Sunday, 19 January 2014

The end.

It feels weird to write, "the end", but I guess it kind of is. Chapters 30 through 32 of my life are over. Like all good stories, these chapters were full of romance, international adventures, and a few life lessons. 

Mountains and romance are a beautiful combination.

The man I love.
A couple of note worthy adventures, including the first ascent of Mojon Rojo's west face in southern Patagonia.

The look of someone who's learning a couple life lessons.

Chapter 33 is already well underway. I've started sharing emails with a potential employer. An amazing job opportunity may have just fallen into my lap. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd return from two years of unemployed dirt-bagging to a new house, my new roommates moved me in while I was still in Argentina, and a new job!

I'd be lying to myself if I didn't say I was scared though. I'm terrified, of settling down, of becoming a weaker climber, of missing out on adventures with Colin, of failing at my job. But perhaps, for me, fear is what motivates. As I think about chapter 33, I can feel a familiar firey motivation begin to build. Certainly, this next chapter will include more sweet romance, and some hard sending, but for the first time in two years, it will hopefully include some career successes, and good times with old friends. Alright, who am I kidding, the next chapter is going to be awesome.

But, before I jump feet first into my next beginning, I should recount the last few weeks in Patagonia. They were good ones, made all the better by the knowledge that I may never experience this place in the same way again.  

Our apartment was always full of some kind of gathering of the bro's. Here, Tad, Joel, Neil, Jason, and Colin talk about important matters pertaining to some east-faces, and north-faces. 

To wait out the bad weather in the mountains, we embarked upon some expedition style bouldering. If you look closely you'll count eight crash pads!

And, naturally, when a bunch of alpine climbers go bouldering, things get a little "technical".
This season I intended to do a little climbing with Colin, but also spend some time climbing with Dörte Pietron, the girlfriend of Rolando Garibotti, who was Colin's primary climbing partner for this season. How perfect! Shortly after Dörte arrived to Chalten, another small climbing window appeared in the meteorgram. After being told exactly what to climb by our boyfriends -- I think they just can't help themselves -- we began packing for a proposed mission to traverse Aguja Guillamet into Aguja Mermoz with one bivy on the south end of Guillaumet. In theory it sounded like a super fun idea. But, upon arriving to the climbers bivy, Piedra Negra, on the west side of Guillamet, we realized that our rock climbing asperations may have been ill-founded. It was cold. It was so cold, that the rime ice plastered on the north -- sunny side -- of Fitz Roy from the last bad weather cycle, hadn't even melted off the mountain yet!

That night we curled up in our tiny double sleeping bag and set our alarm. It didn't take long for it to become apparent that we were't going to sleep much that night, and that we hadn't brought a warm enough sleeping bag. I shivered all night, and then we proceeded to sleep through our alarm. Alright, time for plan B. So, we rallied for a day climb up the Comesaña-Fonrouge on the west-side of Guillaumet, but as we hiked to the base, we were stopped short when Dörte had to sit down for fear that she might throw up! Motivation slowly drained away after that, and we turned around to hike back out to town. 

In the end though, our foray into the mountains was not wasted. After caching our gear at Piedra Negra, we were approached by a woman who'd just hiked up from town. She informed us that a rescue was being organized for two Swedish climbers. The two women had apparently fallen roughly 300 m roped together to the base of Fitz Roy's Supercanaleta! So, immediately, plans shifted from climbing, to being as available to assist in the rescue as possible. 

I'd come to know the two Swedish women, Hanna and Hanna, and felt sick to my stomach to learn about the nature of their injuries and the urgency in which they needed medical attention. In southern Patagonia there is little to no hope of helicopter rescue in the case of an emergency. All rescues must be completely by human power alone. So, when a climber is injured in the mountains, the whole town of El Chalten rallies together to assist. In the end 50 locals and visiting climbers joined forces to carry the Hanna's out of the mountains and down to the road, and a waiting ambulance. Climbers first reached the girls in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 18, and after an enormous rescue effort, they were transported into waiting ambulances by 4:00 am Dec. 19, a 24 hour rescue mission. 

The impressive effort was orchestrated by the local Search and Rescue team, and they executed the safe and efficient transport of the girls amazingly. The girls were very lucky indeed, and it was an all-to salient reminder for the rest of us that, Patagonia is not a place you want to make mistakes. Self-rescue is mandatory. 

