Monday, November 29, 2010

Blown Away on La Peineta

It isn´t usual to arrive in Puerto Natales and within a week have a small weather window with which to attempt one of Torres del Paine´s many elusive granite towers, but that is exactly what happened. After being in town for only about 5 days, Josh and I saw a brief opportunity to actually go climbing. Our friend (and Head Logistics Coordinator) from Outward Bound, Caitlin Brown, had decided to take a long weekend from her studies in Santiago to come down and hike in the park; little did she know she would be helping us carry in our tremendous load of gear! While the weather did not look stable enough to go for our main objective on the Central Tower, we took our full kit up to the Valle de Silencio so that we will be ready when it does come. Instead, we set our sights towards a route on La Peineta, a distinct tower accessed from the Silencio, called Durazno para Don Quijote (IV 5.10+ A1 or 5.11c).
Josh scopes the lines on the East Face of Central Tower

After getting a good sleep in our old home, the Italian Cave, we woke at 12.30am on November 27th...MY BIRTHDAY! That´s right, a spell of good weather on my birthday! Is that luck or what?! Anyway, starting from that far down the valley meant we had a very long approach in store for us. About 6 hours later, we were at the base of La Peineta, having just ascended the super-couloir. The wind was slack when we began the couloir ascent, but was begining to pick up as we donned our rock shoes.

Beginning the "Red Ramp" pitch
No. 5 Camalot and gloves. Fun times!

The climbing was spectacular, up clean and featured white and red granite. Pitch after pitch of rope stretching splitter cracks led us further up the southwest buttress of Peineta, but the increasing force of the wind, together with the debilitating temperature drop, was beginning to take its toll. Below the 9th pitch, only 2 pitches from the summit, I was unable to warm my toes, which had become cold and wooden. Luckily for us, this is where the rappel line leaves the route and continues down the main corner system, so we hastily organized the rappels.
Having seen no more than a handful of ascents since its FA in 1997, the rap stations were pretty dire, but without too much donation of our own gear, we were able to re-equip the line and safely make it back to our boots which were waiting for us in the sunshine.

North Face of North Tower of Paine

A long descent and march back through the snow got us to the cave at just after 8pm. I can say with assurity that after having been on the move for 19 hours camp to camp, that this is the MOST of any of my birthdays which I have truly experienced!
Thanks to Mom and Dad for giving me this life that I am trying my hardest to live to its fullest.

With nothing but rain on the horizon, Josh and I sit and do what we do best. Wait.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It is hard to believe that I have already been in Argentina for a month, but I have been kept so busy that the time has flown by. Bariloche has treated me very kindly, as have the many friends I have made since first coming here in 2008. A couple of days ago I finished up the last of my spanish courses, and I have been going up to the Frey to climb every weekend. With a ton of snow still up at the Refugio, it has made good training for the 3,000ft couloir approach to the Central Tower which is never far from my mind. My friedn Lissie is traveling here in South America, and she was lucky enough to come up for a visit on the nicest weekend we have had here. We managed to climb 17 fun pitches, and feast on homemade chocolate every night. While climbing the Torre Principal, two magnificent condors came and kept us company, flying within 20 ft of us at times.
I bought an old bike here, and it has been great to pedal around town and along the many lakes.

Tomorrow I leave for the Paine, where I will meet Josh and after reuniting with the crew in Puerto Natales, we will begin preparation to go back into the Valle de Silencio.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fin del Mundo

Gear is being sorted, bags are being filled and weighed, and carry-ons are being stuffed full of the heaviest items. This can only mean one thing: another season in Patagonia. I leave in a few short days for the Southern Hemisphere, my third trip in as many years. I would have thought that my lesson had been learned by now, but apparently not. There is something seductive and captivating about this land and the people who inhabit it.

So what is going down this year? I leave early to take some Spanish lessons and do some cragging with old friends in Bariloche, waiting for my partner Josh to finish up his relief work in Haiti and join me. Josh and I have some unfinished business with the Central Tower, which shut us down last season. After spending a month in Torres del Paine, hoping for a weather window during that time, we will travel back up north to the bustling little ski town of Bariloche, Argentina which will be our base-camp for the following months. Our plan is to ascend into the Rio Turbio drainage near the Chilean border, spend about one month attempting new routes in the Upper Turbio, and decend back down to civilization using lightweight pack rafts.

We may be spreading ourselves thin with such a varied itinerary, switching objectives so dramatically, but I think that by staying focused on the immediate, we will be rewarded with success. Either way, we can only do so much; we must still be granted passage by the God of Wind in Patagonia, Mwono.

