Sneaking Past the Weather in Patagonia

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Climbing on D'Artagnan. Photo by Ben Erdmann.

In a season of traditionally nasty Patagonian conditions and fleeting weather windows, American Ben Erdmann is steadily ticking some big routes, including two ascents of Fitz Roy and the first ascent of a proud tower.

At only 26, Erdmann is spending his sixth season in Patagonia, the second partnered with Argentinean guide Tomas Mueller. In early December, the two climbed the Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy's west face in a single push from town: 36 hours non-stop. A week later, the two returned to Fitz Roy, this time on the northeast side, and blasted up the Afanassieff Route. After a bivy at the base, the two climbed the route, one of the longest on the peak, in 18 hours, reaching the summit at 10 p.m. They rappelled in the dark and walked out the next day.

Meanwhile, to the west of Fitz Roy, the international team of David Gladwin (UK), Kim Ladiges (AUS), and Kris Szilas (DK) was attempting a new route on the north face of a very steep tower on the right side of Cerro Domo Blanco's north face. This line had been attempted last season by an Argentinean-Spanish trio, but they bailed in the face of a wet offwidth four pitches up. This time, the climbers made it within a pitch of the top before running into an offwidth choked with ice, leading to a vertical ice smear.

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The line of D'Artagnan on Punta Los Tres Mosqueteros. Photo by Rolando Garibotti / Pataclimb.com.

Erdmann had just gotten down from his second trip up Fitz Roy when the three returned to town. "Both Dave and Kim have climbed before in the Kichatnas in Alaska [where Erdmann climbed a new route with Szilas and Jess Roskelley last April], and in our conversations we spoke of using all techniques to open a line there," Erdmann said. "It was obvious this line required some Alaska-style groveling, so without any convincing necessary, we decided to go back up with a full ice kit for the final pitch."

With one day of rest, Erdmann headed back with Gladwin and Ladiges to the tower dubbed Punta Los Tres Mosqueteros, for the three prominent pillars on the north face. Their new route, D'Artagnan (400m, 7a C1 M6), takes the corner system between the first and second pillars.

"The line was hard, sustained, and on fantastic granite," Erdmann said. "Kim led the far majority of the difficult rock, firing off the half-meter-wide, unprotectable, 30-foot offwidth [on the fourth pitch]. When we got to the final pitch, we found the ice-choked offwidth was now open and lined with verglas. I led up 50 feet, leapfrogging #4s to the base of the ice drip, plugged both, and rapped off. David suited up in the full Gore-tex, boots, crampons, screws, and tools, and went back up and sent the final 10 meters of dripping wet, sloppy ice to the summit."

Erdmann said his climbing had evolved through the years of trips to Argentina, from training for Patagonia to using Patagonia as training for other ranges. "My first years here I would prepare all year in anticipation of working on the style of climbing in the Fitz range: winter ascents of El Cap, the Bugaboos, the Alaska Range classic mixed lines. With the ascent of the Hypa Zypain the Kichatnas last April with Roskelley and Szilas, I realized a huge full circle of my aspiring alpine path, where the the style of Patagonia was brought home to Alaska. This is what excites me about climbing here. It's the refinement of that all-out, running-on-the-trails, move-before-the-weather-realizes-you-snuck-through style."

Erdmann returns to the Kichatnas with Roskelley this spring.

Sources: Ben Erdmann, pataclimb.com