A view of (L-R) Guillaumet, Mermoz, and Fitz Roy from the climbers bivy, Piedra Negra.

Girl Force, me and Dörte. 

Evidence of the less than ideal rock climbing conditions. The top half of Fitz Roy remained coated in rime ice throughout the day, when typically, it would melt off once warmed by the sun.

The rescue gets underway. The girls were each belayed down from Paso Cuadrado on two 100 m static ropes to the rock island where about 25 of us waited to help with the transport of the girls the remaining distance to the road.

Two people carried the litter as it was belayed down. Improbable as it seemed, it worked quite well, and there were enough big guys around to rotate out quite frequently, especially as everyone started to get tired midway through the night.

Here Hanna R. has a few layers added, and is tucked tightly into the litter before nightfall. Both girls were in really rough shape, but were such troopers.

After recovering from the all night rescue mission, we festered in town for another week. Finally, on Christmas eve, Patagonia gifted us a scant eight hours of reasonably good weather. Gun shy from our last attempt in the hills, we decided to aim small, just so we had a fighting chance of getting some nice views from a summit. Dörte, Carolina and I made a girls-only trip to Cerro Electrico. According to Colin, the easiest summit to access as a day trip from town. 

The weather report seemed to indicate that the weather window would break down by 2:00 pm on Dec. 24, so we decided to start our day at 3:30 am from town, and race for the summit. Turns out, it was the perfect objective for a weather window that was really not a weather window at all, and we may have been the only ones to make it to a summit on this day. I recommend it to anyone visiting Chalten that wants to get into the hills with little commitment. And hey, it's a pretty nice view from the summit too. 

Yours truly taking a break as the sun comes up.

The sun finally hits us.

This image, taken from Pataclimb.com, shows the orientation of Cerro Electrico to the rest of the Fitz Roy massif.


Dörte, and Caro put on crampons as we start the glacier walk.

Caro, and I scoping our route to avoid the seracs on the right.

And then the weather began to breakdown. The sun remained out, but the winds became quite fierce. 

We fought the winds all the way to the summit, and even had a few moments where we thought we should reconsider our plans for fear that we might be blown down the steep hard snow we'd just ascended.

Looks extreme!

But, the views are awesome. 

And to reach the summit, 50 m of fun couloir and rock scrambling had to be ascended.

Caro follows up the little couloir.

(L-R) Mojon Rojo, Aguja De L'S, Aguja St. Exupuery, Poincenot, Fitz Roy, Aguja Mermoz, and Aguja Guillaumet.

Dörte, Caro, and I on the summit.
Over Christmas Colin's Dad, Jeff, and his wife, Carol, joined us in Chalten. So, naturally, we needed to fete their arrival, and celebrate ol' Saint Nic. We did so by inviting 30 of our buddies over, and making empanadas. A pertinent piece of information to this story, is that our apartment is the size of most living rooms, and that we didn't actually invite 30 people. But, that's how we all role in Chalten.

People start showing up...

And then, more people show up...

Soon we have an empanada making assembly line!

Then people start hanging from the ceiling...

And occupying the stairs...

And then the stupid human tricks start. Thankfully this was after the majority of the people had left.

The evidence of a climbers party is unmistakable.

Another week of shit weather passed by, while I got fatter on empanadas, and then finally the meteorgram showed another tiny blip of good weather. Everyone in town made a mad dash for the hills, and Dörte and I decided to aim small again, not wanting to get blown off of anything. We decided on another day trip from town, this time to Mojon Rojo. Recall if you will, last season, Colin and I made the first ascent of the west face of this mountain. From it's west side, there's 700 m of amazing crack climbing, from it's east side, it's an entirely pleasant 200 m scramble with a little summit boulder problem. 

To make things more interesting, we didn't leave town until 12:00 pm, and raced for the summit, returning to town by 11:30 pm. I call this alpine strategy the Alpine Finish. Not too shabby. I think we're getting pretty fit now!

What a novel idea, approaching our route in the mid-day sun! I love that!

The shadows get longer as Dörte scrambles that last few metres to the summit ridge of Mojon Rojo.

Now this is a view I'm familiar with...

Almost a year ago, Colin and I found ourselves in the same spot after completing the first ascent of Mojon Rojo's west face. Here's a photo from that day. I'm visible belaying from a stance along the knife edge ridge traverse to Mojon Rojo's final summit pyramid.

