December 1st 2010

Patagonia- Exocet Chimney and Cerro Standhart

So I finally have time to update the blog properly….

We arrived in el Chalten, Patagonia, 2 weeks ago and it’s been a real experience so far. The weather out here really is as bad as everyone thinks- wella ctually it doesnt rain too much but the wind in incessant. Makes tent life a bit noisy when there’s a gale going on outside. However within a few days we had been up and started stocking our Base Camp which was at the head of the morrain right below Cerro Torre. We never got to see anything though as the clouds envelop the Torres pretty much all the time.

After a week, a two day weather window reared its head and we headed up with the classic Exocet Chimney on Cerro Standhardt as our objective. Having not managed to see anything mountainous yet we decided to get on Exocet just to give us something to get our heads into Patagonian climbing.

Walking into Base Camp was amazing as we got our first glimpse of Cerro Torre from afar and whilst it kept dipping in and out of clouds for the rest of the day we got to sit directly below it and marvel at how amazing it is. You can easily get distracted with the views of the Torres from the glacier floor but on the other side lies Fitz Roy and its satellite peaks. a Huge escarpment of red granite that towers overhead.

Cerro Torre, one bitching looking mountain

A Room with a view….

The Fitz Roy Range

2am and we head off under a half moon. The Torres infront and above us shine red in the moonlight whilst the Fitz Roy massif casts a dark shadow over the glacier at our backs.

On the approach to Cerro Standhardt (just up and right of Will)

1200m of approach on perfect snow and a couple of photos brings us a few hours later to the Col Standhardt. Here we get our first view of the impressively huge Patagonian Ice Cap.

Geared up and we get on with our first taste of Patagonian climbing. Will takes the first block lead and after a couple of memorable pitches we start a long traverse over snow ramps to the base of a really obvious deep chimney that forms the Exocet Chimney.

That day, Exocet proved very popular choice due to the short weather window and we found ourselves surrounded by real Alpinists. The kind of climbers who have combined the European strength of top end climbing technique and ability and the American strength of being a really tough bastard. Makes for a good alpinist. Ahead of us Colin Haley was rope-soloing the route, behind us Bjørn-Eivind Årtun and Robert (second name?). On a route on Cerro Egger to our side was Simon Anthamatten and Michi Lerjen. Surrounded by such strong teams I couldnt help but feel a little privileged to see them all at work- you cant actually comprehend how light and fast these guys are.

On the first pitch of Exocet

The second mixed pitch

Sunrise over Fitz Roy

Heading into the snow ramps, Fitz Roy behind

Snow Ramps…

Approaching the short ice pitch that brings you into the chimney proper, Fitz Roy behind

Short but very wet ice pitch that leads into the Chimney

Short but very wet ice pitch that leads into the Chimney

The meat of thee route starts here with three very long and sustained ice pitches that culminate in a WI6 crux pitch. I’m not sure if it was WI6 but my forearms were exploding by the end of it all and arriving on the summit ridge was incredible.

Myself in the chimney, © Will Sim

Will on the first pitch

Arriving at the belay

Getting stuck into the second pitch, © Will Sim

High up on the third ice pitch, © Will Sim

Will arriving at the belay after the third pitch

Short mixed section before the summit mushroom, © Colin Haley

Still no wind and only a short mixed section and snow traverse would bring us to the base of our first Patagonian Ice Mushroom. The kind of thing you see in alpinist Magazine but was now right in front of us, humbling.


Stitch of three shots from the summit ridge

The Mushroom only gets a grade of WI3 so its nice and easy but wow what a summit. Cerro Torre and Egger feel like only a stones throw away and the ice cap covers as far as the eye can see. Looking back towards El Chlaten and it’s the opposite with lush greenery and lakes. All in all an amazing place to be right then and maybe one of the best things I’ve climbed for all round ‘wow’ factor.

The ‘other summit’- Cerro Egger and Torre behind

Will (LHS) and Jon (RHS) on the summit, Cerro Torre and Egger in the background

Stitch from the summit of the ice cap and Cerro Torre and Egger behind

We were on a real high after doing our first Patagonian route, Exocet, and eager for our next weather window to arrive. It took a while but about 10 days later a very short 24 hour window materialized and we headed up to our base camp. Our original plan was to head up the infamous Supercaneleta on FitzRoy but as we got closer and close to the weather window it started deteriorating fast and we realised that Supercaneleta was definitely off the cards. Added to this was the fact that it had snowed alot even down to town in the days preceding it and it was time for Plan B.

Looking up a snowy Torres valley. Our objective in the very distance

Our plan B was to head up to the far end of the Torres Valley and try on of the peaks up there. When we first walked up we saw them far away in the distance and thought how awesome it would be just to head up there and try one of them. We didnt actually seriously consider it at the time as we were focused on our other plans but plans change and we found ourselves packing for the East Face of Cerro Piergiogio. We knew practically nothing about it though. The route had only had one ascent many many years ago using fixed ropes and we couldnt actualy see the route itself so had no idea whether it would be hard mixed or ice or snow. All that we knew was that it had a seciton of A1 in it.

