FitzRoy Loomes - Trip Report- Ancient History

  • After repeated requests to provide some climbing content, I finally wrote out a story about one of the formative climbs of my career. While the events happened a lifetime ago, it seems as if it was yesterday. I have done harder climbs, but none ever required me to push so far beyond my experience and comfort level. I apologize for the long winded narrative, but I hope you enjoy:

    Christmas Eve 1983, we rolled past the border of Uruguay into Argentina on a 52 hr bus ride from Rio de Janiero. ”Zappa” Dave Austin, Scott Backes and I were on our way to Patagonia. We had an “interesting” dinner in the only restaurant we could find open, a Chinese place. The restaurant was busy, filled with Chinese, and most diners seemed to be eating “the special”. Dave, being the fluent Spanish speaker, ordered the special for all of us. The waiter however, replied: “You don’t want that”. Dave insisted, so the waiter took our orders and soon returned with our dinner, boiled sea slug in a mysterious brown sauce. I agreed with the waiter. This was not what I wanted to eat, but we were hungry and after the first couple of bites I realized that it was actually pretty good.

    The next day we flew south, landing in Rio Gallegos, launching point for the recently ended Falklands war. Argentina had based their antiquated air force in this remote military base, and had run bombing raids on the 900 mile distant Falkand Islands in ancient F-4 jets with insufficient fuel for the return flight. The British later called the Argentine pilots the best in the world for defying the laws of aerodynamics , physics, and gravity by coasting home in jets on empty fuel tanks. From the air the damage made by the British bombs was obvious on the cratered runways and destroyed hangars, but our landing was flawless: The best pilots in the world after all.

    Rio Gallegos was the middle of nowhere in 1983 (still is). We sacked out in the airport, drank a few beers and crashed out for the night as our flight to Calafate left early in the morning to avoid the worst of the winds. Four young Argentine climbers were waiting for the same flight as ours. Marcos, Eduardo and Pieter looked very much like Yosemite climbers of the day, with long hair, pile jackets and mountains of gear, Silvia, Eduardo’s girlfriend was beautiful. They were also headed to FitzRoy.

    It was a bouncy flight; with huge up and downdrafts. At one point during the flight, the airline steward turned a livid green as he passed out the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwiches. To land, the pilot stalled the plane six feet above the runway in a controlled crash, stall warning siren blaring, then immediately reversed the engines to stop the plane before we crashed into the hillside at the end of the runway. Not as scary as landing in Lukla, Nepal, but a close second.

    We grabbed our mountain of bags and took the two taxies to a church yard in the tiny town where Dave immediately realized he had left his daypack, complete with camera, passport and cash, on the plane which had already departed. We ran back up the hill to the airport immediately. When we arrived at the airport the plane had just taken off, and all of the passengers had already left. Two Gauchos leaned against the wall and a lone clerk was visible inside the office. The clerk radioed the plane and the daypack was quickly found: It would be delivered later that day. Relieved, we walked outside where the two Gauchos lounged. The taller of the two, dressed in classic Gaucho attire, brilliant sash around the waist with two knives, vest and a one liter hat looked at Dave and said “ Senor, tienes un pene grande, pero no tienes huevos” (trans: you have a big dick, but no balls)with a smile. Now if you were another Gaucho an insult like this would mean a fight to the death with knives, but because we were just stupid gringos and Dave understood the irony, he laughed and we became friends instead.

    A bus ran two days a week to the national park “El Parque Nacional de los Glaciares” where Fitzroy loomed. We bought our tickets and began to organize our gear and assess what we would need. The Argentines became friends and we all made multiple trips into the center of the pueblo during the next three days, stockpiling food, fuel, wine and anything else we might need for the climb, and for the next three months in basecamp.
    I don’t remember exactly when it came out, but within a day or two, the Latita Magica appeared. Reminiscent of Mexican weed, there was plenty to last for months. We drank wine, smoked weed and told climbing stories, and lies, until the day of the 180k bus ride dawned. The asphalt road ended a few miles from town as we turned south towards the mountain and after a short time we saw our first view of FitzRoy; massive and brooding 180k in the distance. The dirt road ran on and on for hours with the mountain getting no closer. Guanaco and Rhea were visible alongside the road, paying little attention to the bus.