I love this picture of Dörte!

A shot from near the tippy top.

In a moment of blind enthusiasm, I soloed the final ten metre boulder problem to Mojon Rojo's true summit. Last year, with Colin, I made us rope up for this. I guess things have changed a little?

Two days later, I was getting antsy to get on another mountain, since I was scheduled to go home in just a few more days. Dörte was battling a cold that she'd acquired after our day trip, so I begged Colin to join me on one last mission. OK, I really didn't have to beg him at all, he's always game. Which is one of the things that makes him so much fun.

This time though, I was the one making the plans, and I told him we should go climb the east side of Aguja De L'S, since I'd just been up there -- Mojon Rojo is right beside it -- and I had plenty of photographic documentation of it's current conditions. We made plans to hike that night and bivy in a little cave beside Laguna Sucia, then blast to the summit from there the following day. Again, it should be noted that we were going climbing in a non-window. Last season, we would have never even given this day a second thought as a possible climbing day. It was forecasted to blow very hard, and indeed, it did. For the first time in my life, I witnessed rappel ropes thrown down the mountain, not fall down the mountain at all, but rather blow straight back up at us!

The route we climbed was short and easy in comparison to any of the other "real" climbs in the range, but in marginal conditions, it made it considerably more exciting! Miraculously, most of the climb was sheltered from the storm that raged on either side of the mountains east face, and it wasn't until we rounded the last corner to the summit that we were hit by a perverbial semi-truck of wind. 

It was the perfect last adventure in a season of very bad weather, and was made all the more special because I got to share it with the one I love, Captain Safety.

Once we made it to our cave bivy -- and by "cave bivy", I literally mean we crawled into our double sleeping bag under the shelter of a cave -- we broke out the empanadas. There was some serious negotiating around this one. Colin insisted we not bring a stove, and instead eat cold empanadas for dinner, then hunker down into our freezing cold cave. I was not easily convinced. So we negotiated that we'd take the double sleeping bag. Colin hates sleeping in that thing, but I LOVE it. I can steal all of Colin's heat from him to warm myself all night. That's relationship compromise at it's best!
If you didn't already know, Colin loves empanadas.

Home sweet, Cave.

All bundled into our double sleeping bag. A girls best friend.

I photo-bombed this one.

(L-R) Aguja De L'S, our chosen objective, Aguja St. Exupery, and Poicenot.

I love this photo. Colin approaches the mountains.

Uncoiling the ropes at the base of our route.

Colin across the bergshrund, and leading up the simul-climbing terrain.

Your truly following. 

Colin leading up the first belayed pitch.

The weather begins to really breakdown while Colin belays me up the start of the second block of simul-climbing.

Me simuling to the base of the summit pyramid and the crux of the route.

Colin following to the base of the summit pyramid, with Laguna Sucia, and our cave bivy, visible far below.

Me following the first pitch of the summit pyramid.

Colin leading the crux ice filled flared chimney. Yikes!

Me following the flare.

Colin leading the last pitch to the summit.

Me following to the summit. It was starting to get REALLY windy now.
And here's the proof, a short, and crappy clip of me tagging the summit in the gale force winds...
video


Summit shot.

Notice if you will, the rope being blown into space as Colin starts the first rappel from the summit.
Here's another clip of our first rappel from the summit...
video

Colin rappelling to the snowfield we simul-climbed.



OK, one more video just to prove it was windy...
video

And so, that's all she wrote. That's it. That's the end. Two years of living the dream comes to a close. Time to step forward boldly into the future. For some reason, Hysteric, by the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs has been on my brain. I listen to it, and the memories I've made over these last months come streaming back and I feel complete. Thanks for reading folks.


No Longer No Longer
What You Ask
Strange Steps
Heels Turned Black
The cinders the cinders
They light the path
Of these strange steps
Take us back, take us back

Flow sweetly hang heavy
You suddenly complete me
You suddenly complete me
Flow sweetly hang heavy
You suddenly complete me
You suddenly complete me

No wonder no wonder,
Other half, strange steps
Heels turned black.
The cinders they splinter
And light the path
These strange steps
Trace us back trace us back

Flow sweetly hang heavy
You suddenly complete me
You suddenly complete me
Flow sweetly hang heavy
You suddenly complete me
You suddenly complete me

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