Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fitzroy. Jim & Thom's account of our adventure.

With permission from Jim & Thom, here is some of there thoughts on our adventure:

(jim’s writing)
The Fitz Roy!!!
A few days later, we were feeling the Psych and eagerly awaiting the projected weather window.  We left town on the 17th and headed to Piedras Negras with 2 sleeping bags, 1 bivy sack, belay jackets, 1 pair of puffy pants, the climbing gear and tons of food.  We were headed for a route pioneered by Jim Donini and Thom Englebach in 2006 on the North Pillar of Fitz Roy.  This route was completed to the top of the pillar by Rolo Gariboti and Bean Bowers to the top of the pillar a few years later, but before this season no one had climbed it to the summit.  This was our main goal for the season.  We learned however that our Swedish friends and a Slovenian team had just completed the route to the summit during the previous weather window.  We didn’t let this stop us because this roughly 1300 meter climb is rumored to be one of the best on Fitz Roy.

We left our bivouac at Piedras Negras fairly early on the 18th and went over Paso Cuadrado at sunrise.  The views of the peaks surrounding the Fitz Roy glacier are absolutely breathtaking.  We continued down on to the glacier proper and we were soon under the route but it was obvious the weather up there was horrific, watching the clouds slam in to the Fitz was similar to watching a major league pitcher hurl snow balls into a brick wall.    We prepared a bivouac under the route by making a wall of rock to close the opening of an overhanging boulder on the Fitz Roy Glacier.  Then the weather cleared, it was about 130pm when we started up the approach couloir.  We reached the bottom of the route and had to decide what to do it was 4pm.  There was a bad bivy ledge about 1000′ up and we decided to go for it.  We had less than 3 liters of water.
Thom started leading and we got to the tiny ledge just after dark, it was mostly 5.10 climbing the whole way.  Cory seconded with a pack and I jumared a fixed line 3rd so we could keep the leader moving.  We arrived at the small ledge just after dark.  There was no snow for melting water so we ate the food that didn’t require cooking.
We woke up the next morning as soon as it was barely warm enough to rock climb, since we didn’t have much water we skipped breakfast and had a snack instead.  We wouldn’t see any ice or water until 3pm, 24hours after we last got some.  It was my block and I started up some beautiful 5.10 double cracks.  The glacier below became smaller and smaller as pitch after pitch of perfect,steep climbing passed below us.
We eventually were able to chop some ice and melt it with the stove.  It was 3pm and we had to decide weather to proceed or bivy.  Given our low calorie intake and 24 hours of very little water we decided to bivy. The ledge was just big enough to the 3 of us to lay down, Thom in a sleeping bag and Cory and I sharing a the other sleeping bag and bivy sack as it was windy and cold.
The following day we started up again skipping breakfast in favor of speed.  Cory took over leading, I seconded and Thom Jugged.  Cory led some brilliant pitches as was the theme of the whole route, I honestly can’t remember a bad pitch on it.  We made it to the top of the North Pillar, but we could see that the route from there was pissing water.  We down-climbed about 50 feet to a ledge and I melted snow and cooked while Cory and Thom did some rock work to make the ledge sleepable.  We all crammed together in a nice “manwich” to stay warm.
We got up early around 4am and climbed back up to the North Pillar and rappelled into the notch.  Thom took over the lead and got to a icy chimney.  He called down to me and said there was some ice I should climb to get pass a tough spot.  I climbed up in rock shoes, switched to boots and crampons and climbed a tricky mixed bit and then realized we were off route and  to continue wouldn’t be good for my life expectancy.  I down climbed and then we rappelled and realized our fault and went right, to steep crack system.  Thom had some excellent leads through difficult icy cracks, I seconded with a pack and Cory jumared with the heavy pack.  Thom finished the steep rock and I took over for 200 meters of easy ice and mixed climbing.
We were climbing in the clouds now and past the technical climbing.  Another fifteen minutes of 4th class terrain saw us on the summit.  The clouds were socked it and there was about 100 feet of visibility.  It was 230 or 3pm so we decided to bivy and have a full day to rappel down the opposite side of the mountain.  Then it started snowing so we started down the Franco-Argentine route.  Since I had been down the route last year I led the charge it was very difficult  when it was light and there was 50 ft of visibility and quickly became impossible when it got dark and there was 30ft of less of visibility.  We got off route and began rappelling into the unknown into the dark.  Eventually, after 1 stuck rope and many overhanging steep rappels we found a small flake that the 3 of us could almost fit on.  It was 3 am and we shivered through the night.  Then next morning dawn came very slowly the clouds prevented us from being able to get our bearings on the huge face and we didn’t know quite where we were.  The clouds parted for a few brief seconds and we saw the South-face of Poincenot and La Cilla which is where we wanted to be.  Two more rappels had us on the ground and a short walk had us back to La Cilla.  We continued down through the crap rock of La Brecha and eventually made it to the glacier, but not before I broke through a snowbridge with a girlish yell and luckily didn’t fall too far into the bergshcrund before being stopped by another snow bridge.  The last bit of excitement of our adventure.
We negotiated the glacier back to Paso Superior, which had a lot more crevasses than in February of last year and eventually made it back into town for some great Argentine Beef and some much needed sleep.  At dinner we learned that there were 6 or 8 other teams that tried that route and we were the only ones to be summit, we were lucky and persistent, and it paid off.