Cerro Piergiorgio and the East Face route

The next day dawned perfectly and we got some incredible views of the Torres in the morning light from higher up the valley. Photographers dream.

Cerro Torre in all its glory

The Torres in the morning light

The slog up to the end of the valley was a big one. The fresh snow fall really slowed us down and by the time we neared the start of the climb it became almost impossible to wade through it. Nevertheless, a sweaty 6 1/2 hours later and the approach was over. Above us the route revealed itself and it looked awesome.

Deep snow wading, Cerro Torre in the distance © Will Sim

Horribly deep powder snow beneath the shrund, © Will Sim

By this time though the wind had seriously started to pick up and the peaks around us were pluming in the strong westerlies that had not been predicted to come back into force until later on that day. Conscious of this we headed on into the depths of the climb with our eyes scanning the sky around us for the inevitable cloud mass that would start pouring over our mountain from the Ice Cap. Thankfully in the huge ‘chimney’ that formed the meat of the climb we were pretty well shielded from the wind and with the sun at our backs we started the fun part.

The meat of the climbing starts just right of the Gendarme on the left of the photo, © Will Sim

The first pitch was really nice free climbing with bomber gear and great hooks and feet. It really felt like classic Chamonix style mixed climbing with some fun little moves but never too hard. A good warm up first pitch. The setting was incredible though with Fitz Roy and the impressive Supercaneleta to our backs. A really amazing place to be, made even more special by the fact that we knew how few people had ever ventured here.

On the first pitch

The second pitch was the aid pitch. Two thin cracks cut through the vertical granite wall above providing good gear placements and a pretty fast aid pitch. The weather was still holding out which was amazing so we pressed on.

The Aid pitch

High up on the aid pitch

Exiting the aid pitch

The third pitch formed the crux at a bold Scottish 7 for a few moves at the top. Starting up some rather awkward moves and you get lead into the depths of a rotting chimney with a thin ice smear on one of the walls at the top. The crux moves are transferring onto the ice where the feet suddenly run out and you find yourself campusing up on very thin ice in a very narrow squeeze.

The last hard pitch

By now the weather was definitely coming in. The wind was whipping over the summit just above our heads and as we traversed across 60m on a horizontal ice pitch the ice cap started to come into view and we could see a massive sea of clouds rolling our way. Already they were starting to pour over the Standhardt col not too far away from us…so we got our skates on.

2 more pitches of ice smears later and we arrived at the summit col.

Calf burning traverse with Fitz Roy massif in the distance

Nice ice smears to the summit, © Will Sim

Just below the summit with the clouds already covering part of Cerro Torre

All around us there were potential summits but there is no general agreement over which one it is yet as they all look the same height (about 20m above the summit col).

Summit’- windy and clouds rolling in from behind. Fitz Roy and Supercaneleta in the background

We had read that the first true ascent of the mountain was via a snow mushroom so we climbed up the only snow mushroom we could see given the cloud cover around us. From further inspection it doesnt look like this is the heighest of the peaks on offer so I am not sure that we did technically summit the mountain but with the weather coming in fast we definitely didnt have the time to climb all of them to make sure.

A moody Cerro Torre

Quick summit photos and we set up the first abalakov. That was when the weather broke. It’s one thing being in Scotland and complaining about the weather and wind but when it’s windy in Patagonia you have to experience it to believe it. Then you have to add the fact that we were up at the far end of the Torres Valley and that it had taken us 6 1/2 hours just to get to the base of the climb. We still had to rap the thing and get out in what was quickly looking like a total white out, oh and of course we werent sure whether this was going to be another 5 days of horrible weather or just a brief storm.

Rapping down in the bad weather

In any case the raps went well and we didnt get any stuck which was a real godsend. Two raps above the shrund and I managed to rip out part of my nose with an abalakov hook- it’s similar to if you pulled a nose piercing right though the bottom of your nose and out. Nice.

It was really miserable at the shrund. The wind was gusting from all directions around us and I was bleeding still all over the place. All the fresh snow fall from the previous few days combined with this wind meant that we could barely see in front of us for all the snow in the air. This could have been a major concern bearing in mind that the next couple of miles of glacier involved a very serac threatened path- amazingly enough though we could just make out a very faint track that we had put in that day and we started legging it down. By the time we hit Sitting Man’s ridge we seemed to be out of the worst of it and a couple of hours after that we arrived in base camp.

Approaching Sitting Man’s Ridge, © Will Sim

All in all a pretty amazing day and we were glad for it. It turned out that our Plan B was quite a bit harder and longer than we had anticipated but it felt really great to head out into the unknown like that and get our second route done in Patagonia already. We are off on Sunday but it looks like there might be one more chance to climb on Friday, fingers crossed.

Almost there!

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book