Wednesday, February 4, 2009

This post is now coming from the other great southern land through a haze of strong, prescription only pain killers. The route that we thought we'd rapped off and left behind 14 days ago is continuing to live on. It is mercilessly continuing to inflict pain and keep forcing us to find that happy place in our minds who's once vivid vision is starting to fade into a distant memory. The effect that 2 weeks of continuous vague coldness followed by 5 days of heavy load carrying had on our feet is one we certainly didn't expect.
On the summit ridge we ate what we thought must have been our 100th block of Mantecol, this Argentinean concoction consisting of ground peanuts, sugar and chocolate. For it's weight it must be the best big wall snack food ever, so rich with so much sugar and a fair whack of fat it leaves you feeling pretty damn satisfied. After that we started to descend and it didn't take long before we were back at the portaledge packing up
After a handful of big raps, we arrived at the pendulum. I tried for what seemed like an age at reversing the pendulum. Jake was finding it nauseating watching me running nearly 50 meters back and fourth with a heavy bag hanging off my crotch, at the end of the line, 80 meters below him with more than 600m of air still beneath me. This was clearly not happening, the closest I got to reversing the pendulum was about halfway where I could at least clip into a single bolt. This allowed for Jake to make his way down to a belay anchor that was between us. Sparing you all the details of the ensuing hour of vertical logistics that would only really serve as a How-NOT-to-Descend-a-Bigwall, I'll simply say we were lucky not to lose 100m of rope to the wind and that Jake only needed to rap and jug 70 meters to free it.
We were then back at the big ledge 16 pitch's down, 13 to go. It was 9pm and we were clearly going to be rapping into the night, there was no harm in chilling here for a bit, melting some snow and taking it easy.
A little refreshed but no less eager to be harness free and experiencing the pleasure of a horizontal world, we reversed the shuttle across the terraces then began to suffer the anxiety associated with rapping down loose, low angled terrain with a wrecking ball attached to your harness.
After 3 more pitch's it was pissing with rain and pitch black, a thought flashed through my mind of a different scenario, we could have set-up the portaledge a couple of pitch's ago on the big ledge and now been quite comfortably asleep having made the summit and been well on the way to the ground, however after 15 days on the side of a cliff the idea of strolling along the ground was all too powerful.
A few more pitch's of dodging falling rocks and freeing stuck ropes left us at a point where we were faced with a decision. To either reverse the route which would involve a large pendulum to the right followed by a couple of short raps then another pendulum back to the left or to go for broke and go straight down avoiding the pendulums.
On the way up 12 days ago I'd seen a bit of tat about 30m below the belay that we were now dangling on. At the time, not faced with having to make the call over which way to go I convinced myself that it must be a nice direct rap route that saves you doing the pendulums. Now though, choosing whether to commit to heading straight down to a piece of faded nylon that might dead end us a few hundred meters off the deck or reversing a series of pitch's who's belay we were familiar with was not an easy decision to make.
Being a fairly full-time optimist and a 'she'll be right' sort of guy I suggested we go straight down. I found the tat and what was keeping it on the wall wasn't even too disappointing, a bolt and a piton. We replaced the tat that had clearly had too many years in the elements then I headed off to find the next. Again after about 40m out of the water glazed blackness appeared another anchor, this time a strangely arranged piece of cord, stretched 2m horizontally between an array of nuts and pitons. Equalizing the gear was clearly not on the agenda of whoever left it there. This got me wondering, it was not a well thought out anchor it looked more like the result of some forced improvisation, not to worry they had clearly continued down as well, so off I went once again sliding slowly down the rope searching in every direction for a something to anchor to. With the wall completely saturated the light from my head torch was easily reflected away, very few features reflected the light back toward me, seeing anything was a struggle. At about 10m below the anchor I was rapping off I'd passed a single bolt, there were no other recorded routes on this section of wall and I assumed it was another improvised rap anchor from yet another party. Not keen on wasting time doing a 10m rap I kept sliding down searching until I found the next anchor, it looked good, 15m below me and 5m below the end of my rope, Damn it!
The slab I was standing on seemed blank and slick, excessively so in the downpour and with the extra 60 odd kilos hanging off me the rope continued to ooze through the ATC toward its end. It was nearly 1am, we'd been on the go now for nearly 21 hours, we were again sopping wet and with a minimal rack on hand and a blank slab I had some problem solving to do.
Where I was there was nothing to clip into and no gear to place, I kept moving down in the hope something would appear, holding the last foot of rope in my hand, it did. A single knifeblade piton, I knew what had to be done, by this time on the second morning since I'd last slept and after some 23 rappels, any fear was long gone. I put a draw on it, gave it a wobble, it didn't so I clipped in, all 130kg of man and haulbag. Keeping attached, albeit loosely, to one side of the rope I filled Jake in on what he needed to do, he was to rap to the single bolt 10m beneath him, then pull the rope and we'd be in reach of the belay just beneath me.
Great only a few pitch's to go. A simple rap down one of the pitch's then we had to once again diverge from the arcing line of the route, bound by gravity to take the direct line straight down. We reached yet another anchor this time it was courtesy of team 3. We had started to deduce that this descent had had input from 3 different descensionists who had all taken a slightly different line and been leaving different styles of anchors and colours of tat. The FA's had a descent that was altogether different that we were advised against, apparently you had to do the odd single bolt rappel.... Team 1 had the shiney single fixed hangers, 60m apart that we were out of synch with. Team 2 were the dodgyest with an unequalized mix of bad nuts and pitons. Team 3 had 6mm orange cord on good pitons.
This anchor took us to within 20m of the glacier but with no anchor in sight, it was the cruelest joke yet, I tried to wiggle in something that I didn't mind leaving behind but nothing worked. In the end we settled for a few cam placements and fixed the rope, concluding that we'd have to come back and jug up with a more appropriate sized nut that we could leave behind.
Touching down on the glacier it felt like we'd just arrived on Mars, the base of the route and the whole glacier had changed so much in the time we'd been on the route. The idea of navigating our way off it seemed like too much to deal with in the dark and in the state we were in. We decided instead to spend the few hours until the sun came up bivying in the portaledge fly on the glacier.
Walking just far enough to be out of the firing line of any rockfall we threw the fly on the ground and climbed in. The pleasure of lying down was unbelievable, to be able to finally stop after 23 hours of nearly constant action allowed us, for 2 hours anyway, to sleep in what was actually a pretty damn miserable situation. For a while I tried to ignore the cold puddle I was lying in and the condensation laden fly that was pressing against my face until Jake cracked and it was time to move. The sun was up now, somewhere behind kilometers of saturating rain clouds but there was enough light to see our way off the glacier. We were both a sorry sight, walking along in the rain, wet from head to toe each of us clutching a stuff sac that contained a few pieces of wet clothing. The picture I have in my head of Jake miserably plodding along the glacier at 5am in the rain with a sodden sleeping bag over his shoulders and a headtorch slowly falling off his head will be etched in my memory forever.
In keeping with the tone of the trip so far, our normal 40 min stroll to base camp was interrupted by a raging torrent. What was normally a gentle trickle bubbling out from the bottom of the Torres Glacier had become something that was impossible to cross, despite this we wasted some time hopping across boulders attempting to find a way, trying to avoid the inevitable walk back up onto the glacier and above the point where the river was now coming from.
Sometime later we arrived at the bivi cave, the route was over, no more hauling or rapping, no more wet clothes or rations. We got stuck into our snacks, drank tea and warmed our feet with the stove.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snap out of it man!

