Part Two: BD grassroots athlete Hayden Kennedy reports on his 2011/2012 season of climbing in Argentine Patagonia
Black Diamond grassroots athlete Hayden Kennedy has, at 22 years young, established himself as one of North America’s top all-around climbing talents. From 5.14 sport climbs to speed ascents on El Cap to expeditions to Pakistan and Patagonia, Hayden has already lived a full climbing life. This past December and January, Hayden teamed up with fellow young gun Jason Kruk for a season of climbing in Argentine Patagonia, home to the iconic Torre and Fitz Roy massifs.
The duo had a stunningly successful trip, managing fast ascents of Cerro Standhardt, Torre Egger, Cerro Torre and more. Below is Part Two of Hayden’s report and photos about his climbs in Patagonia this season. To read Part One and see the photos, click here.
In addition, Hayden talked about his season in Patagonia on the Enormocast podcast, which you can listen to here.
“Climbing offers the space, both outer and inner, in which to achieve it. Ascent, whether it means rising in a spellbinding rock space or struggling inwardly in the death zone, is an Art of Freedom.” – Voytek Kurtyka
After Torre Egger Jason and I were really psyched but our bodies were not up for trying Cerro Torre. We decided to check out the South Face of Aguja de l’S, which had only been climbed once before by Crystal Davis-Robbins and Ryan Nelson in 2007. When you walk up the head of the Torre Glacier the South Face of Aguja de l’S is one of the first walls that is visible, a breaking wave of white and gold granite that gets steeper by the meter! Jason and I thought it would be the perfect challenge.
On Christmas Day we started the approach towards the South Face in perfect weather. The initial 500-meter "approach" is like climbing the Royal Arches in Yosemite but with zero people around. The climbing was very fun and never harder than 5.8. Jason and I soloed the first 500 meters in three hours to a large ledge that sits at the base of the “tidal wave wall.” A bivy wasn’t necessary but it seemed like a great way to spend Christmas! In December the nights are so short that an open bivy isn’t terrible and plus we had some whiskey to help ourselves endure. We could see headlamps on Cerro Standhardt as well as Torre Egger—everyone was having an adventure on this perfect Christmas window. The morning was cold and a few jumping jacks and some coffee was all we needed to warm our souls.
[Jason starting the 5.11 second pitch of Aguja de l'S.]
Jason and I could see the features of the wall very well with the morning light and we found a dihedral system that looked like it had gear and was possible for free climbing. We traversed off of the ledge that had we slept on and started climbing. We only had one 80-meter rope, which made for really long pitches. Jason led the first four pitches on wonderful rock, including an amazing 5.11+ stem box to a small roof with perfect finger locks! As I watched him fire off these amazing pitches I couldn’t help but think we were on the Astroman of Patagonia. The rock was buffed, with zero kitty litter and very little choss. [Jason leading a wild 5.11+ stem box, the crux of the route, Aguja de l'S.]
Jason gave me the lead and I found even more unreal climbing and followed steep hand cracks and corners to a small ledge. We were only one pitch from the summit ridge but it was a steep corner chocked with ice. I started up slowly placing lots of gear and making sure each foot wouldn’t slip. Alpine climbing always offers some sort of spicy wet or icy section! I finished that pitch and we were on the summit ridge with very easy terrain to the top. Upon reaching the summit we took our shirts off just so that we could say that Patagonia weather wasn’t all that bad. The summit at noon gave Jason and I plenty of time to rappel off and hike back to town for some well needed steaks and beers!
The Christmas window was a dream come true. We were looking forward to having some time in town to polish off our bouldering projects and enjoy the leisure life in El Chalten but the good weather wasn’t over yet. This time Jason and I wanted to climb the big one, Cerro Torre. The first time that I saw Cerro Torre I had to sit down and take a deep breath; there is a reason Reinhold Messner called Cerro Torre “a shriek turned to stone.” Cerro Torre, a mountain so steep on all sides that there is no easy way to its summit, is the ideal that is Alpinism. I personally find it so inspiring that there are some mountains in this world that are so difficult, so rowdy that it takes a lifetime to climb them. In my mind Cerro Torre is one of those mountains and it deserves that respect.[Jason leading to the Col of Patience, the Southeast Ridge above ]
Jason and I left our base camp at a very leisurely hour of 8 am and started our climb on Cerro Torre’s South East Ridge. We climbed the initial 300 meters of mixed climbing to the Col of Patience slowly, trying to conserve as much energy as possible for the rest of the route. We climbed in t-shirts under a perfectly clear sky with unreal views of the East Face of Cerro Torre. We felt pretty small under these impressive giants. Arriving at the Col with plenty of time to rest we set up a First Light tent to escape the midday heat.[Jason in the tent at the Col of Patience.]
