12/23/13 - In a season of "old Patagonia" conditions—frequent storms, high winds—American Colin Haley has been exploring less-visited peaks that allow climbing in marginal conditions, and has managed to complete two first ascents.
"For sure, most of the big goals that I dream about doing here are on the Torres, but most of those objectives require at least 36 hours of properly good weather, and many of them more like three or four days," Haley said. "So, when there's a 24-hour window of semi-good weather, should I head to something like Rafael or Guillaumet, which I've already climbed like nine times, or should I head to peaks I've never climbed on, which are wild and largely unexplored? Obviously, put that way the decision is easy!"
In early December, Haley and Sarah Hart climbed Aguja Volonqui via a new route called El Lobito (400m, AI4+ M5 A0). Volonqui is a peak above the South Marconi Glacier, which lies north of the Cerro Torre group and west of the better known Cerro Piergiorgio and Cerro Pollone. Britons Rab Carrington and Alan Rouse climbed the south side of the peak in 1976, stopping just a body length below top because of an unstable rime mushroom.
Haley and Hart climbed an ice gully left of the peak's east buttress on December 5, finding moderate mixed ground, a pitch of steep ice and several easier ice pitches, and an M5 lead onto the south ridge, just below the summit. Technically they did the peak's first ascent, though the changeable nature of Patagonian summit rime makes the "summit" a moving target.
Nearly two weeks later, during another brief weather window, Haley and Rolando Garibotti hiked back to the Marconi Glacier to attempt a line on Cerro Marconi Central that Haley had been coveting for the past year. La SuperWhillans (650m, AI3 M3; named for a similar formation on Aguja Poincenot) follows a ramp that slashes diagonally from right to left across the east face of Cerro Marconi Central. Haley had spotted the line last fall and hiked in with a partner to try it, but high winds sent them packing. In September, during a solo late-winter visit to Patagonia, Haley attempted the route twice but retreated in the face of dangerous snow conditions.
On December 18, Haley and Garibotti found excellent conditions on the route, which consisted mostly of 60° snow and ice, with some steeper ice and mixed terrain. In the process, they did the first ascent of the peak, which likely had only been attempted once before, by an Argentinean team, in 1966.
Haley said both of his new routes were interesting and fun, and that only their relative obscurity had kept them unclimbed until now. And he's not the only one exploring the Marconi peaks: Also in the Marconi area this fall, two Slovenian climbers did the first ascent of Aguja Dumbo, Haley added.
"One thing that is interesting about the Chaltén Massif is that there was very little climbing activity here before the 1950s, when technical climbing abilities had already risen to high standards," he said. "With climbers traveling a long ways to Patagonia and wanting to climb things more radical than they could close to home, historically the climbing here has been focused on the most improbable summits. The Torres and the Fitz peaks have seen tons of attention, and the surrounding mountains have been largely ignored, despite the fact that many of them would be very famous if located in the Alps, and all of them would be famous if located in the contiguous U.S."
Of note from the beginning of Haley and Hart's season: In November, Haley climbed Aguja Guillaumet twice in one day! Haley first soloed an ice line on the peak's east face and then descended to rejoin Hart, who was waiting at Paso Guillaumet, around 11 a.m. The two then climbed the peak via the Amy Route, with Hart leading the whole thing.
Dates of ascents: December 2013
Sources: Colin Haley, colinhaley.com, pataclimb.com