As if in an act of devine intervension the morning sun cast a single beam of light through a small break in the clouds, illuminating a small hilltop on the rolling pampas far below, was this the second coming of christ or maybe just maybe it would be the day we would summit the Central Tower of Paine.
We´d soon completed all the usual morning logistics of melting snow, eating, and dressing. After 2 days of the sleeping bag drying method Jake had his full arsenal of battle gear back in action, I was only able to throw my shell pants on over a pair of thermal bottoms. The tables were turned however when I reached to the bottom of the haulbag and pulled out my bone dry Nepal Extreme mountain boots as Jake was using the stove to melt the ice that was preventing his feet from entering his approach shoes. Jake then began his climb up the fixed ropes while I racked up for what was to be a couple of pitch's of steep dogging up iced up granite followed by a bunch of pitch's up to about grade 18 covered in snow.
The next task was to get my, well actually my brother Bens adjustable etrier´s set to the length I needed them to be for a long free hanging jug. The things might as well have been covered in cement, the ice was that thick and intent on staying put, the old rapid breathing technique to free up frozen knots was not going to cut the mustard now. After quickly losing sensation in my fingers I had a revalation, warm water would cut straight through this, luckily the multiple cups of tea I´d consumed that morning had given me a ready supply of warm water, of sorts. I managed to find it despite the bite in the air, flopped it out and had them running smoothly in no time(sorry Ben, I´ll give them a good wash).
Some time must have passed while achieving these simple tasks, as Jake had apparently been trying to tell me he was 'off rope' for so long with no response that he had started to rap back down the pitch´s he´d just jugged, planning how he was going to get down alone and explain to my familiy that I´d just disappeared 800 meters up the central tower. He was releaved to finaly see me jugging up to meet him while trying to contain a wry smile, still amused by my own resourcefulness.
From this point we had 9 pitch's to the summit, the weather looked ok to the east but we still could not see in the direction that the stuff actually comes from. There were the odd low flying clouds that would swirl around us but we convinced ourselves that they wouldn't interfere with us now in these final hours.
I´m not usually one to try to speculate about or hope for good weather and certainly not one to pray for it but here I couldn´t help it. Time and time again it would just do things in such a pain in the arse coincidental kind of way that I was convinced it had a personality and was playing with us, pushing us to the limit of our sanity just to see how far we were willing to go. I found myself obcessing over it, talking to it, trying to listen to what mood it was in. 'Snap out of it man! there´s no one there, it just the wind.' I´d say, remembering the previous nights calm resolve to be at ease with what the elements would bring, 'just keep climbing, it's all you can do.'
We did, the pitch´s were zipping by and we were soon above the aid pitch´s, which by the way look like they will be some of the most amazing free pitch´s around when someone manages to jag the weather and finally get them done.
We were puffing and panting up the final 6 pitch´s, short fixing like men possesed. With every move closer to the top, the urgency became greater, short fixing I was able to climb the last 300m in single, uninterupted, crazy-eyed thrash.
I reached the summit ridge and was greeted with a taste of the type of weather that batters the west side of the towers. The wind was ferocious, ripping at the relatively still air on the lee side of the towers, the noise peirced your ears. I fixed the rope on the only piton I could find and climbed onto the other side of the ridge to act as a second peice of protection for Jake to jug on.
Jake arrived all smiles at the thought of being now so close to the summit, 3 pitch´s if you could call them that stood between us and that all important highest point, that point that determines success or failure.