    A few hours later, we crossed a river on a high bridge and stopped at Hotel La Leona where we had a beer or two, some food, and a piss, before setting out again in the bus. A few colorfully dressed Gauchos hung around hoping for drinks. Now, as we pulled away, the mountain was visibly bigger. We paralleled a giant lake for a time, with enormous glaciers flowing down from the mountains and spilling ice bergs into the lake. The wind whipped spray from the water and, all in all, it was a magical scene. A few more hours following a river among small hills took us to a final, one lane, bridge, and then the road ended abruptly at a single building, and a large river without a bridge.
    We had arrived. The bus driver unloaded our gear into one giant pile, dropped two tourists with a small pack each, and roared off. We milled about at the end of the road for a bit, then began to sort out our respective gear. The lone building at the end of the road was the “Hosteria” a small hotel with a few rooms, a bar and restaurant. They also sold showers should we ever need one. A hundred meters back from the Hosteria was the ranger station, where the Guardaparques were based, and a thick book contained the history of climbing in the area.

    Our Argentine friends introduced us to the Guardaparques and helped translate for us as we arranged to store much of our gear in a back room while we ferried loads to base camp. We set up our tents near the river, and loaded up our expedition packs for the first carry. The river crossing was intimidating; a hundred meter wide glacier fed river without a bridge. Many visitors crossed on horseback, hiring the local Gauchos to carry them and their gear, safely across, but we were poor. An old wagon carriage sat in the water, the spokes of the wheel underwater and the axle barely above the surface. We were advised never to attempt the ford if the water was above the axle.

    Zappa, Backes and I carefully picked our way barefoot across the river, with packs unbuckled, arms linked and probing ahead in the milky glacial water. After a few tense minutes we made it across and dropped our packs in relief to thaw our frozen feet. Now it was time for the work to begin. We shouldered our bags, and started out along the track, part trail, part road past a small orchard and a small pink cabin and onward. After a mile of so however, we realized that we had missed the trail and needed to backtrack. We dumped our bags near the river side and reversed the ford back to camp. We would try again in the morning, this time with directions.

    A gentle rain, mixed with gusts of strong wind welcomed us in the morning. We shook off the effects of the beers in the Hosteria the night before and then started across the river. With no packs and the water level down from the cold night the crossing was easier, and this time we wore shoes. We regained our packs and headed back towards the pink house, where the trail we had missed the day before began. A lone Gaucho waved as we passed the house, a string of horses tied to the fence outside. We found the trail and started up. The climb was steep with our heavy loads, so we took it slow, not knowing how long the hike would be, but soon enough we reached a plateau after which the trail wound up and down, then through a beautiful Beech wood forest reminiscent of the Hobbit before descending to the Rio Blanco.

    We crossed the Rio Blanco, a stream at this point, to reach the main Rio Blanco basecamp, a collection of log huts and shelters. After a bit of a rest, we decided to re-cross the Rio Blanco and use an old Italian basecamp. There was an old lean too, much more firewood, but also a great view of FitzRoy which could not be seen from the regular camp. We set up our single tent and started a cleanup of the trash and detritus of years of disuse. In the abandoned hut we found many open drug ampules. The previous residents had slept away their time in Patagonia in a valium induced haze.

    We quickly discovered a few things we had forgotten: An axe, a saw, some large cooking pots etc, as we would be spending a lot of time in basecamp. For now we split wood with a rock, and cooked in our mountain pots, later we would raid one of the huts for some pots and pans.

    Yvon Chouinard’s book Climbing Ice was our guidebook. In theory we knew about forecasting weather with an altimeter: Watch for a 100m drop in elevation over a 12 hr. period. We knew that the best climbing shovels were bought in “little hardware stores in Argentina” we had ours. I sharpened the edges, and we had a serviceable axe!
    We spent the next few days carrying loads. It quickly became apparent that a single three man tent was a mistake. We cooked in the lean too, and tried to spend a s little time as possible in the tent, but it was still cramped at night and, since it stormed almost constantly, shelter was appreciated.

