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AVELLANO TOWER

Posted on: September 1, 2006


I could never get comfortable with the eerie, thunderous sound as fragments of the hanging glacier tumbled into miles of scree. Although climbers have visited the Avellano base camp for the last three years, prior to Nacho Morales and Nacho Grez's complete ascent of the northeast prow, one day before ours, this fractured alpine granite held only one route (a mountaineers' line up the back side). On the northeast prow, however, four pitches had already been established to the top of a prominent pillar.

Brendan O'Neill (my boyfriend and climbing partner), Nacho Morales and I spent two rainy days assessing the objective hazards and weaving our way up fourth-class slabs and fifty-degree snowfields to find the most efficient approach route. When Brendan and I entered what was dubbed the "jaw," a section where the snowfield narrowed beneath the glacier's fall line, that thunderous crack of ice breaking pierced the air. Brendan, slightly ahead and above, cramponned quickly toward a rock outcrop. I ran toward him, and he screamed at me, "Plunge your axe!" The avalanche picked up speed, unleashing blocks of grit-filled ice. A toaster-sized one hit my left quadriceps.

At 3 a.m. the next morning Brendan and I could hear the "Nachos" stirring and preparing to make their bid at a new route. My leg throbbed. I couldn't climb this formation today. I tried to convince Brendan to go without me. He refused, insisting we were a team. That day was hard. We watched our friends climb higher up the tower, summit and descend slowly well into the night. They had completed their goal.

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That night, while we packed to leave early the next morning, the pressure held. We both knew such weather was rare, and even though my leg still bothered me, we tacitly agreed this was our only chance. When we woke for oats and coffee at 4 a.m., the Chilean climbers finally returned. We exchanged a few words, gave our congratulations and learned some details about their line; we wanted to avoid their route and establish our own.

As we approached, the pressure slowly began to drop again. Brendan and I decided that, however grim the swirling, gray clouds appeared, we wouldn't turn back until our hair was soaked. This determination set the tone for our ascent. We climbed quickly, leading and following every pitch clean, and when we were given the opportunity to choose the steepest crack, we did.

We began the technical climbing left of Avellano for the Summer in a grass-choked finger crack (5.10). After one more independent pitch, we climbed two established 5.9 pitches to the top of the pillar. When we moved out left from the pillar's summit, we were back in untouched terrain. An overhanging wide-hands crack took us closer to the east face. Brendan and I climbed directly through some roofs at 5.10c and continued up an unprotected 5.9+ offwidth. The climbing then became more sustained, mostly at 5.10+ with the occasional 5.11- crank.

We made the summit at 4 p.m. The descent was just as epic as we expected: our ropes got stuck on almost every pull. After freeing and retrieving them so many times, by the time we returned to camp at 1 a.m., Brendan had come close to climbing the tower twice.

Yet the fatigue and hunger made this day spent together, completing our dream, a gratifying one. Brendan describes the climbing as a combination of the Teton's broken nature with the Wind River Range's splitter sections. Although our route on the Avellano is not the same caliber as some of those on Fitz Roy, it's not a bad Dress Rehearsal (IV TD- 5.11-, 400m).

—Becca Roseberry, Jackson, Wyoming

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