We seemed to understand what each other was getting at, even with our mouths flapping like skydivers trying to talk. We scuttled along the ridge, simulclimbing with as short a section of rope between us as was justifiably safe, any more and the wind threatened to take us in the direction of the rope, upward at 45 degrees!
In a matter of minutes we were there, clinging to the highest point of the Central Tower of Paine. It was 12 o'clock on our 15th day, 7 of those days we were confined to the portaledge another 2 we could only manage a couple of hours of climbing, that made for 6 days of climbing in the 6 week trip. We had certainly got what we´d come for, we wanted an experience that would push us like we´d never been pushed before, to feel the power of nature at some of its most savage but above all an experience that would draw on all the skills we´d gained in our lives up to this point.
We snapped a few pics and tried to have a snack but gave up on the idea when it bacame hard to take a hand off the rock.
(Jake on the summit)

(View of the south tower from the summit)

We made our way back along the ridge to where we would begin to descend and pulled the snacks back out. Stay tuned for a not so perfect descent!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mr Rock

Our new friend...

Zen and the Art of Suffering

The early morning was calm and erie, there was a thick cloud limiting our view to about 30 meters. It wasnt what we´d hoped for but there was still alot of adrenalin running through our veins so we got our battle gear on, Jake wore everything he had, prepared for some long belay sessions, I wore all I had except my shell pants, the mistake that was the catalyst for my recent enlightenment. It was cold, the sort of cold that keeps everything dry, why woulld I need shell pants.
The pitch´s above were covered in rime ice, the driven snow would be stripped from the rock except for the tiny features on which these tree like formations grow directly into the direction of the wind.

These formations made free climbing impossible even if it was possible to free climb in the -10 degree C temp. I was back in dogging mode(sorry guys aid mode). They weren´t the crux pitch´s so it didn´t seem like such a loss of classic free climbing times. After 3 pitch´s I was out of the protection of the massive roof and suddenly confronted by a cascade of spindrift pouring over a pitch of water ice complete with a big stalactite of ice.

It was impossible to aid in the traditional sense but also not possible to ice climb due to the ice being too thin to get purchase with crampons. The only solution seemed to be to find placements for my ice tools in the very narrow crack, clip an etrier into the bottom of it and step up I managed to continue like this for some time until good old familiar rock was gained. The rest of the pitch was a mixed affair of aiding and improvised ice tool hooking.

During the eternity that the pitch took to complete Jake was witnessing a strange change in the weather, after the spindrift cascade slowed the snow on his gloves started melting at a crazy pace, I too realised there were now small trickles of water cutting there way through the snow in places leaving the rock completely bare. ´Great´ I thought ´rain is our friend up here, cleans all the pesky snow away´. Jake jugged the pitch and I got into the next one, now the cliff was running with water, I was wet, very wet and was starting to realise the limitations soft shell pants have when it comes to water repelancy. I was damp but nothing seemed to dampen our new steely resolve for making good of a not so good day. We started to think again that maybe we´d discovered something no-one else had before, the weather may not be all blue skies and sunshine but who says we can´t knock off 5 pitch´s before lunch?
By the end of that pitch the rain and subsequent snow-melt-waterfall was becoming a joke, I fixed the rope and rapped back to Jake. We left the tools and lead rope there for tomorrows foray.
Rapping back down the next 4 pitch´s saw the water force its way through my pants and up my jacket until I was thoroughly saturated. Back at the portaledge I contemplated for quite some time while Jake followed me down the ropes about how to get my wet clothes off, open the ledge and get inside without saturating everything inside. In the end no ideas came to mind so I clambered in shoes and all, stuffed the sleeping bags to one end and began to undress down to my thermals. By the time jake had done the same the tiny space had become a sauna, the steam was that thick, and just about everything was wet.

