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  • Kim Ladiges

West Face of Guillamet, Patagonia

After our 40 hour push on Mermoz we spent a couple of days trying desperately to recover, as it appeared more fine weather was on the way. while the wind and snow pummeled the high mountains we once again went back to the ritual; coffee, forecast, guidebook, repeat. This would be a challenging window to get much done as it appeared windy and cold at the start of the window yet we had received quite a lot of snow up high which usually means that any sheltered faces are too icy to climb. The weather window did not seem long enough to wait for the east/north faces to clear on the first day so we settled on attempting a route on the west face of guillamet. We would plan to start late and allow the face to warm before we started then climb until night time which was also forecast to have the lowest winds.

We made the approach hike to Piedra Negra the afternoon before our planned climb which felt a lot more civilized than hiking through the night. It was windy at camp but we were able to get a reasonable nights sleep. There were quite a few parties at Piedra Negra, Just about all of whom planned to climb the Brenner ridge the following day. It’s crazy how busy Patagonia has become although like everywhere the crowds congregate to a handful of routes.

We planned to make a late start the following day at 8am to put us at the base of the west wall around 11am. The camp was alive before dawn with the headlamps and shouts of teams headed off to a very cold Brenner Ridge, hoping to beat the other teams to it or just drawn to the suffering of sub zero degree rock climbing I’m not sure. Once awake we had a slow start and I felt extremely lazy as the camp emptied around us. Even though it was our plan to begin late I somehow felt like I was missing out on something and should go join everyone else in some finger numbing experience so rather than relax I paced about anxiously, moving things from place to place as if I was getting ready and generally hurrying Liz.

On schedule we left camp passing a few teams who had bailed on east facing objectives due to too much snow. “It’s always like that on the east faces after snow”,  I informed anyone who would listen “It’s better to go to a west face (like we are)”. I didn’t really know but its very gratifying to feel like you do.

We reached the pass at 11am and looked at the west face. It was still in the shade and looked very cold so we sat in the sun and brewed up water and ate. Somehow the foodbag that had seemed quite full when it was packed the night before now seemed rather empty. Maybe we were eating more as we were still compensating for our first mission or perhaps it was just less food than we expected but whatever the case it dawned on us that today would be a hungry day.

Finally we made our way across to the west face. The final traverse to the face was actually a bit more complicated than we expected so we regretted spending so long waiting but at least true face was fully in the sun and the rock warm. The wind had completely died out and we set out climbing in just base layers.

We picked the route “Disfruta la Vida (Enjoy Life)” as it looked reasonably free of ice and was a rappel line so we wouldn’t have to leave tons of gear if we found icy conditions higher up. The climbing was a amazing sustained cracks but generally quite flaring so although it was a lot less steep than Pillar Rojo the climbing felt harder and less secure. Every pitch seemed to be long and I finished most leads with barely any gear on my harness.

Liz had not been feeling well the whole day so after what seemed like the best climbing on the route we began rappelling rather than go to the summit. It felt a little wrong to the mountaineer in me but it was pleasant to rappel in the last light rather than another night time descent. Once at the base of the face we decided to return to camp via a different line to Piedra Negra, which we were curious about as the guidebook suggested it might be faster. Always an excellent decision to make in the last 20 minutes of twilight but soon we were confidently descending a long snow slope our eyes peeled for some old fixed lines on a slab. These we did not find, so after bashing around for a while we got a rope out and began traversing an easy slab in a spot that seemed approximately to be where the route was drawn in in the guidebook (on a photo that appeared to be taken from the International Space Station). Eventually we came across the fixed lines, which were mostly just tattered strands, and we simul climbed along them as the slabs were soaking with snow melt in places. Finally we reached the pass and descended back to camp. A few folks were awake at camp and I thought that they too were back late but it turns out that they had just woken up for an alpine start on the Brenner Ridge.

In the morning (or rather, later in the morning) Liz was keen to try another route but now it was my turn for low motivation. My fingernails really hurt, which does not sound like the gravest issue but I assure you its worse than you think. We contemplated staying in the hills to see if we could climb the following day but the forecast we had from when we walked in suggested conditions would be bad and we hadn’t arranged to get a weather forecast update so at midday we began descending, me nursing my wounded nail beds. At the base of the hill we came across two climbers walking in which induced a wave of FOMO anxiety, “What do they know that we don’t ? Should we be walking back in? Are we screwing this up?” After chatting with the two climbers we decided that it really wasn’t going to be good and we could relax in our decision to descend.

All together great to get to climb more amazing granite in perfect weather and an excellent route choice given the window. Now to recover these fingernails!

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