Pain and Gain 7a+, First ascent, Aguja Desmochada, by Ondrej Húserka and Jozef Krištoffy
Words by Ondrej Húserka
Images by Ondrej Húserka and Jozef Krištoffy
Extreme heat, terrible cold, wind, ice, snow, and water. Aguja Desmochada promises all of this. Since 2016 I had carried the idea of the line in my head, but there was always another route that was in better condition at that moment.
Starting the route from the Niponino bivouac entails 7 hours and roughly 700 vertical meters of hiking and 3rd class scrambling, with some harder bits (4th grade).
On the Approach to Niponino
To save energy, we chose to bivouac a short distance from the wall just below the Poincenot. Getting up there with all the stuff for a comfortable bivouac was, as always, sheer hell. However, the wall was really close from there. The opening crevasses and rumbling scree were frightening at first sight. We didn’t bring any bolts, only 6 pitons, so the only reasonable escape option was over the top and to abseil down "Circus Pets". It was clear to us that we wouldn’t be able to do that in the dark. Those who have climbed here know that this is not like in the Alps. Going down in the dark, in the wind and on an unknown route can result in huge problems. A bivouac is only a very marginal possibility. But just to be safe we pack our down jackets and a thin bivvy bag.
The Bivi under Poincenot
In the morning we wake up early at 4:00. At dawn Jozef starts to climb the first meters of our new line. In order to save weight, we left our boots at the base. We both climb all the pitches, the second carrying the backpack. On some harder pitches it is necessary to haul it. It was really cold for rock climbing, the temperature well below zero. Already the second pitch got pretty hard and at the end I climbed it from the right to avoid the offwidth. It also required a few moves in a roof crack. The next 5 pitches on the buttress followed chimneys and corners, and the difficulty was mainly determined by the amount of ice. Problems arose when loose blocks or flakes got in the way. In the afternoon we finally got some sun, but only for three hours.
On the often icy initial pitches
From the top of the buttress we climbed into the steep part of the pillar, where the incredible crack climbing begins, spiced up in places by runouts with poor protection. I led the first of the harder pitches and rated it 7a+. Another gem followed for Jozef - a disappearing crack in the slab. He fought super hard and also climbed the pitch on-sight. We had one last problem before the end of the pillar. A beautiful corner about 70 meters long, which was wet in places. The first part of the corner is a never ending endurance layback (6c+) with wet feet. The second part of the corner definitely stopped our free climbing. A 40 metre finger crack, with many wet spots. Free climbing it felt quite unrealistic in the current conditions and with our gear. I freed a part of it, but aided the really wet parts. In our opinion it could be free climbed at around 7c or more. It was getting late and we did not have time for a second attempt.
Jozef on the 10th pitch, the most beautiful one
A ramp to the right eventually led us out into a system of cracks that then led us to the top of the pillar. We were more or less reconciled to our emergency bivouac, and still had one day of good weather, so we weren't too worried about the icy night and had no other option.
An endless night below the last pitch
The bivouac was endless. But it didn't matter, especially when there was always something to do all night long - sleep for an hour, squat, count the stars, massage frozen legs in climbing shoes, sleep for 10 minutes, shake off cramps in calves... One doesn't get bored for those 8 hours. The icy wind started to pick up in the morning. At the very first light we quickly climbed the last pitch to the summit.
On the summit
We were really cold so we only took a few photos and threw the rappel into the first anchor of the Circus Pets route. Followed by 11 rappels down a steep wall composed of huge flakes. Fortunately everything went well and by 12 noon we were at our bivouac at the base. The weather was starting to slowly deteriorate so we decided to descend all the way down to El Chalten. After all, it's not that far, only an 11 hours walk.
First ascent "Pain and Gain" - 7a+, C1, 570m - Aguja Desmochada (+ 700m ascent of classification III)