Until the next one... Ryan

The objects of our obsession.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Zodiac Pictorial

Despite our best efforts not to document our early summer ascent of Zodiac (VI 5.8 A3) on El Capitan by not bringing cameras with functional batteries, Tom Evans stepped up and hooked me up with a bunch of really high-quality telephoto shots taken during the climb. Here are some of the best ones.

"Yo Josh! Did you bring your swimsuit?" Waterfall early on the route.

As I said before, and will continue to preach, this route is AMAZING. The line, the exposure, the quality (and cleanliness) of the pitches- it all adds up to make one of the best routes I have ever climbed.

The spectacular Nipple.

Josh tackles the Mark of Zorro pitch.

BEST top-out on El Cap.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Evolution Traverse

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder here in the Sierra Nevada, and the cool winds of fall are sending climbers flocking back into the Valley. It has been a great season here, as I just wrapped up another season of instructing for the Outward Bound School, finishing with a string of amazing courses for the OEF/OIF Veterans Program.
I was fortunate to get into the mountains a lot this summer, climbing routes on Temple Crag to the Incredible Hulk- from long ropeless solos to tenuous technical pitches, the Sierras never disappoint.
But it was the Evolution Traverse, the Big Daddy, that overshadowed my whole season. I attempted it first in late July of this year, with my good friend Andy Esparza. Andy had just returned from an incredible bicycle journey through Central America (Click here to Check it Out!), but no amount of cardio endurance could have prepared him for this thing!
The Evolution Traverse hits 9 summits over 13,000 ft, and the elevation chart looks something like an EKG reading with well over 10,000 ft of gain and loss over its 8.5 mile ridge. Long, exposed and demanding, it is not for the faint of heart.
Andy and I had a decent go at it, but heavy packs and route finding issues slowed us down before a nasty weather system forced us to retreat. After a cold bivy on Mount Mendel (13,710), only having completed a meager section of the Traverse, we bailed down one of Mendel's steep western gullys.

Our home for the night on Mendel

This failure gnawed at me for the next two months, and gnawed even more so at my friend Josh, who had been stormed off on his 2nd attempt just a week after ours. While instructing our last OB course together, Josh and I devised a new strategy, and made plans to hike in for one more shot (both of us having vowed never again!).
The hike in over Lamarck Col is brutal, at 10 miles with 3,600 ft of gain. Yet at 4am the next morning we awoke to a cold and starry sky to begin the route. Moving quickly and only using the rope (a 60m Sterling 7.7mm Ice Thong) for one pitch of climbing and 4 rappels, we climbed past Mount Mendel, Darwin, and Peak 13,332 to reach a good bivy site at a small lake near Haeckel col. Josh's prior knowledge of the route past Darwin proved invaluable, and it took us only 11 hours the first day to reach Haeckel Col.

Summit block on Mount Darwin (13,831 ft)

The best part of the Traverse! Flawless golden granite on the way to Mt. Haeckel.

The forecasted wind arrived that night, with gusts of icy wind up to 30mph. This wind dampered our resolve a bit the next morning as it continued, but we pressed on to climb the remainder of the route. With difficult route finding and exposed climbing on Mount Warlow and Huxley, the Traverse does not let up until the very end. Nine hours after leaving our bivy, we were signing the summit register of Mount Huxley, proud of our reconciliation with the route, yet fully aware that we still had a lot of miles to go before we slept!

The Evolution has left me fully depleted, as I am now in serious calorie replenishment mode, but also very excited at the possibilities of more long days in the mountains. For now though, I rack for another trip up El Cap before packing it in for the season in California. Josh and I will return to Patagonia this fall, for another attempt of the Central Tower of Paine, as well as an exciting expedition into the Turbio Valley in Northen Patagonia, where big wall ascents and big river decents await us. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tangerine Tripping

The summer season is in full effect here in the Sierra, bringing with it long cloudless days, granite ridges which stretch on for miles, and of course, the mosquitoes. Work has been keeping me busy, and with such a playground in my backyard I have scarcely had time to get the pictures off my camera and see what I have been up to! So here are some pictures I took on an early summer ascent of El Capitan's Tangerine Trip route.

My friend Taylor Lamoreaux and I have been looking for a route to climb together for a while now, as he was one of the first partners I linked up with in Camp 4 a few years back. Initially we planned to get on the mega-classic Zodiac, but after dodging extreme ice and water fall at the base, we decided to switch to the still c
ool and uber-steep Trip. To avoid seepage, slime and munge, we took the Lost in America/Virginia start to gain the 4th belay on the Trip. This move meant we could get a jump on the climb and get past the wet stuff down low, without having to jumar up steep fixed lines.

The rest of the route went smoothly, with several notable sections of "climbing", interspersed with long stretches mindless fixed gear s
eams or endless bolt ladders into the sky. Taylor and I made it a camping trip, bringing all the extras that could fit into the bag (and some that didn't!). Drinking tasty margaritas the whole way up, we really lived it up El Cap Style!

