BD athlete Colin Haley reports on his recent climbs and summits in Argentine Patagonia
Black Diamond athlete Colin Haley is down in Patagonia for another season of spectacular alpine climbing and has been updating his blog with some great reports and photos, which we have posted below. Colin still has more than two months left on his stay in Patagonia, so, weather permitting as always, he’ll hopefully get up some more climbs before he heads back to the States.
Note: All photos by Colin Haley
[The view to the east, with an awesome perspective on the Fitz Roy massif, Cerro Pollone's lower east summit in center, and Aguja Tito Carrasco in the lower left.]
I have returned to El Chalten, in Argentine Patagonia, for hopefully some more great climbing in the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre massifs. As seems to be my unbreakable curse, I arrived just a bit too late to take full advantage of a weather window. Fortunately, at least this year the weather window that I missed was not as spectacular as the ones I missed the past few years. I hiked into the Torre Valley on the best weather day, Monday, Nov. 7, and on Tuesday made an attempt on Cerro Pollone, via its original South Face route. The route was first climbed by an Argentine team in February 1949, and in the 62 years since it has not been repeated (at least as far as Patagonia climbing historian Rolando Garibotti is aware). Cerro Pollone itself did not even see a second ascent until last February, when Blake Herrington and Scott Bennett reached the summit via the West Pillar. The South Face route on Cerro Pollone is not difficult however (at least until the last 30 meters), and I figured that even alone it would make a nice mellow warm-up for the Patagonia climbing season. I left the Niponino bivouac at 4:30 am on Tuesday, and with pretty good snow conditions, made good time up the icefall at the head of the Torre Valley to the base of Cerro Pollone's South Face.
[The south aspect of Cerro Pollone, from down in the Torre Valley, with the Filo del Hombre Sentado in the right foreground, showing the line I attempted. On the lower part I climbed to the right of the rock buttress, while the original route went to the left, simply because it looked easy and made the approach shorter.]
[Nice, plastic water ice.]
Most of Cerro Pollone's South Face is a mix of low-angle ice climbing and navigation around crevasses and bergschrunds. The last 30m summit tower, however, is the crux of the climb.
After climbing 30 meters of moderate mixed terrain, I was turned around 2 meters below Cerro Pollone's summit! The final summit block seemed to be blank rock, covered with too much rime to see any crimps, and too little rime to climb the rime itself. In any event, trying to surmount it seemed too sketchy to properly try with a minimalistic self-belay system. I've been turned around near the tops of mountains before, but I have never before reached my ice tool to 40cm below the summit without being able to actually get on top of it! Despite not being able to complete the ascent, it was nonetheless a nice warm-up, and climbing on Cerro Pollone provided some cool views and difference perspectives than I have normally seen in the Torre Valley.
[The view to the south from near the summit of Cerro Pollone, with the Torres on the left in a cloud cap, and Cerre Piergiorgio, with its fantastic west wall in profile, on the right.]
On November 30th, I hiked into the Torre Valley with my friend Jorge Ackerman, who is from Bariloche, but has been living in Squamish for the past year. We hoped to climb Torre Egger via the O'Neil-Martin route, so continued past Niponino to the Norwegos bivouac. On December 1st we left Norwegos early, and hiked up the glacier to start climbing at 5:30am. I made a route-finding mistake on the first few pitches, which cost us some time. Additionally, conditions were poor, and pitches that are normally easy in rock shoes required climbing with crampons and ice tools. After climbing six pitches, due to the poor conditions and our lack-of-bad-ass-ness, we decided that we were moving too slowly for our planned itinerary and supplies, and bailed.
[Jorge at our highpoint on Torre Egger.]
We descended to Niponino that night, but the decent weather was forecasted to hold for a couple more days, so we rested in Niponino on the 2nd, and hiked back up to Norwegos that evening. We left Norwegos again early on the morning of December 3rd, planning to climb Festerville (the north ridge) on Cerro Standhardt. On the way up to the Standhardt Col, strong winds caused us to reconsider our plans for Festerville, which is very exposed to the wind. We quickly changed objectives to the un-finished south face of Standhardt, which had been almost climbed in 1977 by a British party, and had since repulsed a few other attempts over the years.
