Adventures From -49 Degrees South - The story behind THAT photo...by James Monypenny Jan/2013
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We liked the photos and the humourous style of the photographer - James Monypenny - and asked James to tell the story of his climbing trip to Patagonia. Here it is...
Our mutual psych was bubbling as our collectivo taxi drew closer to the small mountain town of El Chalten. The sun was setting behind the massive on this cloudless and windless evening, highlighting the features of the Torre and Fitzroy group.
Pete, my usual partner in crime, was abnormally keen (considering his usual manic depressive state). And so a plan was hatched to use the weather window, head high, and possibly check out the Franco-Argentine on Fitzroy. However Patagonia had other plans.
The 6 hour walk-in soon turned into a 12 hour post-holing suffer-fest, which wrote us off for the following day. Lesson 1: Seek hard snow. The mundane stumble back to town in wet boots aggravated Pete's old Achilles injury, and he was out for at least a week. Luckily however an old friend, ''Rachel'' was on her way to town, arriving at the beginning of a short window. And so Rachel and I returned to the gear stash at Paso superior, picking up a Canadian straggler en-route named Cory. Conditions were dry, and so we had our eyes set on a rock route called the Brenner-Moschioni On Aguja Guillaumet.
Feeling adventurous and lazy, I opted for less walking and decided to forge a harder, more direct initial pitch. This led to the crux, a 6b splitter fist crack, on golden granite. Hauling three overweight bags led to lesson number two: Go light. Pitch after pitch of superb rock climbing finished in the summit snow slopes. All three of us had tagged our first Patagonian summit. We sat and enjoyed the windless vista.
Spontaneously 'Rachel' decides to go for the naked summit shot, and we (happily) oblige in our photographic duties. We both shared an equal burning desire to climb Fitzroy; having just conquered the mountain's little toe, "Fitzroy Dreaming"' has a few connotations. On the surface the shot is a bit of fun, underneath I feel it shows 'Rachel's' desire and respect for the mountain; a pagan style offering if you will. Unfortunately 'Rachel' never got her mountain, as the Patagonian weather gods dictated otherwise.
Round three, I teamed up with Cory, and Chris (The big German) for a speedy accent of the classic Willians-Cochrane on Aguja Pointcenot. The epic-free climb included a fun exposed snow ramp, a few mixed pitches, and easy rock climbing to a nice pointy summit #2. Christmas was on its way, and what better present to give yourself than Cerro Torre. And so I set off with Canadian Ice wads Cory and Max for a 4 day - 3 men - 2 sleeping bag - 1 mountain mission.
Having narrowly missed out on a Torre Christmas, I decided upon a Fitz New Year's, this time partnered by Max. On new years eve we hiked to glacier Fitzroy norte and set up camp under the base of the Supercaneleta. At 11:55 the alarm woke us, but instead of popping the champers we set off into the night; followed closely by a lonesome Japanese guy called Kazoo. Having nearly fallen through a hidden crevasse we decided to rope up, and feeling the festive atmosphere, I decided to extend the 'international rope' to our timid Japanese friend. This was gratefully received; little did we know this was only his third time in crampons.
We set off up the one thousand metre, moon-lit couloir, our speed governed by our new friend, but we were still romping. However we were occasionally slowed by the poor, warm conditions where, in-order to avoid a soaking, I had to tackle some tough, chossy, unprotected slabs. At the first light of New Year's Day we reached 'Bloque Empotrado'.
Recent snow fall meant the rock was in Scottish 'nick', and I lead the initial M5 pitch. Max then blasted the short ice cruxes, which took us past a sight that will forever be engrained within me. As, at this point, frozen solidly into the gully, lay the body of a fallen soloist. We made short work of the remainder of the couloir, and traversed onto the mixed ridge. Some cruxy route finding, and tough but fun mixed climbing and finally the difficulties were over. The three of us soloed the remaining ground to the summit, 19hours after setting off. We ate dinner on the top, watching the sun slowly getting lower in the sky.
At dusk we began the long night-time rappel. It wasn't long before the rope got jammed, which required some climbing, a pendulum and some prussiking to correct. Max and I took turns to lead the endless abseils, which required care, as many old in-situ anchors blew on the first bounce test. When it wasn't my turn to lead I found myself snoozing at the belays. Just before dawn we neared the bottom of the couloir. Max lead the abseil, next to a waterfall, and decided to start down soloing. We couldn't hear him over the noise of the water, or see him and, as the ropes had frozen-in, it felt like his weight was still on the rope. Perhaps around an hour passed in which we shouted, fell asleep, and shouted some more. Finally I decided to yard hard on the ropes, and in the instance the ropes became free, all became clear. We also down soloed to the glacial basin where Max was sat waiting at the bottom. As I approached, he said, 'Bad news bud; I've broken my leg'.
Max had snapped his lower tib-fib whilst bum sliding with crampons. We were wasted, in a remote Patagonian glacial basin, not an ideal scenario. We sluggishly helped Max hobble the remaining two hundred meters to the tent, where we ate, formed a plan, and inevitably all fell asleep after being on the go for 28 hours. A few hours later I woke up and went to get a rescue. Then followed the most remote successful rescue in the Chalten massive to-date. I would like to thank the Chalten rescue crew (a friendly bunch of under-funded climbers who dropped their daily livelihood to come to our aid) as well as all the climbers who volunteered and helped out.
Getting there: Fly to Buenos Aires, bus or fly to Calafate, then a bus to El Chalten. It's also feasible to fly to Santiago in Chile, as well as Bariloche in Argentina. I flew to Mexico, but that's another story.
Staying there: El Chalten is a small tourist town, with camping, hostels, and hotels. Slow internet, a few grocery stores, over-prices equipment stores (and rental) bakeries and bars. Now-a-days most climbers stay in lodging in town, and head high during good weather spells. There are a number of distinctly average sport climbing crags around the town, as well as good quality granite boulders.
When to go: The climbing season is November till February. Unless you're Andy Kirkpatrick.
Red tape: When climbing within the Los Glaciares national park you are required to register (free) for a climbing permit. When approaching through the Rio Electrical valley you cross private land and will be charged $20 USD.
Equipment: My advice is to bring everything you need. Buying and renting in Argentina is expensive. Equipment choice is route, style, weather and person dependant. All I will say is, it gets windy, and colder than the European Alps, bring dry boots.
Weather: Yes, it's Patagonia. Check NOAA for fairly reliable forecasts, it can actually be quite pleasant in a good window.
Guide: As of 2012 thanks to Rolo Garibotti there is a super sexy guide to the Chalten Massif called 'Patagonia Vertical'. A must buy for those planning a trip, armchair pundits, and toilet readers. Or, if you're cheap, like me, use Pataclimb.com until you can find someone to buy you a copy.
James Monypenny is a freelance outdoor instructor, who runs a small outdoor company; Gibbon Adventures. When he's not trying to climb you might find him on a river trying to kayak, or more recently in the air trying to paraglide. Despite recent rumours, he is not a womaniser.