Sunday, 22 December 2013

The little window, and the little wolf.

In my last post I shared a little about some of my favourite people and places in Chalten. Lobito is one of them. In a town FULL of dogs, Lobito is my favourite. He's a three year old German Shepard owned by our landlord, Lilly. Lobito means "little wolf" in Spanish, a fitting name for this wiry dog. After climbing a new route on January 5, to the yet unclimbed summit of Aguja Volonqui, we settled on the name Lobito for our route. Our favourite little doggy will now go down in the history books. 

On January 4 Colin and I hiked into the Marconi valley. Don't be fooled, this might be the longest one day approach in the Chalten massif. It goes on forever as you traverse Lago Electrico, and then turn the corner onto Glaciar Marconi, where you FINALLY get a glimpse of the Marconi peaks, Cerro Pollone, Cerro Piergiorgio, and Cerro Domo Blanco. It is understandable, with such a ridiculously long approach, that these peaks see little traffic from this side, but in my humble opinion, I have no idea why people are not climbing on the west face of Piergiorgio? Next to the Torre, this mountain may be the most impressive piece of rock here. The west face of Piergiorgio is almost 900 m of pure vertical stone. Seriously, why aren't people trying to free climb this thing? 

Anyways, we slogged up the glacier to the head of the valley and settled in for another god damned 2:30 am alpine start. We woke January 5 to high winds, but rallied anyways and began our approach to the base of Aguja Volonqui in the dark. We fought high wind, blowing snow, and deep trail breaking, but as drawn arrived we were treated to incredible views of Gorra Blanca and the Marconi peaks. I'm beginning to recognize a theme for me when it comes to alpine starts. I hate them, and always wake up with a frown on my face, but if I can push through the grumpiness of being cold and tired, by the time the sun comes up, I'm so psyched to be in such a spectacular setting that my enthusiasm for the day only grows with the rising sun. So, onwards and upwards. We arrived at the base of our chimney, racked up, and began climbing perfect "snice". This is a new term for me, I only recently learned that snice is a desirable climbing medium for the alpinist. I quite liked it too. And, in a narrow chimney, where rock protection is abounding, climbing snice is rather fun. One is almost always assured of good "sticks" -- this is another new ice climbing term I recently learned. 

We climbed six or seven pitches before arriving at the top of the chimney. Mixed in there was some snicey pitches, a couple steep pitches of vertical ice, and a few mixed pitches. It was all entirely enjoyable, with mostly rock gear abounding, though Colin had to hammer in a few pitons for protection on a couple pitches. Once at the top of the chimney we manoeuvred around several small snow fields and then gained the final summit ridge by climbing one last mixed pitch. The summit of Volonqui may be it's coolest feature. It was plastered in rime and resembled the summits it's big brothers, the Torres. This was also the closest I'd been to the ice cap, and I can confirm that it's very big! 

The descent was straight forward with a few rappels to gain snow slopes below the col between Volonqui and Colmillos Norte. Now all that remained between us and the glacier was down climbing 250 m of steep snow. Yes, this was indeed the thing I feared most about the whole climb. We made it down to the glacier and raced back to our tent with hopes of packing up camp and making it off the ice before darkness fell. 

Good fun was had by all, but in typical Patagonian style, I felt like I had to dig a little deep still. Somehow, when climbing in Patagonia, nothing ever feels easy. 

For the specific details of our new route, you'll find a topo and report here on Colin's website. And, I really do have to add, that you should go do it! It would be a perfect early season adventure to warm up for the big guys in the range.

Colin on the approach...

Meeting some Slovenian and Italian friends just before walking onto Glaciar Marconi. What a small world?

And there it all is! The incredible west face of Piergiorgio is on the left. 

Yours truly breaking trail as we approach Aguja Volonqui in the early morning hours.

A look back down the valley with the Marconi glacier far below, Marconi peaks visible on the left, and Gorra Blanca visible in the middle of the photo.

Colin racking up before entering the chimney. Cerro Torre is the pointy spire visible in the background.

Sarah following in the heart of the chimney.

A look up towards the steepest pitch of vertical ice.


Colin climbing the vertical ice pitch.

Me, following.

Me, climbing the trickiest pitch to protect. This was a pitch of thin ice, and Colin had to hammer in a few pitons to protect it.


In case you ever wondered what one does when mother nature calls mid-way up an alpine route.  Here, Colin gets comfortable in mother natures washroom.


Above the chimney, and climbing easy snow to a few more mixed pitches.

That's the Torres in the background. Colin looks very happy.


Colour in the mountains is so "in" right now. 

Looking back at Colin, in a cloud, from just below the summit. And hey, this is the first time anyone has tagged the top of this little peak!


The clouds open for us for just one moment while on the summit. The Patagonian ice cap is visible far below.  Word up Sebe, this one's for you!


A still happy alpinist as we begin our raps.


Now this is a cool photo! Me down climbing steep snow with the Torres visible in behind. I hate down climbing snow. I'm pretty sure I was whimpering quite loudly at this point.


Here's a close up photo of the Torres (L-R Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger, and Cerro Torre) looking really gnarly.


And, on our last day we ran out of food. Here's Colin looking oh so sad as he eats our last scraps of food for breakfast before we started hiking out.





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