Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spires, Splitters and Cabernet Sauvignon

Here it is, straight from the frontline, all the news that´s fit to print, coming to you live from the scorching cubicle in the heart of malbec country.
I just got back yesterday afternoon after 11 days in El Cajon de los Arenales, a deep canyon located in the "foothills" of the Andes Range at around 10,000ft, whose main claim to fame is a ridiculous number of steep granite spires split by record number of perfect splitter cracks. With just enough information to get me psyched, but not enough to give me any idea what was in store for me, I rallied out with my friend Amir to see what all the fuss was about.
We were not disappointed. What we found and climbed there during our stay equaled many of the 5 star free climbing routes in Yosemite.


The view.

The further you work up the canyon, the longer and more involved the routes become. Every single route we climbed was a classic in its own right, ascending laser cut splitters and exposed ridges leading to sometimes very small summit blocks on top of slender needles (agujas), the most memorable being Armonica (210m, 5.10b), El Escorpion (220m, 5.11a), and Mundo Interior (170m, 5.11b). The length of these routes might seem long just on their own, but also realize that the bases of these climbs were often more than 1,900 vertical feet away up a 45 degree scree and talus slope. So every day it was almost 4,000ft of gain and decent just to get to the climbing!

Me on crux pitch of Mundo Interior, Aguja Espina

Me on Summit of Aguja Espina

While we basecamped at the upper end of the canyon, near the upper climber´s refugio, Amir and I made a ton of great Argentine and Basque friends, and lived it up with the beverage of choice, a fine (or not-so-fine) wine passed around ring-of-fire style.

Summit shot on Aguja Charles Webis, after El Escorpion

Each route we climbed was a bit longer and harder, as we got a feel for the grades and climbing, in preparation for the granddaddy of the trip out to Arenales, an ascent of the route Mejor no Hablas ciertas cosas (500m, 5.11a) on the North Pillar of El Cohete, a massive granite pillar which captivates the imaginations of climbers in the Arenales.
So we racked, we hiked, and we sent. The route itself was rad- we simulclimbed 200m of rotten rock to get to the base of the pillar, where the hard climbing started right off the bat. Many pitches and several difficult cruxes later, with cold temps and numb hands we stood on the summit and let out a big monkey call to our friends up in the spires before beginning the many hours of rappels to get back down to the base.

Amir on the OW pitch 7 El Cohete

Pitch 9 El Cohete

Our Basque friend Jon climbing Pichulla de Caballo at night (5.13a)

El Cajon de los Arenales is an amazing place with an insane amount of potential, and I plan to make a return trip already. But for now, it is time for some New Year´s Fiestas, and then down to Bariloche to climb in the world-renowned Frey area.

¡Hasta Luego!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cordon Del Plata

Alright, here it is folks, the first installment of the long awaited, much debated, highly anticipated Patagonia Reports. But to be honest, the Cordon del Plata is in Mendoza, which is more central Argentina. The Cordon del PLata is a sub range of peaks within the Andes, the highest of which is Cerro Plata (around 20,000ft). My goal was Cerro Vallecitos (17,000), a really beautiful looking climb up a long summit ridge. So I get dropped off by my buddy Joe at the trailhead leading into the valley after staying with him at his house in Tupungato. The town is at 3,000ft and the trailhead is at 9,100ft. This alone is enough to give most people quite a little headache.
Mistake Number 1: I had only given myself 4 days to get up to basecamp and climb the peak, since I had to be down to Mendoza to meet a friend to go start getting on the real rock this trip is all about.
Mistake Number 2: In order to get this done, I chose to go all the way to Campo Salto (13,800 or so) on day one, passing a couple other lower camps. This would put me in much better position to climb the higher peaks at the end of the valley, but force my body to either put up or shut up. It chose the latter. At 13,100, well short of the steep scree ascent to Campo Salto, I was getting pounded by AMS, and decided to put up my tent a couple hundred feet lower along side a snowfilled moraine. Feeling quite shitty still and unable to sleep, I made the ultimate decision to leave most of my gear in my tent and hike out back down to the refugio (mountain hut) at 9,000ft to sleep. I got a decent sleep in side the refugio, but had to head back up the valley in the morning to either get my stuff and come down or push my camp up higher to Salto. Sadly, the weather forecasted was not looking good, and I was hammered after hiking 15 miles and ascending/decending over 16,000ft in 2 days. So I packed it in and am now down in the stifling heat of Mendoza getting ready to take a bus back to Tupungato after I get some topos of climbs in the los Arenales Canyon, which is where I am heading next as soon as I meet up with Amir.
Campo las Veguitas

Until the next one...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Packing and Racking

Patagonia Sufferfest 08/09 is getting ready to kick things into high gear!  Well, the days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and I am almost ready to go.  The tent is seam sealed, crampons are sharpened, and the flask is ready to be filled!  Leaving on Sunday morning for Buenos Aires to visit a friend for a few days, then off to Mendoza to climb in the Cordon del Plata, hoping to summit Cerro Plata (5,800 meters), as well as some lower peaks before going south and suffering on the real stuff.   
Here is just a little taste of what's to come, a shot of the Cerro Torre group, and a foreshortened view of the route Rubio y Azul on the Torre de la Media Luna which I'll be getting on a little later in the trip...   photo courtesy dave daly.   I will be posting photos and updates here for the most part, so check here to get the buzz on Patagonia Sufferfest 08/09! Take care and have a kick ass winter, wherever you are, whatever you're doing.