Fitz Roy

Myself following the final ridge pitch on the Supercanaleta. Austin Siadak photo

I've now spent parts of 4 seasons (Austral summers) in Patagonia, at the southern end of Argentina/Chile. Although this region has become en-vogue as the popular rock climbing center for folks chasing splitter granite, my experiences here have always been more along the lines of waiting out weather, making empanadas, glaring at bad forecasts, cleaning ice from cracks, and lots of windy hiking. It's an amazing and beautiful area, but don't let the insta-tweet-gram-book feeds fool you, it's mostly a bunch of stir-crazy smelly climber dudes complaining about the weather.

In the past few years there have been a few excellent 3-6 day weather windows allowing for access to (in the words of guidebook author Rolo Garibotti) the area's "most precious gift" - its splitter and clean granite. But there has been a lot of storming as well. My first time here (Jan/Feb 2008), not a single team from any country climbed Fitz Roy or any of the peaks in the Torre group. My second season, in 2011 with Scott Bennett, I experienced my only good rock-climbing weather, and we accomplished a long rock route for which we'd won a grant. I returned with Scott in 2014, climbing a bit (and getting snowed on at our camp below treeline) - that year saw mostly very bad weather until a single very good week in mid February, when the Fitz Traverse was done, but after we'd left. This year has been a return to the cold, wind, and low pressure that I think is more honestly representative of Patagonia. An update from Rolo:

In deference to the reality of these mountains, I recently teamed up with fellow Washingtonian Austin Siadak to climb a long snow, ice, and mixed route, the Supercanaleta ("massive chimney") on the area's tallest peak, Cerro Fitz Roy. The weather was predicted to be ok (sea level pressure about 1005, no precip, winds measured below "10") for about 30 hours. It ended up being good for about 18. Our climb took us 21.

Typical weather forecast - the obsession of Chalten climbers.

We hiked in (7hrs - 4500' gain) during the afternoon, reaching our bivi site about 9:30 PM. After putting up the tent, sorting gear, boiling water, eating, melting snow for the next day, and getting our ducks in a row, we only laid down for about 80 minutes (neither of us slept) before our 1:30AM alarms sounded and we began to go.

We made a great team and most of our decision making -- from gear, to timing, to risk tolerance -- was in sync from the start. The route ascends about 5,000' of climbing, with a long singular snow and ice couloir, some water ice, then a total of about 18-20 pitches of iced-up rock or rimed-up rock. The technical pitches are very traversing and wandering, mostly back and forth across steep rock faces. If one found this section in dry and "rock-climbing" conditions, I think that the climbing would be fantastic and pretty easy. But given that we did the whole thing in boots, 'pons, gloves, and puffy jackets, it was surprisingly slow and difficult. I haven't done much climbing like this, and found it exceedingly awkward, though fun to wrap my head around the "anything goes" style of frontpointing on pitons, double-cascades-knee mantles while pulling on a camalot, etc. We both definitely ice (and mixed) climbed like "rock climbers". High in the couloir, when it was still dark, I got smashed in the face with an ice chunk and blood instantly started pouring from my mouth and nose. It rung my bell a little bit to be sure, but also made that part of my face go numb. I reached up wtih a gloved hand to feel my nose and see if it felt "broken" (whatever that would feel like") and I inadvertently turned off my headlamp. I knew Austin (and 3 other teams) were down below me in the chimney, so I had a serious fear of passing out from exertion/blood loss/grossness, and tumbling, sans headlamp, down the couloir into them. I slammed both tools into the sinker neve, and hollered down to Austin to come have a look while I breath deeply and kept my eyes closed and nise pinched. Like many head wounds (especially amid physical exertion) it had bled profusely but really wasn't too damaging. I got things clotted and we soon finished up the singular couloir as daylight emerged. After a weird off-route adventure leading the first or second roped pitch, I turned the sharp end to Austin, who, despite also having limited experience in this style, was psyched to lead after drafting my steps up the long couloir. Austin CRUSHED, and ended up leading the whole remainder, zigging around the upper mountain with speed and confidence. We realized at one point that it would have been easier to climb many of the pitches if they were 5.12 tips cracks, rather than leaning 5.9 or 5.10 hand and offwidth cracks, since the "rock" ratings, topos, and styles meant basically nothing given the condition of the pitches, and our tools and crampon-clad feet.

Our route follows the deep cleft in the peak's right side.

Summiting Fitz Roy and staring down at the entire range, as the ominous "wall of hate" engulfed the western peaks, was a surreal and amazing experience, and we spent about 2 minutes on top. I lead the rappels (about 30 in all) back down the Supercanaleta direct, building a couple stations from stoppers, and relying on just one "dubious" anchor (a single so-so knifeblade, which I had bounce-tested). The rappels took us about 5 or 5.5hrs, though with better weather and visibility or knowledge, we would have stopped rapping a bit higher, to downclimb the initial 200-300m. The weather shut down us a few hours from the bottom, but we managed to fight the new snow and raging spindrift to make it down around midnight. We crashed in our tent 40minutes from the base (limping and cramping massively from dehydration) and made hot drinks and food until passing out from exhaustion. Apart from the 80 or 90 minutes of laying down prior to our ascent, we'd been on the go for 36 hours, and had ascended a total of more than 10,000'. It snowed all night and all the next day as we packed up and trudged the 6-7 hours back to the road.

After parts of 4 seasons here, I'd never summited Fitz Roy, or eaten at the local ice cream shop, "Domo Blanco". First time for everything!

Nuts and Bolts

  • 1x 60m 8.4mm half rope, 1x 60mm esprit escape static tag line
  • 1x cams from red c3 to #3, with 2x #.75
  • half rack of stoppers
  • 2 scews
  • 10-12 slings
  • Could have used a few more small stoppers, or another red camalot
  • 1.5 liters of water carried on route, with 2 JB brewing/melting stops
  • 2 Packs on route, but both super lightweight (20L, 35L)

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