FITZ ROY

Posted on: July 1, 2006


After two rounds of being flushed off the bolted cracks of Royal Flush (ED+: 5.12b A1, 950m, Albert-Arnold-Gerschel-Richter, 1995) on the east face of Fitz Roy, Tommy Caldwell and I decided wetness is the mountain's way of frowning on the route's excessive bolts. The line pisses with water on most warm days, and is coated in ice the rest of the time. The joke is on us, since the climb was bolted to make it "accessible," and yet it is only in condition once every few years.

Tommy Caldwell and Topher Donahue getting that alpine glow during the FFA of Linea di Eleganza (VI 5.12+, 1250m) on the northeast face of Fitz Roy. The route was established in 2004 by the Italo-Argentine team of Elio Orlandi, Lua Fava and Horacio Codo, with Fabio Giacomelli, in seven days. Donahue, Tommy Caldwell and Eric Roed managed to onsight the first free ascent in fifty hours to the summit. [Photo] Irene Beardsley

We turned our attention to the Linea di Eleganza (VI 5.11b A3 90 degree M7, 1250m, Codo-Fava-Orlandi, 2004) on the northeast face of Fitz Roy and recruited Erik Roed for an optimistic recon. After a rainy night we started late and found quality rock climbing right off the glacier. Carrying no bivy gear seemed like the best strategy with two people jugging after the leader climbed free. We led in blocks on excellent rock, mostly 5.10 and 5.11 crack and face climbing with a few harder sections. On the lower half of the climb, we discovered too many signs of the siege-style first ascent: fixed ropes hanging everywhere, bits of garbage and tattered equipment sitting on ledges. We learned later that the first-ascent team also left two huge bags full of trash at the popular high camp of Paso Superior. The line was visionary, but the rubbish was horrendous.

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Around sunset we found a steep finger crack on an arete that we hoped would be the crux. Tommy dispatched it with a mighty effort and a pump that I'm not sure Erik or I would have endured. Night found us halfway up the wall, climbing hard by headlamp on the massive face. The midnight crux involved runout and devious face climbing to avoid a difficult aid pitch, and an overhanging corner laced with ice that I led with an ice tool and rock shoes, stemming and smearing with one hand and tooling past smears and ice-filled cracks. Shortly before sunrise a route-finding error forced a rappel to a small ledge where we stopped to melt snow and hydrate until we could see where to go. The sun was a welcome motivator that got us climbing quickly. Our recon turned into a hell-bent summit push.

Lucky for us, the second half of the climb was easier but the route finding remained tricky. High clouds and increasing wind fueled our depleted bodies and we made it to the summit by midafternoon. As we milled around trying to decide where to descend, Bean Bowers stuck his head over the top. Like a devilish guardian angel he led us to the rappels and likely saved us hours of wandering.

Details are a bit vague because it all blends into a frenzied blur, but the second ascent of the Linea di Eleganza went down in a single-push free climb at 5.12+ and M7 in about thirty pitches in fifty hours round-trip from the Rio Blanco base camp.

Topher Donahue, Nederland, Colorado

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