Cosas Patagonicas Libre!

Scott and I woke after our climb on Guillaumet to the appearance of several teams of climbers who had just arrived in the mountains. Apparently the weather would stay good for several more days, which had compelled some folks to wait and plan bigger objectives, and others to try and to cram back-to-back climbs into the six days of splitterness. We had no more food, but psyche in abundance. And an unrepeated route established when I was 3 years old was beckoning...
Freeing new ground on Mermoz. Shame about the crummy rock...

Rather than hike down all our gear and have to figure out different approaches in totally new corners of the range, we decided to leave our gear cached up at Piedras Negras. And although we both badly wanted to try and climb Fitz Roy, we realized that fitting in our resupply trip and a multiday route would likely leave us high and exposed when the weather window slammed shut. With designs on the next peak in the massif, we high-tailed it town town, dreaming of lines on Aguja Mermoz.

Some time on Rolo's excellent 'Pataclimb' website showed us that there really weren't many routes on Mermoz. We were initially drawn to the Red Pillar, a steep line of patina and splitters on the East face. But as Scott said, "I didn't come to Patagonia to clip bolts." (The Red Pillar is a Kurt Albert route, established with bolted anchors every 100' and many protection bolts next to cracks.) Instead, we were intrigued by the description for 'Cosas Patagonicas', an unrepeated route up the Northwest face of Mermoz, established by SEVEN Italian climbers in the late 1980s, and graded 5.10 A2. Rolo thought that the route might be climbed free. We were eager to see about that.

Our first day of climbing began with 4 pitches of 5.10 cracks and stemming corners on what we believed to be the major dihedral system of the route. But when pitch 5 quickly turned into an endless seam, passing through several roofs, we decided that our rack of 2 pins and 2 RPs wasn't adequate for the hours of tedious thin aid climbing. We rapped back down. And while swiging around the face, we noticed that the parallel corner system 15 meters to the right had a variety of fixed gear and remnants of rope. We'd found the line after all, and we spent the next few hours investigating the first two pitches, before deciding to return the next day.

Tequila, Beer, Sending...
That night, at Piedras Negras, we used much of our liter of Sol Azteca tequila (hiked up from town with sugar and citrus drink mix for alpine margaritas...) to pour drinks for friends who had just sent the Red Pillar of Mermoz and two new routes on Fitz Roy. And we guilted other climbers (all hiking out the next day) into donating their leftover foods to the "Scott and Blake Freeing Cosas Patagonicas Fund" (AKA our dinner and snacks for the next day.) The concept of 'leftover' food being anathema to my very existence, and something unknown when hanging around Scott, our takeaway of multiple GUs, bars, and two pasta/dinner units was a HUGE surprise boost. Thanks so much to Kate, Mikey, Tomas, and Magnus for the calories, without which I don't think I could have rallied the next day.

But supplied with adequate snacks, and leaving our bottle of beer and one freeze-dried meal in camp, Scott and I awoke at 5AM again to climb back up the glacier and scramble/slog/sidehill our way along on the ~2 hour approach. The first pitch was mine.

I had aided this pitch the day before, finding soaking rock, a couple old fixed aid pieces, and some tough climbing. In early morning temps off the snowfield, I tried to link this pitch into the pitch before. Excited about cruising through a section of tension-y "fiddly wiring", my hopes, morale, and down jacket were all shredded when I pitched off on the final few moves. But as I aided the last bodylength up to the ledge Scott shouted up that I should lower back down and clean the gear. He was going to redpoint the pitch. With my much-memorized beta and his superior freeclimbing and wet fingerlocking skills, he pulled through for a clean send, and we carried on. The next couple pitches were drier, with obvious route finding and as-good-as-it-gets granite corner climbing. I took over to lead when things again started looking grim.

We belayed underneath a leaning chimney, leading upwards into a roof and offwidth slot. Not having climbed 'Astroman', I didn't recognize the resemblance, but Scott compared this to the infamous 'Harding Slot', only this one was running with water. And we didn't think it had ever been freeclimbed.

Strange angle, but the tag line is hanging straight down
A short pitch lead into the chimney, which proved more of a stembox, with alternating cracks on either side. I soon learned to only use fingerlocks and handholds at chest height or lower, lest my arms act as conduits for the icy water to run from the cracks and down my arms under my sleeves.