We got into our bags and lay our wet clothes over the top in an attempt to dry them. Jakes clothes were mostly dry so this method seemed like it might actually work. After seeing all my clothing, like every peice of clothing I had on the wall, do a great job at saturating my sleeping bag and inturn me as well, I gave up on the idea and decided to stick with just trying to keep warm for a few hours before embarking on the drying process.
The rain soon turned back to snow and the temprature began to plummet. I was wet to the bone and my drying process was somewhat thwarted by the laws of physics that seemed to dictate that the evaporation occuring in and on my sleeping bag was counteracted by the subsequent condensation of that moisture on the walls of the portaledge fly which then began to drip back down onto me. At the same time the strong updrafts were pumping snow in through the small vents of the fly leaving a white covering over every surface.
Now this is no fair weather portaledge fly it is an all weather expedition fly made for the worst weather in the world, on thinking about this and the fact that it was struggling with the conditions, I realised that we´d really put ourselves out there, we were a long way off the deck, it was just the 2 of us, no-one in base camp, the radio we had brought had as yet failed to reach anyone when we turned it on at the end of each day and I was starting to do some fairly wild shaking.
Jake realised the state I was in when he asked if I could reach outside to get some snow to melt for dinner, to which I apparently said through blue lips that I can´t get it but if you don´t want to get it I´ll happily wait till tomorrow. In the bag was managable, just, the 5 and a half days of forced downtime already on the route and the countless days waiting in the cave had got me used to enduring these less than comfortable cicumstances, out of the bag, even reaching for something sent chills through my body and would trigger another uncontrollable episode of the shakes. For me the following day passed far less coherantly than any of the other forced ledge days, my body seemed to be struggling quite hard to keep warm and sleep came easy most of the day.
Jake was in charge of all the cooking, 3 times throughout the day I´d poke my hand out of the sodden sleeping bag and spoon something warm into my mouth.
The following day was much the same, breakfast came along with my 40th hour of shivering. The day passed slowly and being the 14th day on the wall (technically our last day of food, however on all the ledge days, much to the dislike of Jakes appetite, I´d been the snack nazi and made sure we only ate the bare minimum, this gave us an extra day and a half worth of food) conversation focused around what to do next. We had a day and a half worth of food, we were only half a day from the summit but we´d probably need at least 12 hours to descend if nothing went wrong and I was still shaking. We were starting to experience the bitter flavour of defeat, the voices of the naysayers began echoing strongly in our heads, it was hard to keep the thoughts from drifting to where we´d gone wrong, the times we´d moved too slowly, the apparent fact that we we´re too small a team with not enough rope.
We thought about where we were and what we´d already managed to accomplish given the adversity of our attempt, our whole approach for that matter and tried to be rational. We looked at the facts and it was clear, we were at the whim of the weather but that is what this place is about, it is what we came for and what we were starting to become at ease with, all we needed was for tomorrow to be good and we could make the summit and start our descent. If not, that would be that and we would just have to start to descend with the first break in the weather.
I shivered my way to sleep with the alarm set early and tried not to think about what was riding on the next days weather.

98 hours

There was something disconcerting about waking to a third day of fine weather. This is supposed to be Patagonia, the land of ferocious weather, extreme wind that pins climbers down for days and who´s incesant nature allows only for narrow windows in which to get things done. This was now the third great day, was it all talk? just skeptical yanks with an aversion to getting stuff done? or were we about to get smashed, made to pay for these last few great days?
Either way this day was going to be used to haul to yesterdays high point, over 200m above the normal bivi ledge, over 200m further back to the ground with a large pendulum that would prove to be very hard to reverse if forced back in bad weather. The day held and let us get up to our high point and then even a pitch higher, higher than anyone had ever tried to bivi on the route and as if on queue we set up the anchor about to pull the portaledge out and the wind began tearing up the cliff. The ledge and fly flapped wildly while we tried to set it up and anchor it down to prevent the updrafts lifting us then slamming us back into the wall.
Once set up we climbed in had some food and wondered whether we might get anything more done that day, after all I had a pitch to redpoint.
It was day 7 and more than 2 thirds of the route was done, we still had 7 more days worth of food, 8 maybe 9 at a stretch, Even if nothing could be done this arvo it had been a productive day and we were certainly getting up the thing.
What came next tested us in a way that is so easily avoided in modern life with its constant distractions. 4 days with nothing but our thoughts to keep us company. Our minds wandered through a range of thoughts and emotions, we find ourselves searching for meaning in the slightest change in the direction of the snow or the rise and the fall of the wind. ´The wind has slowed, do you think it is clearing or is it just setting in?´ ´The pee bottle contracted, is the pressure rising or is the contents just cooling?´ These were the questions we brought to the forefront of our minds maybe to prolong the onset of the inevitable, deeper, darker thoughts like are we going to be able to do it, why are we really here, what do we want from this route, if we can´t make it to the top will it matter, what is the damn meaning of life anyway?

