BD athlete Kate Rutherford reports on climbing Patagonia's Fitz Roy
Black Diamond athlete Kate Rutherford has once again headed down to South America for another season of chasing weather windows and bagging summits in Patagonia. Below is her report she sent after summiting Fitz Roy.
Making plans and changing them at the last minute is never a good idea, but this year it worked out brilliantly for me. On January 12 Madaleine Sorkin and I crested the Paso Quadrado down here in Argentine Patagonia at 5am—we were heading for the north face of Cerro Fitz Roy. Unfortunately the light of dawn was glowing pink on a fresh plastering of snow (problematic for rock climbing). And we anxiously sat in the growing light worrying about what on earth we were going to do.
We deliberated fiercely. I was nervous… I had been cold and scared in these mountains way too many times to feel comfortable. It still seemed like a good idea to climb Fitz, but…. All the “what if’s” were overwhelming. We bit the bullet and re-routed ourselves towards the legendary North Pillar. This is the feature that has been bringing me back to Patagonia for the last 6 seasons!
Our slow-ish princess tactics worked in our favor this time and by the time we got to the base of the Mate, Porro y Todo lo Demas route the ice had melted and the rock was available for climbing. We dispatched the mixed approach, the first 8 or so pitches, and found ourselves on a small ledge with Colin Haley and Sarah Hart in the twilight. We opted to stay and make a bivy out of nothing as those guys pushed on for the alleged “real bivy”. We were warm. I was happy.
Pink sky came early and we climbed fun cracks, our progress was slowed only by the fact that we didn’t have ascenders so the second had to climb by all means possible with a pretty darn heavy pack. Bat-manning the rope was super effective, though not a recommended tactic. Soon we arrived at the big ledge (a better bivy if you can get there) and we chose the aesthetic Gringos Perditos line that our friends Jesse and Tobey established. What a beauty. Great cracks, sculpted holds and only one ice filled chimney (that might have been off-route) led us to the top of the North Pillar just in time for darkness.
There was snow everywhere, and we created a bivy on a snowy ledge that we “paved” with stones to keep a bit warmer. Madaleine’s first snowy bivy was pretty nice by my standards. We had a sweet warm sleeping bag to share and plenty of food. She was not so impressed.
The summit loomed high, but we slept in a bit, I was hiding from some wind; my fears creeping back. We were so far up this mountain… so far from safety. The wind subsided and we had some deluxe oatmeal, coconut, butter, sugar, raisons, nuts, and launched towards the summit (which means down and then up).
Some cracks running with water ice was the most exciting part of summit day. The water poured in to my Ganda Guides, my aluminum crampons scraped on rock, my one ice tool was just enough, and we splashed our way to the top. We were so wet and so far from home. It was 7pm and Madaleine asked if we could sleep up there and dry out?
There was NO way! I was too scared still. We were only halfway finished with our journey, and the decent was the most intimidating for me. Climbing, I am good at. But the way down off of Fitz is something I regard with great respect. We had 3 hours of light… we had to head down.
I rappelled in to an ice-filled box feature at the top of the Franko-Argentine ridge, and was worried I would go the wrong way (which happened to me once). I could hear Colin below, and called for instructions. “Stay left of the ridge,” he said. So simple. I headed back to the left, and we rapped in to the dark. A brief bivy and eventually we were on the glacier postholing for what seemed like eons. I finally could relax. I was elated. I knew we would make it home.