Higher, the crack began to overhang, but it also widened into good hand jams. Stemming at my limit beneath the flow of water, I pulled up, groped for positive holds, and pulled the patented undercling-kneebar-hipthrutch-fingerlock move to wedge myself upwards and inwards, breathing deeply to expand myself to the slot's contours. And pulling up the rope to clip the first of the Italian bolts (they had drilled a bolt ladder on the right outside margin of the slot) I allowed myself a scream of success. Some 5.9 chimneying (is there any other kind?) lead up a flat stance in the sun, allowing my soaked clothing to begin drying as I hauled the bag and Scott followed.

The final three pitches up the corner were stellar, including an open book that felt like some of the purest lines in Squamish, and long pitch of roofs, flakes, and corners, that is one of the best pitches I have ever done, anywhere.

From there we did a long pitch down and left, joining the line of Hypermermoz. It was already well into afternoon, and we had more than 1,000' of climbing remaining. But we had freed Cosas Patagonicas and weren't considering stopping.

300' pitches of simulclimbing lead to steeper terrain and consecutive corners we could pick out on the topo. This being the 21st century, our topo was a digital camera screen's playback of a photo we had taken of a website's digital picture of Mermoz, with the three routes drawn in. But as the sun began to set, we knew we had joined the Argentine route, and that there were were only a handful of pitches separating us from mellow terrain near the summit. We made it to the top without headlamps, though it was close enough that we had both taken them out of our packs, and began using them immediately for the descent.

Hours of single-rope rapping down a dark ridge and face isn't something that inspires me to return to the mountains. We lost the rap route a few times and left some slings, but largely managed to stay on track. We had to stuff our second rope in the pack, lest the wind blow it completely off of our shoulders, and I hazily recall the dim glow of my E-lite illuminating a maddening tangle of our (now thrice-core-shot) rope, blowing loops and bytes up and away from me as a sought to tame its tangles.

We crossed the (now very hard) trifecta of snowfields one final time, laboring to cut steps that would be possible for our cramponless feet. And as we rounded the col and looked down on Piedras Negras from 1,500' above, the sun was rising and we were able to turn off our headlamps and make our way make to the now-deserted camp. Beer, our last bit of food, and maybe even a shot of 'Sol Azteca' proved an excellent dinner/breakfast/pre-pass-out combo.

Cosas Patagonicas - Aguja Mermoz
First Free Ascent (2nd Ascent) 2/11/11
6c / 5.11
Ours and a slew of  other new routes   were done during this window.

Nuts and bolts:

1x 60mx9.2mm rope - now 3 coreshots and garbage
1x 60m 8.1mm rope - 1 coreshot and garbage
1x cams to #5 camalot, doubles in mid sizes
1x wires, with good RP selection - usefull
1x 30L Cilogear bag - hauled on some pitches
7x snack units ea, thanks to Mikey and Kate
1x CAMP awax w/hammer
1x E-lite and 1x BD mid-size headlamp
25' tat

Did Not Have:

Crampons (left in camp) or boots/shoes (one pair stashed at base of route, another at descent area)
Bivi bag, sleeping bags

Did not need:

Pins, tool.

Raps down Argentine route in high winds. Got lost a bit. Mostly 30m raps. Some rope retrieval pitches. Some new anchors. 9.2mm rope went from one soft/core shot to 3 total blowouts. RPs useful to crux p2, required cleaning of placements, and pulled rope to re-lead for free ascent. Highly recomended as a free climb, could be done easily at 5.10 C1/C2

28 hours round trip from Piedras Negras, very light out upon return to camp. Hard ice and snow from cold and avies had covered our approach tracks, so much kicking and chopping (no crampons) was required to traverse beneath face after descent.

3 hours hiking to Piedras Negras with light packs, but dinner en route and beer+tequila for others in the alpine. ~2 hours approach from Piedras Negras to the face, with gear cached from attempt and route recon the previous day.


  1. Yessss! way to go. glad all is going so well down there safe and sending...

  2. Well done! Thanks for taking the time to write and share - you're making me miss being on the rocks with you guys.