High-End Free Climbing In Patagonia

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The beautiful traverse line of The Wave Effect, imagined by Bean Bowers and completed by Whit Magro, Nate Opp, and Josh Wharton. Photo by Damian Llabres, courtesy of pataclimb.com

The beautiful traverse line of The Wave Effect, imagined by Bean Bowers and completed by Whit Magro, Nate Opp, and Josh Wharton. Photo by Damian Llabres, courtesy of pataclimb.com

2/25/11 - Three teams of climbers recently completed impressive new free routes and linkups on peaks in southern Patagonia. After a dry spell earlier in February, a second stretch of warm and stable weather recently allowed for the climbing of routes often too icy or snowy for free ascents.

Belgians Sean Villanueva and Nico Favresse pulled off a magnificent climb during a 28-hour all-free ascent of Fitz Roy's looming east pillar, onsighting all terrain up to 7B (5.12b). Switching corner systems and combining routes to avoid wetness, the duo climbed much of the unrepeated El Corazon, with starting pitches on the Ferrari route and a diversion onto upper parts of Royal Flush. The two encountered, and awkwardly avoided, aid climbing cluttered by a series of cable and aluminum etriers still fixed to the wall after Casimiro Ferrari and Vittorio Meles' 1976 ascent. They climbed through much of the night, and to the musical accompaniment of Villanueva's ubiquitous tin whistle, the two summited the peak mid-morning on the day after starting, making the first free ascent of the east pillar. Eschewing the peak's traditional descents, they headed down Royal Flush, where the steep ground and three-bolt-anchors proved a "totally stress free" way to get down with just a single 80m rope.

Meanwhile, Americans Whit Magro, Nate Opp, and Josh Wharton climbed a three-peak linkup in the Fitz Roy massif first imagined by veteran Patagonian climber Bean Bowers.

The east face of Fitz Roy: the terrain free-climbed by Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva during a remarkable 28-hour effort. Photo by Rolando Garibotti, courtesy of pataclimb.com

The east face of Fitz Roy: the terrain free-climbed by Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva during a remarkable 28-hour effort. Photo by Rolando Garibotti, courtesy of pataclimb.com

Beginning on Aguja Desmochada, to the southwest of Fitz Roy, the three started up El Condor, veered rightward to avoid that route's A3 pitch, and covered new ground before joining Golden Eagle and The Sound and the Fury to the summit. A pitch of 7B+ (5.12c) comprised the route's crux. The trio embraced the peak's avian theme and named their variation The Brass Parrot.

After a bivy, they continued on a new route they termed Vertical Current to the top of Aguja de la Silla. Descending to a notch between that peak and Fitz Roy, the team cached gear at the notch and continued up the California Route, with another bivy, to reach Fitz Roy's summit. With one climber jugging, the leader and follower freed every pitch of the traverse, a tour de force of alpine rock climbing that the climbers dubbed The Wave Effect.

On the northwest edge of the range, the seldom-visited Pollone massif saw action from two young Americans supported in part by Mountain Fellowship Grants from the American Alpine Club. Scott Bennett and Blake Herrington made the second ascent of the 1999 route A Fine Piece, which traces Cerro Pollone's West Pillar. The 16-pitch route rises from the Marconi Glacier, adjacent to the Continental Icecap, and the two freeclimbed the line (leader onsight, follower spots of A0) at 7a (5.11d).

Scott Bennett during the first complete traverse of Cerro Pollone, which followed the second ascent and first free ascent of A Fine Piece on the peak's west pillar. Photo by Blake Herrington

Scott Bennett during the first complete traverse of Cerro Pollone, which followed the second ascent and first free ascent of A Fine Piece on the peak

After a bivy high on the pillar, they surpassed the previous high point and found new climbing along classic alpine ridge terrain en route to the summit of Pollone. The recent dry conditions allowed for more rock climbing as they began the traverse to the eastern peak (a welcome surprise since one of their two ice tools had been lost in a river crossing three days prior). Two rappels off gendarmes, a few simul-climbing pitches, and three meters of A0 led them to Pollone's East Summit, thus making that peak's second ascent. (Americans Neil Kauffman and Jim Toman did the first ascent earlier this year.) Bennet and Herrington's six-day outing was completed with a descent eastward onto the Fitz Norte Glacier and hike back to the trailhead.

Dates of Ascents: February 2011

Sources: members of the ascent teams, pataclimb.com, climbing.com