June 1st 2012

A picture Story 3….

The seasonal migration of people in Chamonix is always a sad time but with the new season comes new psyche for the months ahead. I dropped my flat mate, Brendan O Sullivan, at the train station for the start of a epic year and a half of travelling; drank to the early hours with people I may never see again; and dropped my main climbing partner off at the airport for his two month work stint back home. The latter more than anything got me excited for the coming summer months as next time I see Will we will be in London packing furiously for the biggest trip of our lives- 7 weeks in the Charakusa Valley in Pakistan. So today’s image is based on that….because let’s be honest, expeditions rock.

It’s our first trip to Patagonia and as usual we’ve got big plans that never come to fruition. The weather dictates all. As a warm up we head into Cerro Standhart and do Exocet, maybe one of the most memorable days of my life. The next weather window beckons 10 days later but it gets narrower and narrower- we go from Plan A, to Plan B, to Plan C. You’ll never plan as much as you do in Patagonia. Eventually opting for a real adventure high up the Torres Valley we head into Niponino basecamp. There’s plenty of fresh snow about, not ideal.

The following day we’ve got to head to the very head of the Torres valley through deep snow, climb a mountain that we knew pretty much nothing about, and on a route that we actually knew nothing about. All with a fantastic Patagonian weather system chasing us. I think that’s what I loved about Patagonia at times like this- it favours the fast and light. Its exhilarating climbing.

The sunrise over Cerro Torre was beyond breathtaking, which was also the effect of breaking trail through, at times, waist deep snow for 6 hours. Quite the approach. The summits around us had started pluming, heralding the arrival of the storm, but we felt protected and had decided to climb until it wasnt possible to any more. The climbing took us up through Scottish 7 and A1 terrain on excellent granite; the rock architecture was incredible. Deep within a huge chimney like formation we were still enjoying the spectacular climbing and views whilst watching the clouds whip over the summit directly ahead.

The mountain we were on formed part of the first natural land barrier from the incoming storms off the Patagonian ice cap- we were on the other side so could not see what was coming until we got to this exact point. At my back is the Patagonian Ice Cap- at least thats where it should have been, replaced as it was with a huge cloud front as far as the eye could see. It comes in with such a force that you can almost see it crashing into this huge ridge line that we were standing on and ploughing up the walls towards us- the winds were out of this world.

But we’d made it, we’d done our second route and we were ecstatic. The weather window had been tiny and we’d gotten lucky with our choice. The descent is a whole other story though….

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book

Part of a series of picture stories by Jonathan Griffith