    The Argentine group moved into the main base camp to join some older Argentine climbers who were already established. Hector and Jorge were experienced mountaineers, but Hector had been attempting FitzRoy for nine seasons without success: At the time only one Argentine party, led by Jose Luis Fonrouge, had summited the mountain via the Super Couloir, FitzRoy’s second route. The young guys quickly built a new hut which became the living room and kitchen.

    The altimeter was bouncing all over the place but Hector and Jorge had headed up to have a look, so we decided it was a good idea too. We climbed the hill to La Laguna de los Tres and a spectacular view of FitzRoy and Aguja Poincenot, then climbed the slabs on the side of the lake to the toe of the glacier where we roped up for the first time. The sun was blazing hot overhead, and the reflection of the snow turned the glacier into an oven. I sunburned the underside of my chin and the roof of my mouth. We moved cautiously in a team of three with little experience on crevassed glaciers, and avoided any crevasses until we reached the bergschrund, which we passed with no problem, then began the climb up to Paso Superior where we camped in an old snow cave with two entrances. The next day we started very early to avoid the heat and took our first steps onto the “Glaciar de las Piedras Blancas”. I went first, and within ten steps, punched through into our first of many crevasses. We kept the rope tight, and managed to avoid going in more than hip deep into the hundreds of small crevasses. After a bit the glacier leveled out and there were fewer visible hazards so we were able to move more rapidly until we came into sight of the Argentine’s high camp; a low snow wall with a tarp setup.

    Hector and Jorge were sipping tea when we arrived under a clear blue sky. To our uninitiated eyes it looked like a perfect day to climb, but Hector took a quick look upwards at the massive face of FitzRoy and said: “It’s a very bad day for the summit, we are going down”. The three of us said nothing, but all were thinking that there was a reason that Hector had not summited in nine years, so we set up camp behind their snow wall and settled in for a few hours of sleep as we watched them descend.

    When we woke at 2 am the sky was still clear, the southern stars were out in force and we were all thinking that this was a good shot, so we cramponed up and started to traverse towards the base of La Brecha de los Italians. We traversed rapidly beneath a giant serac and reached the schrund in less than an hour. I lead the schrund and up 50 degree ice to the first rock band, where I placed two pins and a cam and fixed the rope. By this time it was starting to get a little breezy, and by the time that Zappa and Backes had reached the high point the wind was raging. Maybe those Argentine guys knew something after all!

    We decide to bail and so left the rope fixed and rapped out of there. The rope hung down the slope below the schrund so I made a small bollard to secure it and we started down. On the return we saw that the serac we were afraid of had released after we passed it and many tons of debris obscured or trail. Clouds were coming in rapidly now, and the wind was gusting strong enough to blow you off your feet. Still maintaining a snug rope, we struggled down the glacier occasionally getting tossed by the wind until we came to a short section of exposed knife edge ridge which we crawled down; axes planted every move until we reached less exposed ground. Eventually we reached La Laguna de los Tres and stumbled down the hill into Rio Blanco where our friends awaited our return.

    For the next ten days the storm raged. We each made a couple of trips down to the Hosteria for a beer and a sandwich, and a change of scenery, and carried loads back up. Otherwise, we hung out in Rio Blanco and got to know the other climbers and their families. We spent a lot of time hanging out with the younger Argentine climbers in their new hut and one morning, as Marcos was making porridge their name occurred to me. I was practicing my rudimentary Spanish by reading the Cream of Wheat box which said to “stir constantly to prevent the formation of Grumos”. Immediately they became Los Grumos, and almost as rapidly they named us “Los Ratones del Valle” (Valley Rats). Although it was true for Zappa and me, Backes had a strong background in hardcore alpine climbing, but the name stuck regardless. By now our very different personalities were starting to wear on each other, and being in a group with the others allowed us some breathing space. We climbed well together, but day after day of waiting was difficult, so we spent the days occupied outside of our tiny tent, hanging with our new friends, hiking in the rain, etc..

