That One Time: The Ultimate Training Day

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Mayan Yuta Onoda Climbing Ilustration

Illustration: Yuta Onoda

It was warm and sunny, with no sign of the forecasted 110 mph winds. After three weeks in Torres del Paine, Patagonia was showing its true face. This was the best weather we would get for a while. Despite the forecast, Ines Papert and I decided to climb on our 38-pitch 5.13 big wall project, Riders on the Storm, on Torre Central. Maybe our luck would hold, we hoped. At 2 a.m., we struggled up the steep moraine, falling in invisible holes covered by a thin layer of snow. The glacier was worse—we didn’t have a rope and fresh whiteness blanketed the crevasses. We prodded across the steepening ground and sweated under the rising sun. I dug my broken sunglasses out of my backpack, hoping they would stay on my face with one arm. They didn’t last one step. It was like our plan for the day—an unrealistic hope.

Finally we reached our rope, which was anchored to a cam along with a bag full of ascenders and climbing gear, but it was all buried under nine feet of avalanche debris from the sloughing slab above. We had nothing to dig with but our bare hands. Ines didn’t hesitate. She dropped to her knees and dug like a puppy looking for its bone. We alternated over the next few hours, burrowing head first into the hole—just our boots sticking out the top. Finally we uncovered the pack, but the cam was frozen in place. Enraged at first, we cursed, then laughed uncontrollably at the ridiculousness before chiseling the cam loose.

We were behind schedule, but we slipped into our own worlds as we jugged 2,000 feet of frozen ropes. Dangling 1,500 feet off the glacier, Ines and I froze as a howling gust hit Torre Central. Our bodies crashed sideways into the wall, spinning like ragdolls.

By the time we reached the portaledge camp, it was impossible to stand up in the wind. One ledge was sailing like a kite, thrashing against the straps. I tried to secure it, but was thrown around with it instead. I glanced down at Ines; there was no question as to what we had to do. I fixed the ledge the best I could and we descended, fighting the wind all the way back to basecamp. At least we got some exercise.