Jorge led the first couple tricky mixed pitches above the Standhardt Col, and then we simul-climbed across the long ramp that cuts diagonally up Standhardt's east face. After turning the corner onto the south face, Jorge led a mixed pitch up and left that brought us to the main dihedral system which is the defining feature of the south face.
[Jorge leading the first pitch above the Standhardt Col]
[Jorge starting up the first pitch on the south face, mixed climbing up and left, with the summits of Cerro Torre and Torre Egger in the background.]
I led the next four pitches, the first two of which were predominantly aid climbing, and the second two which were mostly free climbing on mixed terrain. On the first of these four pitches, Jorge thought that we should choose the left of two cracks, but I foolishly chose the right crack. When it disappeared into blank rock, I had to make two large pendulums to gain the crack system to the left, and we lost a bunch of time from this route-finding blunder of mine.
[Jorge following a quick and easy ice traverse with the summits of Poincenot, Inominata, St. Exupery and de la S on the other side of the valley.]
[Looking down on the slow aid pitch, on which I chose the wrong crack and had to make two time-consuming pendulums to the left.]
[Jorge following the last pitch of my block, up classic mixed goulotte climbing.]
Jorge led the next ice pitch, which brought us almost to the top of Standhardt's south face. From here I thought we ought to traverse to the left, but Jorge opted to go straight up instead. Once again his route-finding proved to be right on, and the chimney directly above provided the key to exiting the face. This exit chimney was very steep (overhanging), and probably the crux of the route. Fortunately, a knifeblade crack on the right wall of the chimney made for somewhat straightforward, but strenuous aid nailing.
[Jorge starting up an ice pitch near the top of the south face.]
[Jorge leading the crux exit chimney.]
From Jorge's belay above the exit chimney, I made a few aid moves on rock (and a short fall when a micro-cam popped out of a dubious placement), and then some rime climbing to top out the south face. As usual, the Standhardt summit mushroom was easy and straightforward AI3, and we reached the summit at 9:00pm. The weather had been steadily deteriorating throughout the day, and by the time we topped out we were both climbing in our belay parkas.
[Jorge arriving at the base of the sumit mushroon.]
[Jorge on the summit of Cerro Standhardt.]
Of course it was a pleasure to finish the route, but reaching the summit was also a great relief, because we could descend the relatively-straighforward rappels of Exocet, rather than an epic descent of the Toboggan route, which climbs to the col between Standhardt and Punta Herron. We made all but the first few rappels in the dark, and eventually reached Norwegos just after first light, 25 hours after departing.
We have named the route El Caracol, which means "the snail." This is in part because the word "caracol" in Spanish refers to a spiral shape (that of a snail's shell), which is fitting for our route, but also because of our snail-like pace on the tricky pitches.
[The south face of Standhardt, showing the line of El Caracol (500m, 5.9 A1 M4). The route we took is marked (with the pendulum), as well as the route that future parties ought to take, on the crack further to the left.]
After my Standhardt adventure with Jorge, I got in two days of rest in town before another mini-window appeared in the forecast, and I hiked back into the Torre Valley. I spent the night of Dec. 7 at the Polacos bivouac, and departed at 5:00 am the next morning for a solo attempt on the Anglo-American route on Aguja Innominata (aka Aguja Rafael). [Morning light on Torres from the Innominata-Poincenot approach gully.]
[Looking up at Aguja Innominata from the Innominata-Poicenot approach gully.]
This past summer in Squamish I dedicated some time to teaching myself how to rope-solo, and I went to Innominata in part to test these skills. However, all my rope-soloing in Squamish was on routes with bolted belays and 100% sound, clean rock. Due to the often flakey and loose rock on Innominata, I sometimes put 5 pieces of gear in to make belays that I felt were completely trustworthy of upwards and downwards loading. [Rope soloing a pitch on the lower ramp.]
I think that I rope-soloed approximately 50% of the terrain on the route, and free-soloed 50% of the terrain. However, I would estimate that I spent 90% of the time on the ascent rope-soloing, and only 10% of the time free-soloing. All in all, soloing Innominata took a lot more time and effort than I had expected![The view of Aguja St. Exupery from the summit of Innominata.]
[On the summit of Innominata, a lot later and more tired than I had expected!]