    The weather was still unstable; we made a couple of trips to Paso Superior where we stocked the snow cave with food and fuel. We spent one night there, but it was miserable. The cave had two doors, so it was a wind tunnel. Spindrift settled on everything and it was a cold wet night. After ten days of stormy weather we returned to the schrund, where 20 m of my new rope was buried in avalanche debris. We dug and dug, but it was hopeless. Finally I cut the rope in despair. I later sold the remainder to Guerra and other Gauchos for more than the rope cost, but it was still a big loss, our best rope gone. We continued to push higher and reached La Brecha after 10 pitches of mixed climbing, where we spent a night bivied in storm, wind cracking like rifle shots just over our heads before descending and crawling back down the glacier again.

    The next morning Zappa informed us that he was returning to his home in Rio de Janiero due to personal reasons, leaving Backes and I as a team of two. This meant more space in the tent but left us weaker as a team, as no two man team had yet summited FitzRoy. With mixed feelings, we watched Zappa walk out of camp the next day on his return to the real world.

    We were forced to make a few choices ourselves. By now our very different personalities were starting to wear on each other, and being in a group with the others allowed us some breathing space. One morning we woke in the Italian base camp to the sound of visitors. I looked out of the tent to see a group of four uniformed, armed military waiting outside the tent. We dressed and exited the tent where they requested our passports, money, cameras, etc. After making a list of our possessions an officer told us that our visas had expired, and if we did not renew them in 48 hrs, we would be deported sans gear and money.

    Calafate was 180k away on a lonely dirt road, but we hiked down to the Hosteria that day and attempted to hitch a ride. Six hours later, the first car passed us without stopping, then several hours later a truck stopped, but they were only going to Tres Lagos, an old west style town with a reputation like Tombstone, Arizona’s. We gave up for the day and went to the Hosteria where we had a couple of beers and met two nice German families, two couples with one adult daughter and her boyfriend. We had more beers, then started on the pear schnapps our friends had along, then eventually stumbled to bed. Early the next day we were up and had our thumbs out, although we saw no cars. Our German friends had no room, so they bid us good luck and drove away. An hour later however, they returned saying they would make room. We crammed into their tiny cars and slowly made our way to Calafate, stopping periodically so we could get out and stretch.

    Our new friends took us to the police station, where they translated for us and we were able to get our visas renewed, although there had been nothing wrong with them in the first place. No longer fearing deportation we relaxed a bit, and our friends invited us to join them for a couple of days at Perito Moreno. Every seven years the Perito Moreno Glacier completely divides Lago Argentino, then breaks in a cataclysmic rebalancing of water levels. It is an event that people travel thousands of miles to witness, and it was due to happen in the next day or so. We packed into their cars again and camped just a few minutes below the viewpoint.

    The next morning we rose early to watch the show. As the sun rose small springs began to appear in the wall of ice dividing the lake. The springs grew bigger and bigger until they were spouting jets of water. Creaking and groaning noises began, and within an hour of beginning the dam ruptured in a massive explosion of ice and water. That was amazing!
    In the anticlimax we made our way back to Calafate and parted with our friends as they began the long drive back to Buenos Aires with an invitation to visit them when we returned. Back in the big city again, we bought some more supplies and caught a bus back to FitzRoy that afternoon. The now familiar landscape passed quickly enough, and after a couple of ours we crossed the bridge and arrived at Hotel La Leona, the rest stop. The hotel was built in the 1860s, and was the only stop along the 180k drive. The usual Gauchos were there. It was now the height of the Patagonian summer and there were more tourists on the bus this time.

    The Gauchos enticed the tourists, one after another, to play a game for drinks. A string hung from the center of the ceiling. On the end of the string was a ring, a simple band. At the corner of the wall and the ceiling was a hook. The object of the game was to toss the ring and stick it on the hook. I sat and watch as each of the tourists missed. The Gauchos drank their drinks; shots of fiery brandy drank neat. The bus was about to leave. The Gauchos were half drunk, and it was time to go but, as I reached the door one of the Gauchos insisted I try the ring toss. Well I had just watched close to twenty people miss and I realized that it was a trick. The space between the hook and the wall was too tight to hit it straight on. The ring needed to approach in an arc to clear the gap. I took a few breaths, rooted my feet and sent the ring on its way. Tight on the end of the string, the ring made a graceful arc and settled perfectly on the hook! The driver was beeping his horn, the bus was about to leave, but they made me drink my shots before I could leave. I pounded the last shot, my amigos slapped me on the back and we roared off.