98 hours ticked by at the pace you can only imagine it would when you are confined to a 2 by 1.5 meter rectangle that you share with 2 pee bottles and another guy who has not washed in 3 weeks.
By the end of the fourth day there was a definite change in the air, it hadn´t snowed for half a day and there were patch´s of blue sky racing through the sea of cloud overhead. It felt like we had just taken something very potent and injected it directly into our bloodstream. Immediatly the mood changed it was an action station. I went and took the first crap in 4 days in readiness for tomorrows climbing then began to melt snow to begin the rehydration process which I had been curbing in a big way to avoid filling the pee bottle which would no doubt result in a piss covered hand during the emptying process. Sleep never came that night, I´d had 4 days of drifting between sleeping, eating, thinking and listening hard to the weather with no stable pattern what so ever that the sudden injection of adrenalin made certain that my mind would not stop long enough to sleep.

Flying to Egypt

Day 1, highest camp.

A little bit of Patagonia wind.

´scary when icy´

Awaking to fine weather again we were starting to feel like we´d just had a particularly bad 4 weeks of Patagonian weather up to this point. We weren´t about to get the beach towls out and chill for the morning or anything but we did feel at least a bit more positive about our chances at this point. Our 6th day was the awesome the weather looked set to hold all day and we had all our ropes free to fix as high as they would reach, There would be no hauling to do just climbing. The biggest challenge of the day came in the form of wide crack climbing. 3 pitch´s in a row of wide stuff a 7a then 7b+ (grade 26 off-width!!) followed by a 6b (apparently ´scary when icy´). I´m not sure how we came to this arrangement, Jake had been preparing himself for wide wet stuff in Tassy for months, I´d been hitting the local sport crags of the Mountains around home yet it was me that was lined up for the hardest off-width I´d ever been on by four grades that was too wide to take gear! It did at least have 3 bolts in its 30 meters.
(Lee on the 7a)
Today the gods shined on me and clearly had some beef with Jake, the 7b+ could have passed for a 22 and and the 6b was much the same minus the bolts but with water ice rendering the inside of the wide crack frictionless with the very edge being the only exception.
(Lee on the 7b+)
(Jake on the 7b+, note the ice!)
Hours passed, it was a spiritual experience of monumental scale for the poor guy. On the verge of being spat from the very edge of this wide beast of a crack the glacier below looked even further away through the tears in his eyes. It was the classic story of 2 shuffles up for every slide back down. With his ankles being sacrificed in an attempt to stop the downward ooze there was a trail of blood staining the ice on the back wall for 20 meters. The comfort of the belay finally arrived after a few useless cam placements in the ice and one slung hole in the ice that could hardly have even been much of a psychological placement.
(Jake on the 6b)
It was my lead again and it was yet another friendly overgraded jugfest with good gear that served only to rub salt into Jakes wounds over how bad a hand he had been dealt with the days leads.
This took us to the other crux pitch of the route, Jake gratiously gave the lead to me, afraid of what a grade 27 might yeild on a day when the gods were clearly not with him. After about 500ml of melted snow in 10 hours my onsight attempt was less than impressive, coming to a fast end with a massive pump. Sometime later, after trying to imagine what sequence Wolfgang would have used to overcome this little boulder then deciding whatever it was I should look for a different way anyway and make use of my modern shoes in place of his massive biceps, I found a good way to do it. My second attempt however was thwarted by an even faster onset of lactic acid and I then too made the mistake of leaving it for another day.

Day 5

Day 5 dawned and it was back to the unfamiliar sight of clear skies and sunshine. We were underway in no time and had soon hauled to our high point. Jake then lead the following pitch, cruising up over loads of loose blocks amid a constant shower of small chunks of ice that were peeling of the wall in the sunshine of the early morning. Initially this was a bit scary, you were constantly waiting for the mamma of ice chunks to put a hole in your helmet but she never came and it started to become quite novel that you could just pluck these chunks out of the sky and keep hydrated.
Next was a 40 meter diagonal traverse across some terraces, not ideal hauling terrain. We had to fix a line across it, pull the shoulder straps form the cows and kind of do a walking jugging combo, really fun stuff!
This put us at the point that is for all other ascensionists the end of the line for the hauling, about 500m off the deck and 700m to go. As mentioned before our budget I mean ideals didn´t allow for the kind of fixing that would facilitate that sort of approach. This would just be another bivi site along the way for us.

