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Posted on: July 1, 2006
Many believe that the climbing in Patagonia has changed. The era of uncertainty as one waits for good weather has been defeated by the new God who knows all: the Internet. The Internet allows meteorologists to give prognostics of the week's forecast from 15,000 kilometers away. The guru consultant of the Huber brothers predicted two days of good weather, with strong winds from the west. Tuesday, January 31, 2006 was to be good, and the next day even better.
On January 30, Fitz Roy, the "smoking mountain," woke up dressed in white. A thick veil covered the entire east face. Not even a week of good weather would be enough to clear the peak. The west face, exposed directly to the wind, did not appear promising either. Edemilson Padilha, Valdesir Machado (Brazilian) and I (Argentine) had been thinking about the Casarotto Pillar for a year, but after witnessing the weather, we gave up on our plans.
Under these circumstances the choice of route would be the defining factor as to whether or not we would succeed. We knew that almost all of the parties attempting Fitz Roy were climbing the Franco-Argentine route, with the exception of a few parties lining up for the Casarotto Pillar and one party on the Royal Flush. The thirty people in Paso Superior made it feel less like an inhospitable, savage place, and more like a Refugio in Chamois.
Sometimes to have a completely rigid plan is not the best strategy for Patagonia. Being open to change can make the difference between returning home satisfied or frustrated. Luckily, that morning, we met with Roberta Nunes, whose description of the 1700 Afanasseiff route infused us with energy and opened a door to a beautiful dream.
Edemilson, Valdesir and I had climbed together multiple times and shared the same preference in style: fast and light. We packed nine cams, three sets of Stoppers, bivy sacks, a stove, food for three days and two ropes. We intended to climb to the summit via the Afanasseiff Route and descend the more protected, shorter, and safer Franco-Argentine route.
As we came upon the bivy of Super Canaleta, strong winds spun clouds around Fitz. It seemed likely this outing would turn out to be no more than a trek around the glacier. There wasn't a single indication we would be able to climb the next day. The three Americans we encountered in the bivy were quite surprised to see us arrive and even more surprised to find out that we had the same objective. In the following days, there would be two teams simultaneously climbing on the Afanassieff route—quite a coincidence for a route that had not been repeated since 1979, when it was first climbed by Guy Abert, Jean and Michel Afanassieff and Jean Fabre.
We started climbing at dawn. We were a little hesitant due to the length and remoteness of the route and the fact that we lacked a proper topo, but as soon as we touched the rock all of our doubts evaporated. We simul-climbed until mid-day, when a 400-meter vertical section forced us to pitch it out. Pitch by pitch, daylight dwindled, and we started to look for a protected place to bivy and brew up. During the climb the clouds had hung low on the ice cap, but by evening our luck started to change. A mass of clouds coming from the west covered the Cerro Torre and rolled our way at a terrifying speed. Patagonia continues to be "Puta-gonia" with its schizophrenic and unpredictable weather. The idea of being able to call by satellite phone to a meteorologist and receive an exact forecast for the week continues to be a utopian dream.
The following morning no one said a word but we all knew that a little snow or rain could turn this day into one of our worst. We were under the impression that we were high on the mountain, and that we had left our point of return far below. If you get trapped in a wolf's mouth, sometimes the only way out is to push on and exit the rear, so we continued climbing through the sea of clouds. Our calculations predicted we would top out by noon, but verglas and fatigue slowed us considerably. According to Egui's altimeter, we were almost at the summit, but it was nowhere to be seen.
Around 7 p.m., after climbing for 36 hours, the sun set over the Pacific, the clouds opened, and we scrambled the last few steps to the summit of the mythical Chalten. Compared to the ascent, the descent felt easy: the clouds dispersed, the wall protected us, and the rappels showed up just in time. Only a few hundred tugs of the rope and we found ourselves on the glacier.
It's clear that luck played an important role in our ascent, but the union within our team, mental preparation, and confidence in each other are what kept us climbing.
Gabriel Otero (Translated from the Spanish by Crystal Davis-Robbins and Rolo Garibotti)
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