    Back in camp we had some choices to make. Backes and I climbed well together, but we didn’t get along so well in basecamp. The endless waiting, day after day, with only each other for company was trying for both of us, so we agreed to pack up our camp and join the others in the main basecamp. We made the move across the Rio Blanco to a more social environment.

    We still had a mountain of food and gear down below, so we spent our days carrying loads until Marcos introduced me to Guerra, the Gaucho who lived in the pink house and packed for the climbers, hikers and ranchers. We couldn’t afford his services, but the pink house became a nice place to get out of the rain for a cup of tea and some chapatti, until one day, when Guerra offered to carry a load for us in exchange for a day of work packing for him.

    I had no experience with horses, but I knew how to tie knots, so with some pointers I helped distribute the loads, including some of ours, and we set off for Rio Blanco. Backes was a bit surprised when we arrived and I dumped 100 lbs of our stuff at camp. Now we could eat like kings, knowing that we had sufficient food and fuel for the mountain.
    Groups came and went, all without success, their time to short for the Patagonian weather. One day a group of French climbers arrived in camp, FitzRoy on their list as well. The first thing their leader, Yves Astier, who we dubbed Hollywood, said on arrival was: “Why are you not climbing today? Is a perfect day for the summit? In the Valley of the French (in Torres del Paine) we have climbed in all conditions”. We had now been here a month and had learned the hard way that a clear blue sky meant nothing, that is if you could hear the freight train roar of the wind and see a five mile long snow plume coming off the summit, but we smiled, and sipped our tea, knowing that they would learn soon enough.
    A brief period of decent weather arrived, and we all took the opportunity to make an attempt. The snow was deep on the glacier, but we plowed upwards. The French team followed later, un-roped, where we still maintained a tight line. They were fast for sure, and you could see they had a lot of experience on glaciers where we had little. We reached La Brecha, then onto new ground. At the base of the French route, our route descended to the North, traversed a 30 degree snow slope, then climbed up to a large bergschrund. We fixed a rope on the descent, and then rapidly traversed beneath the enormous wall of FitzRoy until we reached the schrund where we found a magnificent ice cave. 30 meters deep, completely protected from the wind, and from avalanche, in the back was a small room with space for 10 climbers.

    Los Grumos descended to gather supplies while the French team discussed their options. We all decided that Backes and I, plus Hollywood, would make an attempt, while the others remained in the schrund cave. We gathered our gear and started up; the first few pitches steep 5.9 with a couple of aid moves. Backes climbed in rock shoes, while Hollywood and I both wore doubles. Late in the day we reached a sizeable ledge, room for two on the ledge with a small alcove for the third to sit. We rigged an 11mm ledge line, and Backes and Hollywood took the flat while I tended the stove in the alcove. The wind got stronger and stronger until, at one point, I saw the 90k Backes flapping like a flag on his tether two feet above the ledge before the wind dropped him directly on top of Hollywood. I watched patiently as the wind sawed our 11mm ledge line in two. We sat there in the wind for 24 hrs. before deciding enough was enough, so we started down, pulling the ropes as we went.

    On the last rappel to the schrund cave I could see things had changed. Where a smooth wall of snow had formed the outer wall of the cave, now there remained only a gaping maw where the schrund pulled away from the wall. My feet swung into the schrund and I could see that only the tiny dormitory remained, the three French geared up and ready to descend looked shocked as I unclipped, thinking we were dead.

    The French guys brewed us some tea as the others rapped, and after a quick cup we all descended. The “Snow” traverse was blown free of snow, now it was ancient black ice. The rock dulled points of our crampons refused to stick, skittering on the bullet proof ice as we tiptoed back toward La Brecha with only a single tool each. Huge gusts of wind hit us periodically, forcing us to try to sink a tool and hang on until they passed. Then we would sprint towards La Brecha until the next one came. The couple of hundred meters of the traverse seemed to take forever, roped together with no gear and dull crampons, but eventually we reached the rock and safer ground. Ten rappels later we were on the wind swept glacier, at times crawling in the high winds until we reached Paso Superior and some shelter from the wind. Later we discovered that the Guardaparques had measured the wind speed at the ranger station 2500m below at 300kph before their anemometer broke. We were in the jet stream.