After three and a half days, we topped out, flopped over, and were met on the slabs by friends Roger and Jesse who had just cruised Lurking Fear in 12 hours or something stupid. Roger, ever-bounding ball of energy, notices we are pretty heavy and takes a rope off our hands, skipping off down towards the East Ledges!

After getting our bags back down to terra firma, we made a bee-line to the Yosemite Bug Hostel down the road for some much needed hot tub and sauna action.

After getting down off the Trip, I headed down to San Diego to hang out with my old friend Dave Baker, whose hospitality (and wine cellar) really provided the ultimate recovery program. Fully saturated with salt water, I drove back up to the Valley for another El Cap mission, this time cruising up the Zodiac with my homie Josh Garrison.

Despite a couple issues, like breaking my portaledge, and taking a couple whippers making tiny clean gear stick, we sent, and Josh experienced his first El Cap top-out! The biggest news was getting down and discovering the chaos caused by a bear breaking into my truck. Everything was tossed around like a hurricane had come through, but the actual damage was minimal, and nothing was broken. Put your food in the bear lockers people!

Well that pretty much wraps it up! Since then it has just been work, and hanging out up in Tuolumne trying to avoid the heat. There are still a couple big ticks left on the list for the rest of summer, so stay tuned for more news! Over and out. Ryan.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Via Con Aqua, a Trip Up Lost Arrow Direct

The season in Yosemite has started out great. Despite the weather showing complete contempt for all the climbers trying to attempt the routes they have been dreaming about all winter long, there have been enough short windows to allow trips up some of the shorter formations in the Valley.

Jon Byers and I were lucky to eek out a quick run up Southern Man on Washington Column, a slightly thinner sister route to the left of the popular South Face.

After heading out of the Valley for some work, I came back with my friend Geoff Schellens to climb the Lost Arrow Spire Direct, a route famed for its outstanding location, quality climbing, and above all, dee-luxe bivy ledges- big enough to pitch a tent on! We decided to forgo the tent, bringing bivy sacks instead. We would both regret this...

The Falls Wall, with the Spire on the right

Cold morning in the nylon cage!

The route was everything we had hoped for: burly chimney climbing, thin aid splitters, and a summit which cannot be matched for sheer exposure. We spent two cold and windy nights on the best ledges on the route, and during the days yelled ourselves hoarse over the Yosemite Falls which thundered by just 500 ft. to our left.

Captain America eat your heart out!

Looking up from the Second Error bivy

As we rappeled the route, the full moon rose over the Clark Range, and we were treated to a lavender sunset which reminded me of the epic topout storm I experienced during the North America Wall. Lucky for us the night was calm and mild as we hiked back out.

some photos courtesy geoff schellens.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

North Tower Video!

Pictures not doing it for you? Bored by my over melodramatic writing? Not to fear! Here is a new video showcasing Josh and I's recent trip to Torres del Paine.

North Tower of Paine from Ryan Huetter on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

El Regalo de Poseidon

In the long weeks since having climbed the North Tower of Paine, waiting in vain for the right day to climb the Central Tower, much time was spent fantasizing about warm weather routes and creating the ultimate Top 10 climbs for the coming season. But when the opportunity came for me to go back to El Cajon de los Arenales, to explore the inner canyon and attempt some new routes, I realized that the fantasy had become a reality.
With much haste I put together an itinerary that would allow my Brazilian friend, Wagner Machado, to take some time from his geology work in Rio and come down to help me realize this vision. From the start, however, we found that we were going to have to work hard just to get there. Wagner´s luggage was lost, forcing a delayed start, and when we tried to get in contact with the logistical support that I had met last year, the phone number was wrong. This led us to the crux of the trip...

Hiring a regular taxi driver to take us and all of our gear to the Gendarmeria Portinari (a border frontier Army outpost) was the biggest mistake we could have made. His taxi ran only on propane, and so had the horsepower of a lawn-mower. Unable to make it up the smallest of hills, we alternated getting out with walking with our gear to the tops of these hills, until finally, the "Little Engine That Could" stopped dead, leaving us and our mountain of climbing gear miles from where we needed to be. 5 hours of load ferrying later we finally could crash.

