Saturday 11 January 2014

At last some mountaineering

Seconding a brilliant VII,8 pitch on the Aguja Guillaumet, Patagonia. Photo: Calum Muskett

With a one day weather window forecast for Friday, we packed our things and wondered what objective to point ourselves at. The options were a bit limited. So just going up and being there was all we realistically hoped for. It had snowed very heavily the day before and many of the approaches would be dangerous. The rock routes would be in winter condition, and the window was too short to go on a really big wall.

Me leading a nice ice runnel on pitch 2. Photo: Calum Muskett

So we decided to go to the Guillaumet and see if we could safely get to a mixed route on its east face. On Thursday’s walk in, it was still windy, snowing and clagged in. My ankle hurt like hell with a heavy pack on and for the first hour I was unsure if I was going to make it. But after a while it became tolerable and I could think about something else. Near the snow line, we made a small bivi with rocks under a boulder and settled in for the evening. 

Calum setting off on steep cracks on pitch 3

The dawn slog up onto the glacier brought a sunny morning and the greatest surprise of the trip so far - no wind. After hearing so much about the wind in these mountains it was a little surreal to be standing in the morning sun looking at the granite walls. Our plan A, a route on the Mermoz, was immediately ruled out after a block test in the snow revealed an easy shear. Later, we met some Austrians who did venture across the glacier, but gave up before they even got to the foot of the Mermoz, in chest deep fresh snow.

We weren’t about to waste the chance to climb something, so we headed right to the Guillaumet and eyed up a 6 pitch steep wall with some snow and ice clinging to various cracks and corners. A short route by Patagonian standards, but as we found out, it packed it in, with one pitch of Scottish tech 6, one of 7 and three of tech 8. 

Calum starting up a big tech 8 corner on pitch 5.

Calum got two great pitches in the middle of the route. First a smooth wall with thin cracks and good hooks at VII,8 and a long steep corner which was around VIII,8. I had another VII,7 pitch with lots of great steinpull moves on rounded flakes. But the highlight for me was the final pitch which I got to lead; an improbable looking ramp leading into a smooth overhanging corner above. Both features didn’t give anything away until the last minute. The ramp went with a series of undercut placements in a row, with feet on a delicate smear of thin ice. The top corner went with lock-offs, feet not able to help much at all!

Eyeing up a thin ice smear on pitch 6. Photo: Calum Muskett.

Counting an hour back at our bivi boulder to have some Clif Bars and tea, we walked out in 6 hours. Calum had the march on. He was gunning to get back to El Chalten that night. I   scurried along behind him, trying to keep up through the forest as the darkness crept up. Just before midnight, Calum suddenly flung down the haulsac in frustration that we hadn’t got back to the road yet, pulled out his bivi bag and within seconds he’d retired for the night. I crawled into my bivi bag and settled in, only to hear a truck go over the bridge in the road, about 200 yards away round the next bend in the path. In the morning we only had a short stagger and a quick hitch back to El Chalten.

Lovely clouds above the Poincenot.

Even if that turns out to be our only weather window (which it might, the way the season has gone so far), It was great experience to get some climbing done on the Patagonian towers. As far as we know, it’s a new route too. I certainly felt like we made the most of the tricky conditions to get a good route done. So now, it’s back to bouldering, sport climbing, eating steaks and watching the forecast. 

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear you've got up something that sounds awesome and that the ankle is abating.