    By now we had been in Rio Blanco for more than a month. In four attempts we had only climbed a few pitches on the upper mountain. Our food and time were running low. We figured that we had time for one more attempt. Everyone else in camp decided that it was time to go to Calafate 200k away for more food and some R&R, but Backes and I decided to stay. The all hiked off, leaving us alone in base camp.

    We were still maintaining an altimeter watch. Each night, one of us would wake every hour to check the altimeter. The first night after everyone left, Backes watch, the altimeter was still bouncing out of control, so we lounged in camp all day. The second night however, it was my altimeter watch. At midnight, the altitude started to slowly drop, indicating an increase in pressure, at 1 am it was still slowly dropping, at 2 am, etc. I finally slept for a couple of hours in the early am and when I woke the altitude had dropped 140m over a period of twelve hours, the first time in 40 days. We casually began to pack our bags, still not believing the weather, and hoping the others would return to help us break trail, but around noon we finally left camp and started upwards. We reached the toe of the glacier and switched to double boots. I knotted the laces of our sneakers and wedged the knot in a crack above the snow and then we started up. The snow was deep, mid-thigh deep to begin. We plowed a trench, struggling with every step, slowly making our way towards the Paso Superior. The usual line on the glacier took a big traverse out right to avoid a steep section guarded by a bergschrund, but with the snow there had been an avalanche which bridged the schrund and glazed the snow over the loose rock so we opted for the steeper, but potentially easier line. When we got to the schrund it was still open, with only a single block of snow to cross on. I had Backes back up and pull the rope tight as stepped on the block which had no visible means of support but somehow held. The glazed snow was fairly easy, especially compared to the waist deep snow on the glacier and a hundred meters of moderate mixed regained the glacier above the traverse. The wallow continued. We took turns breaking trail, but in all, it took 14 hrs. of grueling effort to reach the base.

    We slept for 2 hrs. before brewing up and starting to climb. As we left our bivy we saw the headlamps of the others rapidly following our broken trail. The pitches leading to La Brecha were loaded with snow. Spindrift avalanches happened every few minutes but our route on the side of the couloir was reasonably safe. We reached the La Brecha and saw a group of four arrive at our bivy site.

    The traverse was scary with all of the new snow, but we carried two tools each, a couple of ice screws, and our newly sharpened crampons bit into the ice well, if you could ignore the snowballing up. Above the schrund cave we re-climbed the initial pitches rapidly until we reached our previous high point and the site of the jet stream bivy. The next pitches were unknowns but we continued up.

    It’s difficult to be lost when you don’t know where you are supposed to be, so we followed the most logical line until we reached a large terrace, La Terraza Segunda, that we had heard about. Now we knew where we were. Above La Terraza was a giant OW corner, maybe two pitches high. The Fun Hog team had gone left here and did several more pitches to avoid the OW. We crawled into our only bivy gear, a two man bivy sack with a square of ensolite each and settled in for a short, miserable, Patagonian summer night.
    Backes had rock shoes, while I was still in doubles. We had led in blocks up to this point so Backes took the lead for two pitches of 5.9 OW, till we gained the ridge and started working our way through numerous gendarmes. A 20m ice filled offwidth appeared to be the only way. Backes lead again, he wallowed up the slot, ice climbing in the rime, free climbing and aiding a small crack in the back. This turned out to be the crux climbing of the route.

    More route finding slowed us down a bit, but eventually we found a way, although not the easiest, until a short rappel took us to the final moderate slopes. We fixed the rope for the return, stashed most of our gear and continued to the top with a single tool each. Ten minutes later, we stood on the top looking out over the Hielo Continental and at the Torres. We both decided that we would return some day to climb Cerro Torre, but this trip was nearing its end.