(thom’s facebook posting)

So here´s the story: Jim Turner, Cory Fleagle and I left town on Thursday
> and hiked to Piedras Negras to be in position for the weather window. On
> Friday we hiked over the Paso Cuadrado and down to the Fitzroy Glacier. The
> weather was cloudy and windy, and was raining a little, so we found a big
> boulder on the glacier and made a cave under it to get out of the rain and
> wind. But the weather started to improve, so we kicked steps up the 2000
> foot snow slope up to the base.
> By the time we got there, the weather was fine, so we started up the route
> at 4 pm hoping to reach the bivouac ledge at pitch at the top of the 8th
> pitch by dark.
> We had to climb the last pitch by headlamp, but we made it. Unfortunately
> there wasn´t much snow to melt there and the ledge was pretty small.
> Next day we continued up to the pitch 16 bivy ledge, the high point of my
> previous attempt with Jim Donini. By then it was 5 pm and we had only had a
> liter of water each in the last 24 hours, so we took the good bivy spot and
> start chipping ice out of the cracks and melting it on the Jetboil.
> Now this route is the talk of the town and there were at least 3 parties
> coming up behind us, all parties of two, going for the summit and going
> light. We had a lot of gear: food and fuel for 4 days, and mountain boots,
> crampons and ice axes for everyone. We only went light on the bivy gear, so
> we were cold at night. Two of the parties passed us and continued up to the
> top of the North Pillar, and another party took the smaller ledge near us.
> The next morning we waited for the sun to warm things up, since we realized
> that it would be pointless to try to climb past the top of the pillar that
> day- the next few pitches have to be climbed early in the morning before
> the
> sun starts melting the summit snowfields and causing a waterfall to stream
> down the 27th pitch.
> We reached the top of the pillar around 5 pm and encountered two of the
> other parties. One of them had gotten soaked by the waterfall, the other
> one
> had gotten a rope stuck and had to cut it, so they were all heading down
> together. We don´t know what happened to the third team, but they must have
> seen the waterfall and rappelled off as well down the established rappel
> route on the north side of the pillar.
> So were were the only party left, and our only problem was a damaged sheath
> on the rope we were using for jumaring, but it was such a fat rope to start
> with that weren´t too worried about it- it was just another minor risk to
> be
> managed.
> We found a great ledge about 25 m below the summit of the North Pillar and
> made a good bivy spot. The wind was light and we stayed fairly warm- I
> didn´t shiver at all that night.
> The next day we got up at 3:45 and did a couple of diagonal rappels over to
> the Fitz proper. I started leading up the gully but couldn´t get very far
> because the cracks were full of ice. Jim put on his boots and crampons and
> tried to climb it with two ice tools, but no go. So we rappelled 80 feet
> back to the col and I led a steep but straightforward aid crack to the
> right
> of the gully. While I was leading the waterfall started up again, but we
> were off to the side and avoided getting wet for the most part.
> A few more pitches of rock climbing led to snow filled gullies and we all
> put on boots and crampons and climbed some more roped pitches which led to
> easy terrain. We unroped and soon we were on the summit of Fitzroy. At
> first
> we were in a cloud but then the sun came out and we were above a sea of
> clouds stretching out to the horizon. We made another bivy site, found some
> water and cooked some food. Then it started to snow. We weren´t well
> equipped to spend the night out in a snowstorm so we felt compelled to
> start
> our descent down the Franco-Argentine Route. Jim had been down it before,
> but we got off route in the fog and darkness and spent the night rappeling
> down a steep wall. There were a few established anchors at first, but
> eventually we had to start building our own. We had passed the point of no
> return and the only thing to do was to keep rappelling and make sure that
> our anchors were good and that the ropes would pull cleanly each time.
> At about 3:30 am we finally reached a ledge that was big enough for the
> three of us to sit on, so we huddled together and waited a few cold hours
> for daylight, imagining that we were still a thousand feet or more above
> the
> glacier.
> When morning finally came we were able to make out our surroundings through
> the clouds and we were glad to discover that the glacier was only 500 feet
> away. Three more rappels brought us to the ground and we were able to climb
> back up to La Silla and rejoin the proper descent route. We made it back to
> town by dinner time and had a bit of a celebration at La Señera with the
> other American climbers, drinking wine and telling tall tales.

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