After erecting the Black Diamond Hotel on the luxurious ledge we got into the next couple of pitch´s, the first of those clean golden granite pitch´s that we had been romantising about for months. Jake blasted the hands to fists to off-width glamour pitch, I cursed myself for leaving my watch on, making the pitch the normal thrutchy struggle that I associate with crack climbing. I was glad at what came next, after most cracks I love the sight of a good face pitch even more, it was one of the 2 hardest pitch on the route 7c/27. Bring it on I thought the weather was great and we were keen to get one of the crux´s out of the way. After a max of about 15mins I´d onsighted it. It was a little on the sneaky side with a very funky rockover leg press to blind foot swap to little campus move but all in all not too bad. Jake then had a crack and cruised on up to the sneaky bit and seemed to be lacking some oomph downstairs, in his legs that is. After a few attempts at the move he decided it might be better left to the following day. Note 1- If climbing in Patagonia and there is no snow, rain or wind DO NOT STOP CLIMBING UNTIL THERE IS; YOU MAY NOT GET ANOTHER CHANCE.

Nut tool hooking!

It was now half way through our second day on the wall and so far it had felt like we were moving so slowly. It probably had something to do with the 2 large cows filled with water and food that we were dragging up behind us. We had with us water for about 10 days, thinking that surely at some point even though we didn´t like to think that it may snow on us, there would probably be some around that we could melt for water. Ironically we needn´t have taken more than about 10 litres, there was that much snow about and the 60 litres we did take became unmeltable blocks of ice that were about as useful as a 1985 edition of the yellow pages.

Jake was now on the sharp end and was dealing with a pitch that had obviously recieved a disconcerting amount of rockfall this season. The rock was unlike the granite we were used to, cams just wouldn´t fit, it was all shattered and the cracks were just these thin little lines between a jigsaw of of loose blocks. He was glad to have done his time at araps fiddling little wires into intricate placements.
After gracefully man-handling the cows up another double pitch haul, we set up the ledge in what felt like the firing line of all the rockfall that had hammered the previous pitch, not a decision we made lightly but it was kind of unavoidable given the time of day. We scuttled up the next pitch before dark and got our first taste of climbing ice, actually it was more a taste of avoiding the stuff than anything.
It had been 2 glorious days of weather, the best we´d had the whole trip however the next day was to set the scene a little more accuratly for the rest of the route. We awoke to a really cold snowy morning, the wind was giving the portaledge a good rocking too. Nothing could be done, we took pride in the patiance we had at taking the day of bad weather in our stride. We drank tea and started to read the the book that Steve had assured us was ´a pageturner´. The next morning came with much the same weather as the last but the patiance seemed spent. After some lunch the battle gear was on and we were headed for our high point a pitch above the portaledge. Sadly the beautiful looking series of flakes and overlaps was encased in ice. I had to proceed upwards with the grotesque method known as aiding(no offense meant to those of you out there who enjoy the stuff, I probably just lack the mental fortitude...or something) As it would happen, my overly optimistic self left the few pieces of aid gear we had with us namely the sky hooks in the haul bags, sure that the wall was now steep enough to not see too much ice. This lead to a bit of inginuity that I´m sure you aiders would get excited over. The nut tool was brought into use as a make-do hook for a couple of moves. I was quite impressed that it held up to the task actually.

(Nut tool hooking!)
By the time I´d reached the end of the pitch Jake was only able to communicate in grunts between fits of shivering, this seemed like a good time to call it a day and we rapped back to the ledge hoping for better weather tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting on with it

Walking away from the Japanese camp we were both trying to be optimistic despite Steve´s realistic take on the circumstances. In fact to be honest we were like stuff it, if tommorrow is good we'll just get on it and start climbing, there will be some crap weather but we´ll just sit it out. This was what we´ve spent a heap of money to come to try and what we´ve been thinking about for over a year and it was starting to feel like time was running out, already there wasn´t going to be time for another attempt if at first we didn´t make.

As it happened the next day was beautiful, clear and still. By lunchtime we´d pulled our ropes up, I´d taken another trip back to the bivi cave to the radio I´d forgotten and Jake was leading up a classic corner system which for the most part was dry. This lead to another beautiful pitch taking us up to the point where the wall really started to rear up into the vertical realm. Hauling had all the usual joys with a few extra pains unique to Patagonia. While rapping about 70m to free the bags from one of the many inverted steps that grabbed at the bags the wind picked up, it pulled at the rope and draged him 4 meters into the air then dropped him back down again.
It was then my turn and once again I found myself offroute. So on the topo this pitch says 7a+ (bolthangers) now this makes carrots seem quite friendly and logical. When establishing the route the first ascensionists must have been concerned about how many fixed hangers they would need for the rest of the route. They were using these 12mmx30mm sleeve bolts, they left the sleeves in but took the hanger and the bolt out so it is now BYO bolts and hangers. Understandable in a way but no less of a pain, you can imagine trying to find the way across a blank slab pitch that trends leftward for 45 meters with no gear but a few threaded holes in the rock that you hope matches the thread type of the bolts you brought along. There were a few options it seemed the FA´s realised this too and managed to partly bolt one of these options but end up abandoning it for the correct way. Sure enough I find myself at grips with the partly bolted option spying what I thought was another hole in the rock some large number of meters and insecure moves away from where I was and above the last bolt sleeve that I´d screw the threaded end of a dyna bolt into. The day was warming up and there was this little trickle of water slowly oozing down onto one of the holds I needed for my blast off move toward the next hole in the rock. There was no point procrastinating I just needed to get on with it, I gave the hold a rub with my little chalk rag and steped up. A few moves later I´m standing on a small footer above irreversible climbing in the middle of a seemingly blank expanse of granite looking at an orange stain on the rock that I thought was another bolt hole, it wasn´t! This is the sort of place you wish to put someone you really don´t like, someone who has really pissed you off.