    On the down climb, Backes Chacal slipped from its holster and disappeared over the west face leaving him tool less thousands of feet from the base and security. With no rope it was a tenuous thirty minutes till we regained the rope we had fixed on the rappel. We thought we could hear voices, but could see no one as we jumared up the rope, then started to reverse the gendarmes. We reached the top of the crux pitch and I tossed the ropes. We clearly heard a voice with a French accent say “May we jumar your rope?” Of course we agreed after we finished our rappel and it worked well for us too, as our rope stuck on the pull. Our friends freed the rope and we continued our separate ways, they towards the summit, and us towards home. Rappel after rappel we continued on. The winds were strong now: Blowing 100 mph up the wall. On one rap we pulled the wrong end and the knot stopped the pull.

    With only one end of the rope in our hands and not knowing what the rope was stuck on, it was my job to free it. We took our remaining slings and knotted them together into a 30m “rope”, Backes belayed me as I traversed out and regained the lost end which had fortunately caught on a flake. From there I could see that we were pulling the wrong end so I returned to the belay and we were able to pull the rope free, but the wind was blowing so strongly up the corner that it threatened to pull the rope from our hands. I slapped an ascender on the rope and it started to lift me off my feet.

    The rest of the descent was uneventful, if twenty rappels are ever uneventful. At each anchor, often only a single wooden wedge, we placed solid three piece anchors, leaving our entire rack behind, with doubled slings and biners to make the pull easier until we arrived at the base of La Brecha, pulled the ropes one last time and breathed a sigh of relief.
    The glacier had lost a lot of snow and there were many open crevasses, but travel was easy with no wind and light hearts. In a couple of hours we reached Paso Superior, grabbed the few things we had stashed there and headed for La Laguna where we found our tennies hanging 15’ off the snow, dry and warm. Switching from double boots to tennies was a luxurious sensation, and the trip down the hill to Rio Blanco seemed effortless. By now everyone except the French, who were still high on the mountain had returned and we were welcomed as heroes. We didn’t feel like heroes, we just felt like we had succeeded due to luck and sheer determination where others had failed due to lack of time.

    The next morning we broke camp and started the trip home: Calafate, Rio Gallegos, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janiero, and then finally home. I arrived in Mammoth close to a year after I left: I had $2 to my name.

  • @Scole

    Freakin' awesome recounting of one helluva adventure in mountaineering, travel, and culture. ⛰

    No need to apologize about being long winded. I was gripped throughout - almost as if I'd been there. Heh, hands are even sweaty. Keep 'em coming, bro! 👍

  • Wonderful job writting up your adventure. I much appreciate you taking the time to share it with us. Do you have any photos?

  • @FritzRay

    I have lots of photos. I will post some up

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    We climbed direct up the avalanche path to avoid the deep snow.

  • Kick assss! Enjoyed every word. More please sir!!

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    Back at the schrund after the jet stream bivy

  • @Scole

    Happy campers to have "survived" that adventure, eh? Have mercy!!

    I was once in winds so strong that they picked me up off the ground. Still youngsters at the time. Pretty scary. At first. Then, naively, we wanted to turn it into a game! Were nowhere near jet stream velocity though.

    Great stuff! Borrowing from B.B. King & Heavy D; Keep It Coming 👍

  • My favorite cartoon as a kid was Tudor Turtle. Tudor had a wizard friend, and whenever he wanted to do something cool, like be a knight, the wizard would zap him there. Every time, when things started to get real, like the Black Knight was about to kill him, he would shout "Help mister wizard" and the wizard would zap him home at the last instant. Superalpine climbing is like that! It get real fast, but there is no wizard to help when you need one. You got yourself into this shit, now it time to get yourself out.

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  • @Scole what a great read TFPU

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    The French guys in Rio Blanco

  • Scole,
    Thanks so much for that. The photo of the clouds pouring over the ridge and down the face is one of the best photos ever. I was in some kind of purity + no camera phase (too much reading about Pratt) when a friend an I trecked through there and made it to the Rio Blanco camp (judging by photos) then over to a moraine camp with a full view of Fitzroy. That was in '82? Your photos once again reminded me of the folly of my ways, but I just didn't want to lug a full SLR through all of South America. We did get some photos from the Tierra del Fuego leg of that trip, that I think I've scanned.

  • Great story telling Scole

  • Like the pics. Kinda capture the moment. TFPU!