New Englanders Complete Huge Traverse in Patagonia

Freddie Wilkinson leads the way from Aguja Mermoz to Fitz Roy, whose enormous bulk fills the background. Photo by Dana Drummond, courtesy of Freddie Wilkinson.

No, not that traverse. 

New Hampsherites Dana “Mad Dog” Drummond and Freddie Wilkinson have done a superb three-day traverse of Aguja Guillaumet, Aguja Mermoz, and Fitz Roy by its North Pillar. The traverse was the culmination of three warm-up climbs, including two new routes or variations, completed during the incredible high-pressure system that settled over the Fitz Roy massif during the second half of January. 

“Mad Dog and I had four different successful climbs, but I really see them as part of a prolonged project that involved first doing our homework via a new route on Guillaumet, a new variation on Fitz Roy, and a free ascent of the Red Pillar on Mermoz, then linking all three summits in a single three-day traverse,” Wilkinson said in an email from Patagonia. 

Even the most casual observer of Patagonian climbing must be aware of the Torre Traverse, the Cerro Standhardt to Cerro Torre link-up that was attempted for two decades before Rolando Garibotti and Colin Haley completed it in January. By comparison, the Guillaumet–to–Fitz Roy traverse was a little-known plum, completed by relatively little-known climbers. But Garibotti praised Drummond and Wilkinson’s planning and tactics, and called their success a “very proud effort,” adding that it was the best of the many good climbs completed during the recent weather window. 

The Guillaumet–Fitz Roy Traverse: (from right to left) Aguja Guillaumet, Aguja Mermoz, Aguja Val Biois, Cerro Fitz Roy, and Aguja Poincenot. Photo by Rolando Garibotti.

Several days later, Crystal Davis and Max Hasson established another line on Fitz Roy’s north face. Their route climbed just right of Tehuelche on the lower buttress, joining the 1986 route two pitches before the Grand Hotel. Above the huge ledge system, the two climbed right of Tehuelche and just left of the Hoser Chimney. Davis estimated her route traveled about 1,000 meters of new terrain, and she and Hasson established it team-free, onsight, at 5.11 R. “With an independent start and harder, better climbing, I think their effort produced the finer line,” Wilkinson said. 

On January 28, Drummond and Wilkinson free-climbed the Red Pillar route on Aguja Mermoz (5.12b, Albert-Arnold, 1999), onsighting every pitch despite some wet rock. They thought the climbing was no harder than 5.11+. 

“Having climbed Guillaumet, Mermoz, and Fitz Roy, we began to consider linking the three formations in a single skyline traverse,” Wilkinson said. “We reckoned we’d need three days to pull of the enchainment, but the weather looked unsettled, with the forecast calling for two 30-hour spells of high pressure separated by a short windstorm with colder temps. Realizing that our only chance at the link-up was to sit out the unsettled weather somewhere in the middle of the traverse, we decided to go a little heavy on the bivy gear.” The two climbers borrowed a small tent and offset the extra weight by carrying no pins or bolts, and just one axe and a single pair of ultralight aluminum crampons. 

Starting on February 5, the two linked Guillaumet’s Brenner Ridge to the west face of Mermoz, an enchainment that had been done at least once before. They summited Mermoz around 6:30 p.m. and dug in for a stormy night. After waiting until noon the next day for the winds to diminish, they continued traversing toward Fitz Roy over previously untraveled ground, passing over Aguja Val Biois. Happily, Wilkinson said, “Whenever the route seemed to blank out, an appealing option waited on the other side of the ridge.” After half a day of traversing, they reached the base of Fitz Roy’s North Pillar (aka Goretta Pillar) and dug out another bivy ledge for their small tent. 

“Mad Dog and I had divided the leading duties according to our relative strengths: With more alpine route-finding experience, I had lead the ridge traverse from the summit of Guillaumet to the start of the North Pillar,” Wilkinson said. “The next morning, I unleashed the Dog, who’s spent the last two years living in Yosemite. From my perspective, the next 10 hours passed in a blur of wind-sprint jugging, belaying, and fast-action gear exchanges.” 

Dana “Mad Dog” Drummond (left) and Freddie Wilkinson on Fitz Roy’s summit after establishing the Hoser Chimney. Photo courtesy of Freddie Wilkinson.

Drummond led and short-fixed the entire Casarotto Route (5.10 A1, 1,200 meters) as if he were speed-climbing on El Capitan, and the two summited around 5:30 p.m. Drummond, a native of North Conway, New Hampshire, now living in Alaska, has had a remarkable year of climbing, including free ascents of the Regular Route on Half Dome, Freerider on El Capitan, and a one-day link-up of Half Dome and El Cap. Plus, of course, the two recent ascents of Fitz Roy. 

With their bivy gear still at the base, Drummond and Wilkinson had to rappel the North Pillar in the dark, with the seemingly mandatory stuck ropes and threatening winds, before slogging back down to base camp in light rain. 

Drummond and Wilkinson named their link-up the Care Bear Traverse (VI 5.11 A0), and Wilkinson credited their success to their decision to carry relatively cushy bivouac gear. “Traditional bivies aren’t very stylish these days,” he said, “but the extra comfort and rest it afforded us en route allowed us to chill out—and then attack.” 

Check in the next day or two to read Wilkinson's full report and see more photos.

Dates of Ascents: January–February 2008 

Sources: Freddie Wilkinson, Crystal Davis, Rolando Garibotti, Alpinist 5

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