Brilliant New Ice Route in Patagonia

Joel Kauffman starting up the final pitches of Super Domo in Patagonia.

Joel Kauffman starting up the final pitches of Super Domo in Patagonia. Photo by Mikey Schaefer.

1/13/14 - The 2013/2014 Patagonian climbing season has mostly been unproductive. Bad weather has kept climbers in town most of the time, and has hampered the majority of attempts. The January 2 weather window offered more of the same, with two notable exceptions.

Mikey Schaefer and brothers Joel and Neil Kauffman put up a beautiful new ice line on Cerro Domo Blanco, a peak in the Torre Valley. Crafty timing and route selection—choosing an east-facing route on a low peak to avoid the strong west winds that howl off the Patagonia ice cap—was an important part of the group’s success.

In order to catch the best weather, which was forecast to happen late in the day, the trio crossed the bergschrund at 8 a.m. on January 2. Schaefer took the first lead block, leading the first of three couloirs. Joel Kauffman took the next two couloirs, taking them onto the summit snow slopes exactly 12 hours after crossing the bergschrund. They climbed eight pitches (500 meters) of entirely new ground—crossing over the 2007 route La Suerte Sangrienta—and found difficulties to WI5 M5/6. At 9 p.m., an hour after unroping at the top of the technical difficulties, the group was sharing high-fives on the summit. They named their route Super Domo, after a flavor of ice cream sold at a shop in El Chaltén.

“We were just amazed at how lucky we were,” Schaefer said of the route. “A lot of people got hosed in the same window. Usually as soon as you start a route in Patagonia you want it to be done and have it behind you. We just wanted it to keep going.”

When another short, cold window appeared in the Fitz Roy group about a week later, four separate parties repeated Super Domo, all of them reaching the summit on January 10. Patagonian legend Rolando Garibotti called it "the funnest climb I have done down here."

Trout leading p1

Coleman Blakeslee leading the crux first ice pitch of Rimestorm Cowboys. Photo by Scott Bennett.

If crafty timing and route-selection was the key to Schaefer and the Kauffmans’ success, pure motivation is what got Scott Bennett and Coleman “Troutman” Blakeslee up their new route to the col between Punta Perfil de Indio and Aguja Bífida, in the Torre Valley. Even though it was snowing heavily with low visibility, Blakeslee and Bennett decided they “could go cragging even in bad weather” and so started up their route around 8 a.m. on the morning of January 1. After climbing approach couloirs up to 70°, the pair arrived at the base of a pitch of steep water ice. Feeling that the climbing was something reminiscent of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where Blakeslee lives, he took the sharp end and led the 95° pitch, weaving through icy daggers. Blakeslee stretched their 80m rope to the knot, calling it the “craziest pitch [he’d] ever led.”

The pair then simul-climbed a snow slope and stepped into an adjacent gully, doing a short, tricky mixed traverse (M5) before an easier gully (WI3) led to the col. At this point they reached the north ridge of Perfil de Indio, first climbed in 1990 by Tommy Bonapace and Toni Ponholzer and rated 6a. The Americans followed this ridge to the summit, with three pitches of rime-coated rock. The final "pitch" was a wild 150 meters of simul-climbing with only the rope weaving through rime mushrooms as pro, which inspired the name of the route: Rimestorm Cowboys (WI5+ M6). They summited in a storm and made four 40m rappels into the Standhardt col, from where they walked back down to camp at around 7 p.m. It is believed, though this cannot be confirmed, that this is the second ascent of the route and of the peak.

Continuing their burst of motivation, Bennett and Blakeslee, joined by Brit John Crook, took advantage of the good weather on January 2 to make an unlikely ascent of Exocet on Cerro Standhardt, climbing all night to summit early on the 3rd.

Dates of ascents: January 1–3, 2014

Sources: Mikey Schaefer, Scott Bennett