The only vague option I could see was to keep moving up, now at least 8 meters of slab was between me and the last bolt, the 8 meters below the bolt looked about as appertizing to fall onto as an inverted staircase. After some of the more cautious climbing I´v done I spied a piton and it dawned on me that I´d done it again, I´d found some a way to incorporate a little more excitment into a pitch that would have otherwise been a fairly casual grade 24, bolted face pitch.

More Time for Contemplation

Having clearly done our time in the cave over christmas and new year in temps down to -10 degrees C, nearly been knocked off our feet by the wind spent days waitng to even touch the rock we felt we´d had the Patagonia experience, we´d done our time we were ready to fulfil those romantic visions of freeclimbing on beautiful granite high above the glacier in great style.
The alarm went off at 4am, I looked outside not that I needed to I knew what was out there, it had been keeping me awake most f the night. It was terrible, a full-on storm, there would have been a thick covering of snow had the wind not been roaring like a series of freight trains. We could hear them coming from a couple of hundred meters away, ripping at the rocks on the ground untill it hit the tent and it would feel like you were going to be taken away and deposited somewhere in neighbouring Argentina. This was all to familiar just like the Christmas storm again. The first 2 days past with a painful monotony, 4am-alarm, go back to sleep, stay there as long as possible, get up try not to piss on your self too much in the wind, eat some breakfast, go back to bed read on of the couple of books as slow as possible, get up have some lunch, read slowly, get up eat dinner then try to sleep.
By the third day the claustrophobia was getting hard to deal with, walking a total of 50 meters throughout the day being either in a small tent or a drafty dark cave was taking its toll on our unacustomed Australian psyche that was used to feeling shock at awaking to a day where climbing wasn´t possible. Maybe we´d cope better had we not come from the driest continent on Earth.
That night we knew if the weather wasn´t with us tomorro we´d have to do something, get out of the cave for a walk at least. We awoke to more of the same so we took a stroll down to the Japanese camp, this is where most of the climbers camp, it is pretty close to the west side of the towers and all the shorter routes that tend to get most of the traffic. We bumped into a few climbers and we all complained about the weather. Among the climbers there was Steve Schneider a total veteran of the area, he´d probably done more climbing on the towers than anyone else ever, so we hoped he may have some helpful insight into what to expect from the weather. On telling him that we were trying Riders on the Storm he said only that `you guys are a small team for the East Face` on telling we only had a couple of hundred meters of rope he said `the ledge is the obvious place to fix to` meanwhile that would take 3 times the amount rope we had, Then to top it off we told him we were leaving in 3 weeks to which he just said `you guys.....I´m not so sure`. In retrospect this healthy dose of realism was what we would need if were to make anything of our chances.

On to the route.

After the short break in town to restock we went back into the park to begin the real suffering. We were initially greeted by some promising weather, we only had to spend an hour and a half digging for our haulbags before finding that the meters of snow that had built up on them had in fact broken the sling of the cam that they were tied off to!

(Haul Bags!)

That afternoon we managed to drag the bags up a few pitch´s while getting up to our knes in the deep snow. The next day came and we started to think the previous weeks had just been a bad spell of weather and that we should knock this fella over in no time and move onto something else. We jugged back up to the bags and dragged them a bit further and I actually put my climbing shoes on for the first time in a few weeks for the routes first pitch of technical climbing. In what is become a trademark me thing to do I added a new variation through a process of bad route finding. The obvious line was totally snowed up and didn´t look so obvious to me at the time, maybe just the idea of dry rock was what drew me out onto the blank slab. Someone had been there before, there where bathook holes and some ridiculous bolts(5mm diameter, sleeve bolts) needless to say they werent comforting. The pitch was not too hard in the end and we were both psyced to be underway doing what we had come for.

