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!