The region on the southern tip of South America is known for its volatile, windy weather. Renowned for climbers coming back again and again and not being able to climb anything. In addition to the weather, the climbing is demanding and sustained. And yet it is a place that captivates, that pulls people into its spell and never lets go – people just like me.
5 is the number of summits that we were able to climb in our first season in Patagonia: Aguja Guillaument, Aguja de l´S, Aguja Poincenot, Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy. A number that doesn’t seem real, even after our return. It is still unbelievable that we had such good luck with the weather. We being myself and Laura Tiefenthaler, whom I have known since our time at DAV Expedkader.
The plan: Aguja Poincenot in a single push moving together for sections with some soloing. Together with Laura and two other roped teams, we started at 9:30pm. It’s a strange feeling when the sun goes down and you know it’s only just beginning. At first I thought, walking through the night is just a head game. I thought wrong. I was glad when we reached the initial pitch.
We continued to move together throughout the night and, as the sun rose, my energy came back. Laura cruised through the crux, and we moved towards the summit on easier terrain. The higher we climbed, the more the wind built. We gave it some gas, knowing that the wind was only going to get worse. By the summit ridge it was so strong that we were afraid of being blown away. We were quickly down and after 21 hours we were back at our starting point of El Pilar, exhausted, hungry but happy.
There are few mountains that have such incredible charisma as Cerro Torre, a mountain with so much history! We were drawn to it, and hoped to be the first team to climb it this season. Laura and I were together with Fabi Buhl, and a French team of Matthieu Perrussel, Christophe Ogier and Jean Baptiste Tapie.
Our aim was the Ragni Route on the west face. A route known for its surreal rime formations (rime or rime ice denotes a thick “hoarfrost ice” typical of Cerro Torre), and a route where conditions vary so much year on year, you never know if you are going to reach the top. The meter-thick rime is extremely difficult to secure. Often you are forced to climb through a small gully of rime. But sometimes there are natural tunnels, which are then covered with ice and can be climbed more easily. At the first ‘mushroom’ we climbed through an ice tunnel - an unforgettable and bizarre experience.
We moved towards the summit, alternating at the front with the French team. Christophe took the lead over the last rime mushroom and climbed over two thirds of it before handing it over to the Italian, Edoardo Saccaro. To get the season’s first ascent of the Ragni was a special experience. The magnificence of the landscape, mountains and glaciers on the west side and the endless steppes on the east side ... These sights burned into my memory.
Cerro Fitz Roy
The season so far has been difficult in terms of weather conditions, with little good weather between November and late January. But somehow our luck seemed to be holding - another weather window was on the way! Together with the Austrian Babsi Vigl we planned to climb Cerro Fitz Roy via the Supercanaleta route, a line first climbed in 1965. The first 1000 meters of climbing is a couloir filled with snow and ice, followed by steep rock and mixed climbing until easier terrain to the summit.
We climbed many kilometers through forest and moraine, up to Paso Cuadrado and back down to the start of the tour. The same evening, at dusk when snow and ice are solidifying, we climb the thousand meter ice couloir to a place to sleep under a large block. This is where the more difficult part of the route begins. Then the decision for the next day: with or without bivouac equipment to the summit? We chose with.
And rightly so: the second day was more demanding than expected. The cracks icy, the rock often covered with snow. It was getting late and we decide to bivvy 20 meters below the summit. With a positive side effect: seeing a sunset and sunrise high up on Cerro Fitz Roy is very special! The mountains around us glow in the last evening light. I have rarely seen such a beautiful starry sky. The next morning we climb again to the summit, abseil down the ascent route and take the long way back to El Chaltén.
Reflections and return
It is still difficult for me to put all the experiences into words. I know that I will still need some time to really process our time in Patagonia, and appreciate what a perfect season we had. We got to see Patagonia's best side, and experienced incredible moments with friends in spectacular mountains - moments that I will never forget. The question of whether I will return was answered with a clear YES during this first trip. However, it is clear to me that things cannot always go that way. What will I expect next time in Patagonia?