Sunday, 10 March 2013

Zen, and the Art of Weather Forecasting

Colin and I returned from the mountains a few days ago, well, maybe more like five days ago. I've been a little tardy in sifting through the photos of this most recent adventure. But, if I do say so myself, there are a few good ones in here. At the beginning of the season Colin bestowed upon me his old camera. Well, one man's trash, is another woman's treasure, and this little camera and I have been getting along quite well.

This last window was a bit of a tease. We watched the forecast change multiple times, and finally, as I was about to go postal with boredom, the window locked down and we hiked into Niponino on Tuesday, February 26 hoping for the trifecta -- Aguja Bifida via Espolón NE, El Mocho via the Espolón Este, and Mojon Rojo round two.

We arrived at Niponino by 3:30 pm on Tuesday, and immediately began packing for Bifida. With the alarm set for 3:00 am, and our bodies coursing with Sleep II, we were ready to hit the sac. It wasn't long after that, that the rain started, and it wasn't long after the rain started, that it got harder, until finally, we were in a full on torrential downpour. This continued all night, and according to Colin this was one of the heaviest rains he's encountered on the Torre Glacier. Finally at 2:00 am, Colin got up, and reset the alarm. We most certainly would *not* be making it to Bifida that morning. 

After two more, "just to be sure the weather really is bad", alarms, we turned off the watch altogether and fell asleep for good. Waking at 10:00 am we couldn't see any of the peaks. Apparently, the weather forecast had changed dramatically since we started hiking into Niponino the previous morning. So, Wednesday was deemed a rest day, and we did stupid things around the tent for the better part of the day. Photographic proof is provided below. 

New plan, Thursday we would climb El Mocho, and let our other two objectives dry out a little after the day long deluge. El Mocho was my little prize, Colin let me lead us up the mountain, minus a short section where we ended up in a chimney system full of exfoliating, hard to protect climbing. I made Colin lead us through that part! All in all, it was a great day out, and getting to peer out over the south and east faces of the Torres from the summit of El Mocho was particularly memorable.

Friday, was another rest day full of ridiculous camp antics, and finally packing for Bifida, for real this time. The alarm went off at 2:00 am -- I'm getting pretty sick of 2:00 am alarms now. The skies were clear and so we headed out, and began the trudge up the Torre Glacier by headlamp.

At a brief water stop, I was kneeled over a small glacial stream filling my water bottle when I heard a loud crack, so loud, I think I felt it in my stomach. I looked up only to see a wall of rocks blazing red with the energy created as car sized boulders toppled against each other. My first response, as per  usual, was to scream and start running in the opposite direction -- recall if you will a similar incident while on the Tiedemann Glacier in the Waddington Range. Jeez, I really need to get a hold of myself here. Regardless, the thunder of hundreds of kilograms of rock falling towards the glacier was deafening and when the rock fall subsided a massive plume of rock dust began to fill the air. That was scary.

Without further incident we made it to the base of Bifida and our chosen line before light -- it was after all not light until 7:00 am, it's quickly turning winter here in the southern hemisphere! We climbed into the dawn light enjoying some fun crack pitches, but slowly realizing that we were off route. After a few more pitches involving some aid, and a lower off, we realized we had wasted a bunch of precious time, on these short autumnal days, climbing difficult technical terrain, when we should have been marching up low fifth class pitches. By the time we were back on route, the wind had been taken out of our sails, and it was a decision between continuing to the summit and accepting that we would spend the remainder of the night descending the mountain, or go down, and admit defeat.

We admitted defeat, but as we rapped we scoped the "true" route line, and there's no greater motivation than defeat. As we walked back to our tent at Niponino we made plans to rest another day, then have another go at Bifida and save Mojon Rojo for another time.

Unfortunately, the unsettled weather patterns continued and when we woke to our 2:00 am alarm on March 4, the not so subtle, Patagonian winds were blowing again. Our stay in the mountains was over, we hiked out that morning.

Back in town, I've gotten sick. There's yet another stellar climbing window on the horizon, but I may have to sit this one out. So, this possibly will be my last update from Patagonia. It's been a good haul. I'm completely psyched to return next season, but now, it's time to turn my attention to our next adventure -- I'm going to learn to ice climb, and we're spending the spring in Canmore, AB.

Hasta pronto El Chalten...


Packing our gear at Niponino.

That's not climbable -- the view from the tent on our first morning, after turing off the alarm.

This is what boredom looks like. Colin's photo.

...and this. Anybody who's spent time in Patagonia will appreciate this money shot of a Fruitgran's package. No trip to the mountains is complete without a massive stash of these bite sized morsels.

Fitz Roy, De la Silla, and Desmochada. Colin's photo.

Sarah leading low on El Mocho. Colin's photo.

Sarah leading out on El Mocho, with Fitz Roy behind. Colin's photo.

Sarah about to engage in some kung-fu trickery mid-way up El Mocho. Colin's photo.

Witness the trickery. Colin's photo.

Colin following mid-way up on El Mocho.

Sarah leading near the top of El Mocho. There's Fitz again! Colin's photo.

Colin, a self-professed "hydrochondriac" -- we made that one up -- is drinking from one of the small water filled natural bowls near the top of El Mocho.

Colin following, with the Torre Glacier far below.

Colin, and Fitz. I like this photo.

Colin arriving at the top of the rock climbing on El Mocho.

Sarah at the top of the rock climbing on El Mocho. I love this photo too. Colin's photo.

Sarah following Colin to the true summit of El Mocho. About 200 metres of snow to 35 degrees leads to the summit. Colin's photo.

Looking forward to the summit of El Mocho, with Colin, and the Torre's. 

Cumbre!

Pitch two of Bifida.

I'm psyched, but cold, as per usual. Colin's photo.

Colin leading up the delicious cracks we encountered low on the route.

Sarah following low on the route. Colin's photo.

Colin leading up.

Colin going up. 

Sarah following mid-way to our high point. Colin's photo.

Now the terrain is getting more complex. At this point we were off route. Cool climbing though. Colin's photo.

Things are getting more complicated now. Sarah setting up for the rap/lower out as we switched crack systems hoping to find the easier terrain we were sure existed. Colin's photo.

Back on route, Colin leads up some awesome cracks on the north face.

More cracks! We bailed 2 pitches above this.

Colin.

Sarah following the wicked north facing cracks. Colin's photo.

Sarah. Colin's photo.

The man and his mountains. 
Finally, a short clip of the clouds swirling off of Fitz Roy on the day we hiked out of the mountains. That's windy!

video