FITZ ROY

Posted on: July 1, 2006


When Jon Walsh and I found ourselves at the Paso Superior bivy, the North (aka Casarotto) Pillar of Fitz Roy was backdropped by a blue and cloudless sky. The points on the barometer just kept creeping up, pushing our psyche with them. We couldn't wait any longer.

Crystal Davis-Robbins on Poincenot's Whillans-Cochrane Route (TD: 5.9 60 degrees, 550m, Whillans-Cochrane, 1962), which she and Jon Walsh climbed two days after Davis-Robbins made the first female ascent of the Kearney-Knight Variation (ED: 5.11 A0 60 degrees, 1200m, Kearney-Knight, 1984) to the Casarotto (aka North) Pillar on Fitz Roy. The twenty-three-year-old Davis-Robbins managed the pillar on her fourth attempt. [Photo] Ian Parnell

The season's day-and-a-half weather windows dictated our style: we would climb in one push until we were back at camp. We had our afternoon coffee at about 5 p.m. and were off. An hour and a half of hellish postholing through waist-deep snow and 400 meters of spicy mixed climbing up the approach pitches put us at the base of the route aroundmidnight. Endless cracks beckoned us in the moonlight. From the first moment I touched the granite, I felt a union with the rock. Although the cold and lack of sleep were hard to bear, hours later the sun rose over the El Chalten valley, painting the sky with passionate shades of red and marking the end of my block.

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A couple more blocks brought us to the summit of the Pillar. After two rappels and some scrambling, we reached the base of the last headwall, where only five more long pitches and 200 meters of mixed scrambling separated us from the summit. On the last pitch the notorious Fitz cloud suddenly engulfed us and within seconds everything was covered in frost. At 11 p.m., after climbing for twenty-seven hours straight, we were on the summit. A quick hug and shout of glory and we were on our way down.

Our plan was to descend the Franco-Argentine route that night, but the lack of visibility and our frozen ropes left us with no other option but to seek refuge until morning. We found a sheltered area under some boulders and violently shivered until just before sunrise when we started the complicated descent. The first few rappels went smoothly, but then we started getting pounded with snow and wind, and our visibility dwindled to a few feet. Suddenly we were lost in the middle of an overhanging wall, unable to find the anchors. So began a series of epic traversing rappels as we attempted to find the Franco-Argentine. Thinking that we were hundreds of feet from the base of the route, and with fatigue setting in, our spirits started to falter. Mid-rappel, frustrated by the tangled coils of rope dangling on his harness, Jon dropped them only to have them hit the glacier—the best surprise all mission! In just a few more hours, we were celebrating in our soggy cave of Paso Superior.

My obsession to summit the legendary Fitz Roy drove me through this long voyage. But looking back, I realize that the confrontation with fear and readjustment of my limits were what made me return home truly fulfilled.

Crystal Davis-Robbins, Durango, Colorado

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