We rapped off still only 6 pitch´s off the deck but having exhausted our fixing capabilities(about 200m) the next day on the route we would be going for it, for up to 2 weeks.
There is an obvious Ledge on the route at about the 500m mark that has typically been the one and only bivi for other ascentionists. This though has only been possible with bigger teams, the other few ascents the route has had in the 18 years have all had at least 4 people and have done more extensive fixing, requiring loads of rope and a hell of a lot of cash in excess baggage. Not keen on this approach we decided to embrace life on the wall and pack a heap of food and just get on with it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Haulbags under 5m of pure white snow

29th December 2008 Well, we haven't pulled on yet but we are ready to pounce when our haul bags appear again from their snowy tomb!! 3 days ago we hiked 3 haul bags with most of our gear and water and all our food to the base of the route, through thigh deep snow. We chopped a platform out of the edge of the glacier at the base of the route and tied the bags off to a cam. We then had to sit in our bivy cave that by then had a thick covering of snow throughout, for 2 days doing nothing....We went back up to the base of Riders yesterday with another load only to find that the haul bags were buried under the snow that had poured down the route! After waking up today to the most extreme wind we have seen so far and realising that if we have to sit out for another few days in bad weather before getting on the wall we're going to run out of fuel and breakfast. The fuel has gone quickly as we're melting snow for water and i just made a minor error in my breakfast calculations. So we left the route to shed some snow and reveal our bags for a couple of days! Then we will be ready to go!
31st December 2008 The guys have stocked up on supplies and are heading back out to their cave, hoping to find great (or at least better) weather to start climbing! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The guys made it to the Torres Del Paine Park on Saturday and spent Sunday carrying three 30kg loads each to Camp Torres ...over 12 hours! They are now about 2 hours from the base of Riders and they are a little knackered but happy to be close to leaving the ground! If the weather stays good they will leave the ground on Riders in the next two days... Hopefully they will be able to get send a message through another climber who is heading into town again soon! All is good so far!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bye Bye World!!

Well this is the first update form the other side of the world.

Puerto Natales!

Lee and I arrived yesterday and today we did heaps of shopping and organizing. We are heading into the park tomorrow at 7.30 am and have enough food for 40 days. Yep 40 days camping under a 1200 meter tower. With our dream only 1 hour from base camp...
Hopefully it will only take us 4 days (max) to get all our stuff to base camp (3 monstor loads each!)
The plan is if the weather is ok to leave the ground before xmas and go big wall style over 15 days trying to free the thing.

We have some other routes we would like to try and climb but "Riders On The Storm" is calling.

We Both wish everyone a safe and merry xmas and new year. It will probably be a while till we make an update. But we will try to send an update through other climbers coming and going from base camp.

Take care!

Jake and Lee

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Video Link

Here is a link to a documentary series that Ben and I did with the Nat Geo Adventure channel earlier this year about our attempts on Zodiac in Yosemite.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

5 Quick Questions.

Jake to Lee.

Lee, your monkey tail made it to Yosemite is it heading to Patagonia? If so why?

Good question, I think it will have to. I find it gives me that little bit extra, when I have it with me I'm more in touch with my animal instincts and can go that bit further.

How are you going to deal with hanging out with a Tasmanian that has two heads for 15 days on a wall?

This will be tricky and probably the crux of the trip but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep him in line.

Is it true that you have been holding snow balls for long durations and growing a large amount of facial hair in preparation for this trip?


If you could go anywhere in the world to try any climb where would you go?

Probably have to be Patagonia to try Riders on the Storm. What a legendary route, to go and see for myself the vision those guys had back then would be a dream come true.

Will you get love sick??

I get love sick not going places like that!

Lee to Jake.

Why Riders?

Roaring rock avalanches, chopped and frozen fixed ropes, iced up rock, sitting for hours at stances and getting hypothermia. That's why!!!

Does a route put up by Wolfgang have more appeal?

Totally. It puts the icing on the cake.

Favorite ice-cream?


Where did you learn to climb snow and ice?

Over the phone from you, but you told me you'd never done it......

I heard you put up a classic new off-width at Ben Lommond recently, how do you feel about being sent up the icy grade 26 off-width pitch first?

What goes around my friend comes around. I think they call this karma. Maybe you will some how get to lead pitch 18 (the Scary when icy!!! Funnel of doom!)

On the last day of our trip to Yosemite last June we decided we couldn't leave without having done the Nose (of El Capitan). Probably the most famous single rock climb in the world it is just on 1000m long. Although originally climbed over more than 40 days over several years and these days most people spend an average of 3 days on it, we were intent on doing it in a day having never been on it before. We packed enough food and water for a big day on the wall, got up at about 4:30 in the morning and got started. After about an hour or so we realised we may have slightly miscalculated, we were already a quarter of the way up the route. We were in shock. The 7 weeks in the Valley must have really got us into the swing of it all. This shot is of Jake seconding the classic Great Roof pitch while I've already started leading up the Pancake Flake with a very large loop of rope as a belay. We topped out after 6 hours and 44 minutes. That day of climbing would have to be one of the most memorable and fun ever, to climb up that many classic pitch's in one day with a great pal is hard to beat.