Climbers: Jeff and Priti Wright
- Cerro Torre: Via dei Ragni (600m, 90deg, M4), unsuccessful
- Aguja Guillaumet: Comesana-Fonrouge (400m, 30deg, 6b+), successful
We've been meaning to post this TR for a while now, but hopefully it will inspire you for the next Patagonia season! Priti and I went back to el Chalten in February 2016 for our second season of climbing in Patagonia. In Dec 2014, we summited Aguja de l'S by the Austriaca route and had two unsuccessful attempts on Aguja Guillaumet due to poor weather. This time we went back and sumitted Aguja Guillaumet (the first peak on the Fitz Roy Traverse) by the Comesana-Fonrouge route and also made an unsuccessful attempt on Cerro Torre due to a bergshrund that we couldn't cross.
Chalten Massif (with Cerro Torre and Cerro Chalten)
Cerro Chalten (Fitz Roy) from Lago de los Tres
Cerro Torre: Via dei Ragni (600m, 90deg, M4)
The Torre Range looks like a row of dominos frozen in place mid-fall with Cerro Torre as the book-end, standing tall and narrow as a toothpick. We arrived in town very lucky to have a 3-day weather window in the first week. With such a long window, we decided to go for our biggest objective, Cerro Torre via the Ragni Route. This is the original line of ascent from 1974 and is an ice/mixed line on the opposite side of the massif, from the Hielo Continental (Southern Patagonian Ice Field). Colin Haley and Alex Honnold had just climbed the Torre Traverse in a historic, one-day sprint the week prior which really lit the stoke for us!
View of our route and high point
We were to approach via Paso Marconi, a 20mi approach over highly glaciated terrain, as opposed to the Col Standhardt which is much shorter but with exceptional difficulties at the moment. We met a European team the previous night who had just turned around from Cerro Torre last week due to difficulties getting over the Col Standhardt. According to Colin, the only reason to take the Col Standhardt approach is if you have gear cached at Niponino base camp, otherwise it's best to take the long, leisurely approach over Paso Marconi.
Rio Electrico Valley over Paso Marconi onto the Hielo Continental
View of Hielo Continental and Circo de los Altares (right)
View of the Ragni Route up the glacial ramp between Cerro Torre and Filo Rosso (Red Spur)
We started the approach up the Rio Electrico and continued up the valley onto the Glacier Marconi, crossing seracs to mount Paso Marconi, then marching 15km across flat ice on the Hielo Continental and finally entering the Circo de los Altares, a large cirque surrounded by majestic peaks: Cerro Rincon, Cerro Domo Blanco, and the Torres.
Looking back at the Rio Electrico
Paso Marconi: There are two routes, over the dangerous seracs on the left or up the chossy cliffs on the right
The Hielo Continental
When we got the base, we saw two other weary souls who had just come down from the difficulties of Col Standhardt intending to climb the Ragni as well. One had blood coming from his forehead. They looked like hardened, Eastern European climbers, but they were in no mood for talking...or climbing. They looked like they had seen ghosts; they just sat down and quietly looked up at the route with the disposition that they had already been defeated before they started. They just asked us in broken English how to get out, we pointed the way, and they left back for town. The Ragni is normally a very popular route, especially on huge weather windows like this one, but the entire time, Priti and I were the only climbers there, indicating that we had likely come too late in the season.
Circo de los Altares
The backside of the Torres Traverse (Left to Right): Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger, Cerro Torre
Cerro Domo Blanco
Everything was sweltering, making the glaciers very problematic. The first 400m of the climb is a simple 35deg; glacial slog, which for us is now a complex, time-consuming, serpentine maze of crevasses and a bonus 60m pitch of serac ice climbing (A2).
The "mixed" pitches were actually super fun, with difficulties of M2/M3 with tools and crampons (the hardest bit being a 20m 5.8 hand crack). There was no actual ice on these pitches, but rather a few flowing waterfalls here and there. It turned out to be 4 wandering pitches, following the tat and the easiest way up (of which there were several possible lines).
Looking up at the "mixed" pitches
Priti following slab on crampons
From the mixed pitches, another 300m of 40deg glacier climbing forms a narrow ramp between Cerro Torre and a rocky spur called Filo Rosso. After climbing about 250m, we were stopped by a 10m wide crevasse which stretched across the entire width of the glacial ramp. There were footprints left from last week's ascents which stopped at a terrible overhang; perhaps the warm weather had collapsed a previous bridge. We were hoping to make the Col de la Esperanza (Col of Hope) by the end of the day, but unfortunately we were forced to turn around about 200m short of that goal after having climbed about half of the vertical terrain of the mountain.
