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!
at 10:11 AM