VIDEO: BD athlete Colin Haley wears a helmet camera during a solo ascent of Aguja Mermoz in Patagonia
Black Diamond athlete Colin Haley has finished up his three-month stay in Patagonia and upon his return Stateside sent us another helmet cam video from a speedy solo ascent of Aguja Mermoz (his first helmet-cam video was from a solo ascent of Aguja Guillaumet). Below is Colin's report and excellent video. Sit back, click play and enjoy armchair alpinism at its finest!
The weather in Patagonia this year was the worst in recent memory, but as it often seems to do, Patagonia delivered the goods right before I had to finally leave El Chalten. This is a video I shot of my last climb this year in Patagonia: a March 4th solo ascent of Aguja Mermoz, via the Argentine Route (1974, 600m, 6a). I had hiked down to town just the evening before from an aborted solo attempt in the Torre Valley. My body wanted rest, but the weather was forecast to be good for one more day, so I set my alarm and hastily re-packed for a 6am departure from town.[Photo caption: Aguja Guillaumet, Aguja Mermoz and Fitz Roy from Paso Caudrado, with the Argentine Route shown on Mermoz. Photo by Mark Westman, taken in 2005 when he and I climbed the same route together.]
After the long approach up to Paso Cuadrado and across the slabs to Mermoz's west face, I stopped at the base of the route to eat, drink, and put on rock shoes. I left my pack and ice gear at the base, counting on being able to tip-toe around any snow or ice on route. Clipped to my harness was a half-liter water bottle, 5 GU packets and a Nanopuff pullover with a balaclava stuffed in its pocket. I took one set of Stoppers, Camalots from a red C3 to a yellow C4, a small selection of slings and cord, and a 60m 7.5mm rope. I managed to climb from the base of the route to the summit in 3:45, for a total car-to-car time of 16:15.
I free-soloed all except two 30m sections, where I set up a rudimentary form of self-belay: At the base of the difficult section I would set up a multi-directional anchor and clip in the middle of the rope to self-belay on both strands (you can see this at 1:21 and 6:11 of the video), then as I climbed I placed a small number of intermediate protection pieces and clipped in both strands (such as at 1:35, 6:50 and 7:30). At the top of the difficult section, I would release one end of the rope (2:23), and then retrieve the rope by pulling it up from the opposite end (2:31). The advantage over a traditional self-belay is that I could continue upwards immediately, rather than rappel back down and jumar back up the pitch. This system, however, only worked because I was planning to descend by the same route and could retrieve my equipment on the descent (as you can see at 12:07). Also, more importantly, keep in mind that this system of self-belaying is by no means "safe." It is a system that I chose to use on terrain just barely difficult enough that I wasn't comfortable free-soloing (terrain that with a partner I would happily simul-climb with only a couple pieces between us).
At 7:30 in the video you can see that I clip a bolt. The last two pitches of the Argentine Route each have one bolt on them, placed by Kurt Albert and Bernd Arnorld in 1999 when they established the route Vela y Viento on the East Pilar of Mermoz. It is interesting that they took the liberty to add bolts on pitches of a route that was established 25 years earlier without bolts.
I have been told by several people that an internet video should not be longer than five minutes, so I'm sorry that this one is 12:45! I didn't feel that I could make it any shorter than it is and still show the whole experience. The music is basically a selection of some of my favorite Spanish-speaking artists, most of whom I have discovered on my trips to Patagonia: Control Machete (from Mexico) and Orishas (from Cuba).