disappears for a time that seems to stand still, and emerges out on the face. The crowd of spectators erupts. He can hear the hoots and crackling applause as he paddles in toward the beach.
Rolo and a handful of stoked Patagonia ambassadors and friends will be sharing images and stories of their adventures throughout the Patagonia climbing season. Follow along at patagonia.com/vidapatagonia. If you’re planning to make a climbing trip to the area, tag your photos with #VidaPatagonia to appear on the page.
The peaks of the Chaltén Massif are some of the most iconic in the world: jagged spires that shoot toward the sky. They offer everything a climber could desire, from excellent quality granite to uniquely wild rime formations. All this is set in a dramatic environment, with the endless Patagonian steppe to the east and the broad expanse of the Ice Cap, an enormous network of glaciers that drops into Pacific Ocean fjords, to the west.
The weather in the massif is notoriously challenging and short-tempered, receiving the wrath of the “Roaring Forties,” strong westerly winds that sweep across the southern Pacific. While the region’s fierce reputation deters many, others find it inspiring. During the southern hemisphere summer, climbers from all over the globe convene in El Chaltén for a dose of some of the most fantastic, most intense and most fun alpine climbing on the planet.
The pig squeals and groans in protest as I wrestle it back onto my sweaty body. I groan even louder. Seventy pounds of ropes, cams, pins, beaks, portaledges, tents, food, fuel and everything else for a month-long big-wall expedition bulge from my haul bag, digging deep into my spine. I’ve already carried two of these loads more than 15 miles into our base camp. All of us wobble around granite blocks, exhausted, knees buckling under the loads on our backs.
“Look at this place!” someone shouts excitedly. The Patagonian big walls of Torres del Paine thrust upward from rocky moraines into a cloudless blue, a skyline as jagged as shark’s teeth. Three thousand feet of granite and snow loom steeply on all sides, beckoning in the bright sun. We whoop in joy and disbelief. These walls have consumed our thoughts for more than a year, and to finally stand beneath them is a dream made real. Now we get to climb.
Above: A year of obsession and planning results in getting here and seeing this. On the road to El Chaltén, Argentina. Patagonia. Photo: Matthew Van Biene
It is with heavy hearts that we share news of the passing of two Patagonia climbing ambassadors, Kei Taniguchi and Kenshi Imai, in two separate incidents.
Kei Taniguchi passed away on December 22 at Mount Kurodake in Hokkaido, Japan. Our deepest condolences and best wishes go out to her family and friends. She was 43 years old.
Taniguchi climbed Mount Everest in 2007 and was the first woman to win the Piolet d’Or in 2009 for the first ascent of the southwest face of Kamet (7756m, India) in alpine style with Kazuya Hiraide. She became friends with many Patagonia ambassadors and employees around the world after joining our ambassador program in 2013. Her numerous adventures, ability to climb into the unknown and willingness to thoroughly pursue what she loved, always with a smile, gave us a lot of courage and strength. She has our deepest respect and gratitude, and will be missed dearly.