The bergshrund we couldn't cross. Fresh steps indicated a recent bridge had collapsed.
Heading back down
Cerro Rincon at one end of the Circo
We head home, weary and disappointed, but at least we had a beautiful sunset to watch from our high-perched bivy. Now, we make the long trek out, back through Paso Marconi. From what we've gathered, we were the last ones to attempt Cerro Torre that season.
Rappeling steep, wet slabs near the foot of Filo Rosso
The long march out
Aguja Guillaumet: Comesana-Fonrouge (400m, 30deg, 6b+)
Back in town, we had a few days to catch our breaths. Andrew Rothner (a bouldering badass) and Josh Wharton (an alpinist badass) were staying at our hostel. We went bouldering with Andrew and our friend Julieta one day and ran into Brette Harrington at the crag. Pretty cool to see celebrities all over town! One evening, Colin Haley and Alex Honnold stopped by the hostel and asked us to join them for dinner. At the table, we were joined by Mikey Schaefer, Ben Erdmann, and Josh Wharton. It was a really neat experience to swap stories with these legends.
The next two weeks were filled with "sucker-windows" where there is an 8-10hr break with semi-climbable weather. Priti and I attempted Aguja Guillaumet, but the rain never let up and we also didn't reach the base.
Finally, the trip was coming to a close, and we had one more sucker-window the day before we left, so we thought we should keep trying. This would be our 4th attempt of Aguja Guillaumet over 2 years. Since it's the Patagonian granite spire with the shortest approach, we always reserved it for these tiny micro-windows which always failed us. It's 13 pitches, with the crux being 6b+ (5.10d), then a steep snowfield at the top.
Aguja Guillaumet, our route is the ridge on the right
The other side of our ridge route (from a different trip); also visible is Aguja Mermoz and Cerro Chalten (Fitz Roy)
All night long and all morning we were pounded with a snow storm in our bivy at Piedra Negra, near the base of the route. This did not bode well for conditions. We came expecting to find rime and snow on route, and we were not disappointed.
We actually had decent weather for the first 10 hours as predicted, but climbing was a lot slower than we expected, having to use ice tools to climb, clearing the icy cracks. Then the wind started picking up and carried with it rime ice crystals that pelted your face and blew up in your nostrils. The temps were very cold and we climbed in big puffies.
Priti leading up the crux
A view of the crux after the ice has been chopped out!
An airy traverse after the crux
Finally at the notch above the Amy Couloir
By dusk, the wind was howling and we still had a ways to the summit. We agreed ahead of time, we would only turn around if we could not go up anymore, so we kept going up...
We finally reached the summit at the stroke of midnight. By then, the clouds had rolled in, and we could see some of the distant lights of the estancias far below. The winds ripped the ropes ferociously. We were proud to have pushed through this great struggle, but scared about the descent, as the winds kept picking up more and more.
The ropes were plastered to the rocks by the wind and frozen in place. It took us 5 hours to make four 30m rappels in the blasting wind, which from the reports were expected to be about 40-50knots (although we had expected to be down before then). We finally made it to a small Amy notch and retreated to a snow/ice gully on the opposite side of the mountain which proved to be a little more sheltered from the wind. We were familiar with this gully, having climbed it the year prior, and knew that getting out from there was straight-forward. As we rappelled down the gully, the sun rose. It was a nightmare-ish experience, a true old-school Patagonian experience. We were the only ones on this exceedingly popular mountain. We were probably the only ones climbing in the massif. Later, we would have dinner with Jeannie Wall and Colin Haley and all the climbers there were impressed by our brazen stupidity in going out in such crappy weather. Definitely no regrets, but definitely would never climb in such conditions again.
In total, we spent 30 hours moving from getting up from our bivy at Piedra Negra to hiking out back to town in one push.
Photo Spheres from Cerro Torre and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field are on Google Maps. You can simply find them on there from the map (loaded by Jeffrey Wright), or copy/paste these addresses into your desktop:
-Cerro Torre: light rack, several screws, 1 picket, stuff sacks (for deadmen), ice tools with wings, double ropes 60m
-Guillaumet: SR, single rope 60m with 60m pull cord