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  • Kim Ladiges

Patagonia update

“Should have stayed in the mountains”

We paced around outside the apartment staring up at Fitzroy. There were no clouds in the sky. At the top of Fitzroy the wind was blowing over a hundred kilometers an hour but you can’t see air, so from the calm of town the shimmering mountains were tempting.

“I know it’s windy, but maybe you know on an east face or something we might get something done”

We were delusional but motivated. The forecast wind speeds were hovering around 120 km/h which is almost certainly too windy to be anywhere other than the bakery but there was a short window were the wind eased the following evening and did not rise again till late morning. We decided to have a go at climbing the Comesana Fonrouge ridge on Guillamet overnight. James and Lawrence, the other two ECC expedition members, had just got back from the Torre Glacier but after an IPA they were keen to join.

The following evening we took a taxi to the Rio Electrico bridge and started hiking into the mountains. The wind progressively eased and by the time we were ascending the hill towards Piedra Negra it was positively still. The full moon meant we were able to hike without headlamps. We wandered up the hill bewitched by the silver glow to the base of Guillamet. Liz and I were a little behind James and Lawrence when we racked up and began simul climbing. In the true euro style I learnt in Chamonix, I overtook James and Lawrence, awkwardly crossing ropes, snaked them to the crux, then got in their way in seemingly the windiest spot on the route. When we reached the crux we swapped leads. Liz did an awesome job of leading the crux in the dark in sub zero temperatures, flailing up with numb fingers I was glad for the top rope.

Some light began to creep into the sky as hand traversed across an amazing  horizontal crack. “Woah this is insane” I kept saying. We continued simul climbing until it was easy enough to take the rope off and scramble to the top. The final moves to the top felt a little exposed but eventually I was straddling the top with a very pleased with myself expression on my face.

We waited for the others then after a few quick pics we began descending. The wind had definitely picked up and it was awkward to rappel back down the ridge. We decided to descend down the Amy Couloir, as it was sheltered from the wind, but as it had melted out it was a complete choss pile. A few reminders for rappeling choss- don’t throw your ropes, keep them coiled on you so you can kick loose blocks down before you are below them. Make your rappels short if possible and build anchors below roofs or out of the gully. Bounce test all anchors - I managed to make one giant block with tat around it fail.

We rappelled over the schrund then bum slid down the glacier and back to paso guillamet. Some more knee aging hours ensued. Eventually we were back in the valley were we bimbled our way back to road, a quick hitchhike, cerveza and much food.

After a day or two another ‘weather window’ presented itself. We were definitely operating mostly on optimism as we packed four days of food and headed to the hills hoping to sneak in some climbs in between bad  patches of weather.

We woke at Piedra Negra to high winds and light snow. I rolled over and told Liz “I’m not getting up you can’t make me” eventually I was tempted to leave my warm cocoon with coffee. Finally the snow stopped and we started towards Guillamet’s North Face.

One intention I’ve had for this trip is to not get disheartened when things aren’t really working out like you want them to. In my opinion it’s one of the most powerful skills one can have in the mountains. Approach each moment afresh; if the route you wanted to do is not in condition change objectives. If you go the wrong way on a route; forget about it, begin again and continue if weather permits or go down if it doesn’t. If you screw something up; reflect on this afterwards, don’t let it take your attention at the time.

“I don’t really care, let’s just go where you want I’m a bit fed up with today”

I was in a strange grumpy mood and not living up to my intentions as we stared at La Guillatina. We were up to plan D by now and the ice that was falling down the route suggested we needed a plan E.

Liz started up some cracks that looked dry and not threatened from above. Once we actually started climbing my mood improved and I remember that I really love this and how lucky I am to be there. We didn’t have a topo but followed our noses up amazing granite towards the Brenner Ridge. I marveled at how incredible this terrain was, perfect finger cracks and exhilarating sequences on jugs. What an amazing world. The rock was warm by this stage as it was already late afternoon. At the Brenner it was cold and once again we were in the shade. We continued up some amazing splitters I had seen when I climbed the classic route the year previously. Numb fingers but hard not to feel joy on such a perfect pitch in that setting.

We chose not to continue to the summit as we had been to the top of Guillamet a few days previously. We descended in daylight which was a bit of a novelty and walked back to Piedra Negra without needing our headlamps. Alpine cragging in Patagonia!

Bad weather followed so we escaped back to the comfort of Chalten. Reflecting on the last week I would say that you can still have an awesome time in Patagonia when the weather is not perfect; be creative in your approach, be conservative in your objectives and be open to experiences that are not necessarily on the grand routes or summits.

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