Waking up the next morning, I was struck by the strange lack of gale force winds, snow, or other climbing-prohibitive weather patterns: THIS ISN´T PATAGONIA! Being at almost 3000m at basecamp, and with my still persistant tendonitis in my foot, we decide to acclimate on a nearby spire, climbing Carlos Daniel (250m 5.10a) and taking some pictures of interesting features from the summit. The next day, we went for a long hike over the talus into the inner canyon to repeat a climb on El Marinero, a giant prow of rock rising steeply from the shore of the glacier-fed laguna, and see if it held the opportunity for a new route. We climbed 2 pitches, but failed to see any evidence of a route in existance. The terrain above us seemed steep and intimidating, unlike the route we were supposed to be on. Reaching a belay stance we decided to leave a gear anchor and fix our ropes down to the ground so we could scope out a line with the binoculars and come back with all the gear we would need to establish our climb.

Approaching through the morning mist.

Wagner scopes out El Marinero

Back on the ground Wagner and I were both amazed at what we saw: a perfect line going up a series of steep dihedrals just to the right of the vertical to overhanging South Face. We were stoked. After a day of taking some more gear to the base we were ready. Leaving at 8am (not the 12am alpine start I had been used to!), we hiked to the base of El Marinero, jumared up our lines, and I racked up to lead the 3rd pitch, hoping for the best.

Looking up at the South Face of El Marinero.

Ryan leading the crux 3rd pitch: OW with thin pro.

We hoped for the best, and we got it. The route opened itself in front of us. The climbing was difficult, and sustained, but never was there a question of where it would go: it was a natural line up a beautiful face on immaculate rock. The climbing and quality of the rock was very much like that of the High Sierra, and several times I had remind myself that I wasn´t on the Incredible Hulk, but in the Argentine backcountry! The steep corner systems offered up amazing and endless hand and finger cracks, through slots and over roofs, always ending in comfortable belay ledges, pitch after pitch.

Looking up through the "Birth Canal"

After 7 long pitches, we made it to the top of the wall, with no drama, onsight and all free aside from a tension traverse I made which Wagner eliminated following. As we rapped the face, sometimes following our route, sometimes to the left, we found no evidence of a previous route except for a single slung horn halfway up the wall. We installed all new rappel stations, only placing 2 pitons and one bolt. We assume the original route climbed to the top, but are unable to figure out where it would have gone, and are unsure if it had ever been repeated since its recorded ascent in 1993. Our route is for sure the second route on the face, and perhaps the second ascent of the formation overall. The route is comparable to the best of the other long hard free climbs in the canyon, and will become an area classic once more climbers start venturing a bit deeper into the canyon.

We named the route El Regalo de Poseidon (Poseidon´s Gift) 300m 5.11b 7 pitches.

The rest of the trip was relaxed and uneventful. We repeated several classic established routes in the Camponile Towers before returning to a sweltering hot Mendoza (this time hiring a 4wd vehicle to take us down!). Now I recover from being fever-stricken for the last couple days and wait to take a bus down to Bariloche for a few weeks of R & R before heading back home.

A big thanks goes out to the American Alpine Club and the Mountain Fellowship Award which made this trip possible!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Patagonian Marathon: A Wet and Wild Tour of Torres del Paine

Now with our basecamp moved down to Campamento Torres, we have a lot more to occupy ouselves with during the long days spent waiting for our weather window. Our favorite pastimes include vicious slander, runs up to the Mirador, weather speculation, pull-up contests and practicing my horrible version of Spanish in the park ranger´s hut. Very much unlike Yosemite, the rangers here are way cool, and are always willing to help you out and give you a hot drink and a place to warm up.
But even all that will still lead to the inevitable cabin fever all too common in these parts. So Josh decided that he was going to run the Torres Circuit in a push. It takes normal people 7-10 days. It´s like 55-60 miles. No way am I doing that, I said. My knees are worth more that.
Well, stupid ideas tend to breed more stupid ideas, so within hours I was planning my own enduro-hike, which would not require as much mileage, but would take me on a sweet loop touring the frontside of the park.

Ascensio Valley

I left the cave at 5:15 am and started my stop watch at the edge of Torres Camp at 5:30. The early morning hike/run down the Ascensio Valley was rad. I was on the trail for about 4 hours before running into anybody else. The temps were cool, and I was comfortable in shorts.

Early morning atLago Nordenskjold

Morning light hits the Cuernos

Taking a couple short breaks at Campamento Cuernos and Italiano for food and stretching, I was well ahead of the time benchmarks I had set for myself, and after Italiano the terrain flattened out considerably. Near to Lago Pehoe, however, the weather closed in hard. The wind, which had been ever present but thus far benign, began picking up the water off the lake and hurling it sideways.

Patagonia or Serengeti?

I continued through this crap for another mind-altering 17 km to my end point at the Administration office at Lago Toro. I was wet. From here I waiting for the bus and caught a ride back into town to dry out.
My total point to point time was 10.5 hours over 29.5 miles (47.5 km). Josh crushed the full circuit in 17.5 hours. I said it before and I´ll say it again- running is stupid, unless you´re getting chased by a bear.