The weather window looked short and cold. All of the climbers we knew were going to sit this one out and do some sport climbing in town. Pete was psyched as usual and convinced me that a quick mountain mission was a good idea. I was hesitant at first but once I committed, I, too, was excited to head back up to the mountains that occupy my mind most of the year.
We left town around 1:30pm and began the long hike to Paso Superior. We roped up for most of the glacier travel and we arrived at our advanced base camp around 9:30pm. We set up the tent and cooked a quick dinner. We set the alarm for 2:54am and went to bed.
The alarm came quickly and Pete brewed up some coffee and oatmeal. We shouldered our packs and continued our mission deeper into the mountains. With the cold temps the glacier was firm and we moved quickly. We arrived at the bergschrund at the base of La Brecha a 300m 60 degree snow slope as the sky in the east began to brighten.
We traversed south for some time until the bergschrund was small enough to climb over with little trouble. I led up and across the snow field aiming for a long protected corner. The sun broke the horizon. The wind picked up causing spindrift to swirl around us. The snow slope led to a 100m 5th class rock step which was icy and challenging in mountain boots.
From the col Pete led an icy corner pitch that brought us to La Silla – a bullet hard ice ridge that separates Cerro Fitzroy from Aguja Poincenot. I led out crossing the low angle snow and ice and traversed under the south face of Fitzroy. Pete got hit in the face by a small chunk of ice falling off of the upper reaches of Fitzroy – a not so subtle reminder of the objective hazards that surrounded us. I was able to get a bit of protection in the rock every 30m or so and we simul-climbed through the low angle terrain. One more traversing pitch with a short steep section and some mixed climbing finally deposited us at the beginning of our objective, the east ridge of Aguja de la Silla.
This is the last tower out of the nine primary peaks in the Fitzroy massif that Pete and I hadn’t climbed together. We had attempted this same route three years earlier but had turned around at the foot of the glacier due to high avalanche danger. I’m not sure how much our egos played into our desire to climb this peak but we were intrigued by the idea of climbing all of these incredible towers that were connected to each other like the spikes of a stegosaurus. It was also a perfect objective for a short and cold weather window.
A beautiful granite pillar rose above us for 250m. The wind had picked up and the temperature had plummeted. We put on our puffy coats and synched them down! I led the first pitch heading south around the tower navigating icy cracks. The pitch led to a recess in the ridge and Pete took over the lead. With numb hands he quickly dispatched three more very cold and icy 70m pitches that brought us to the pointy summit! We were the only climbers in the entire range. Everyone else was resting in town. This solitude gave the mountains a different feel and I was happy and proud to be with Pete surrounded by snow ice and golden granite.
Pete and I had first climbed together in these mountains in 2008 and this was our 4th trip to the region. This particular mission was our 17th time roping up together in these massive and complicated mountains. I am grateful for such a solid partner and for these powerful and authentic experiences.
We did not linger long and soon we were rappelling back to the base of the tower. From the base we had to reclimb the traversing pitches and rappell back down to the top of La Brecha. The cold temps were welcome during the committing rappel of this 300m gully as it kept the snow, ice, and loose blocks frozen in place.
We rappelled over the bergschrund and back on to the glacier. We stayed roped up and slogged around crevasses back to our advanced base camp at Paso Superior. We arrived back at our camp 15 hours after we had left in the cold pre dawn hours.
We melted snow and drank water. We ate food and rested for about an hour. We repacked all of our stuff and started down the glacier towards Laguna de los Tres. At this lake we switched from mountain boots to approach shoes, ate more food, drank water, ate Mexican pain killers and continued the long trek back to town. The sun disappeared and we continued. It began to rain. I hiked alone, lost in my music; my fatigue and the winding trail that heads to the tiny town of El Chalten.
At 1:00am I stumbled on to the paved road that runs through town. The streets were empty and the low light from the street lamps seemed alien. I opened the door to our house after 21 hours on the go, another wonderful long day in the mountains with a great friend.
Sleep came easy.