Our plan was to rest at the Col and start as early as possible on the South East Ridge to give our selves plenty of time on the headwall. As the day went on we packed our bags and could hardly wait to get involved with the climbing on Cerro Torre.
My mind raced all night about the unknowns we were facing. Was this thing even possible? I thought about my own climbing and what it had taken me to be in this moment. Before we knew it the alarm went off and we were brewing coffee. The night was clear and cold but very calm with no wind. We started the first pitch at about 2:30 am and I led through the night short fixing and leading with the PDL (Pakistani Death Loop) as Jason jumared behind. I really enjoy climbing in the dark because you can only see what your headlamp illuminates and there really isn’t anything else on your mind. Over the past years I have climbed a lot in the dark and I enjoy more and more. When the sun started to rise the psyche kicked in and the speed increased. By first light I had lead about ten pitches to the base of the Salvattera Variation which avoids the first of Maestri’s bolts (the 90-meter bolt traverse) by climbing a fantastic knife blade seam at A1. The aid climbing went fast and the next three pitches were truly marvelous face climbing right on the edge of the world. The South Face of the Torre was just to the left and the East Face just to the right—one of the coolest places I have climbed yet!
[Jason follows the first pitch of the Salveterra Var in the morning light.]
We stopped at the base of the ice towers and re-grouped. Jason started leading the ice/mixed terrain with speed and efficiency, placing very little gear and short fixing. Teamwork is the key to success in the mountains and from our previous climbs on the Torres Jason and I knew that he was the better ice/mixed climber and I was the better rock climber. The leader’s job was to get the rope up as fast as possible and the follower’s job was full support mode, jumaring with the pack and dealing with the rope work. Towards the end of the ice towers there is another bolt ladder that leads to the base of the headwall, avoiding an ice pitch found by Josh Wharton and Zack Smith in 2007. This ice pitch trumps most ice pitches I have ever seen, it is long and steep, and the South Face of the Torre is right below. Jason led the pitch placing just a handfull of screws as I glanced over my shoulder and admired the Fitz Roy group in the morning light.
[Jason leads one of the many mix pitches in the ice towers.]
We reached the base of the headwall at about 10 am and the fire was burning deep. We looked up at the line of bolts that have desecrated this remarkable peak; we looked past the bolts and started to climb the natural features of the headwall. Steep large flake systems made the climbing very fun and athletic but still spicy enough punching it for the next gear placement. I led two 40-meter pitches at mid 5.11 to a ledge that sits right in the middle of the headwall. The bolt ladders floow steep and blank rock so Jason and I decided to forge our own path out to the left. I trended left on small crimps/flakes at 5.11+ to a short section of thin A1 to reach a bolt that was placed by Chris Giesler last year. I clipped the bolt and did the “king swing” of the Torre to the left side of the headwall.
[Hayden leading steep 5.11 on the second pitch of the headwall.]
At this point Jason and I were on totally new terrain and the rock quality had changed from the flakey granite to more buffed Yosemite granite, a very nice contrast. The next two pitches were outrageous, with an incredible amount of exposure and amazing face climbing at 5.11+ with short sections of aid due to icy cracks. I reached the top of the headwall and yelled into the wind—it was a dream come true for Jason and me. We raced to the summit and unroped for the summit mushroom; we were speechless standing on top of Cerro Torre.
I think that everyone has already read enough about what Jason and I did on the descent and it was what we wanted to do. We chopped 120 bolts on the headwall in an effort of restore Cerro Torre to its more natural state; we had the right to remove the bolts just as Maestri had the right to put them in. End of story.
This was my third trip to Patagonia and by far the most memorable both mentally and in terms of climbing. To summit all of the Torres in one month was mind-altering and has been a goal of mine since I first saw the Torres. Alpine climbing offers much more than just a summit; the unknown, the fear, the thrill, the simplicity, the obsession, the clarity and above all the pursuit of adventure is why alpine climbing has consumed my life. This year in Patagonia Jason and I had a lot of success but the Torres gave use much more than just a summit photo.