Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Solstice Celebrations

Val Bois is the pointy mini-needle right of Fitz Roy
The ice line spills through the obvious chimney

A good day

The ice line on Val Bois, melting rapidly

Friends at Rio

Mountain moments

Paso sunrise

As the planet's tilt maxes out, Antarctica receives eternal energy from the sun, the Arctic remains encased in frigid darkness. Imagine living directly on the Equator for an entire lifespan and never seeing the shift; it must be quite an abstract concept! Here at -49 degrees south, near the tip of South America, we're experiencing 18 hours of light during this incredible phenomenon. It seems a sense of calm fills the people of El Chalten, for there is no doubt enough time for to do it all, or do nothing.Yesterday our crew went sport climbing across the Rio Vueltas, t'was a warm, sunny day. We marveled at stacking lenticulars, and the wispy, ghost-like apparitions that darted through the needles of the Fitz Roy Massif. Cerro Torre appeared and disappeared through the ephemeral mists. Eventually, the sun descended behind the mountains and we headed home. An excellent solstice celebration!

Last week, Joel and I headed into the mountains under clear and windy skies with about five days of food; our mission was living at the Rio Blanco base camp and going higher to Paso Superior on climbing days. Rio is a protected beech forest with lots of life: birds, bugs, and plants, and climbers. Paso is the high camp, perched precariously on the Fitz Roy glacier; life here is only climbers and maybe a stray bird.
We had two days for climbing out of Paso, starting from Rio its over 4000ft and 3-4 hours, yeah! The first day was incredibly warm on the glacier, melting the snow, our intended ice line, and brains. We spent a few hours scoping routes and gazing at the jaw-dropping NE Pilar of Fitz Roy. Home to the big bad climbs like Royal Flush, El Corazon, and Linea de Eleganza, this immaculate buttress of the best rock in the world gets you psyched! The North Pilar was about
as dry as it gets and ready for action. We stashed our gear and headed back to Rio to rest for the next weather window.
We played chess with our Bulgarian friend, tried very unsuccessfully to read his newspaper, ate lots of food, listened to music, did lots of yoga, made bird calls, and slept quite a bit.
For the next climb, we left Rio at 8pm, rocked out to the I-pods the whole way up, and made it to Paso at 12am. As we left the warmth of the snow cave, we could see our friends Mikey Shaefer and Jens Holsten high on Mermoz attempting a new route. Shortly after this moment, full on white-out conditions descended upon us. "Well maybe this will let up pretty soon,
right?" After all the forecast was for a full day of excellent weather, that's why we came. Turns out the forecast totally missed this one; by the time we made it to the first crevasse starting the Whillans route on Poincenot half a meter of light fluffy was accumulating without end. Pretty simple decision here, BAIL! On our way down we met our Austrian friends huddled in a bivy sack "waiting it out". The situation was comical, what else can you do but laugh?

Joel has left El Chalten for guiding on Aconcagua with John Race and the Northwest Mountain School; they're planning on finishing by mid-Jan at the latest.
Check it out here,

Stay tuned for adventures in the 'pine with...

Jim Toman!


Nick Stayner said...

Awesome photos and text Nigel.

Hayden Kennedy said...

yeah Planet Kauffman! Gleason and I get to Chalten on Jan 25th...cumbre!

micheldon said...

Thanks for sharing such a beautiful tale! Rad photos. The shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere was pretty amazing as well. . I watched the eclipse from the beach in San Francisco. An opposite experience, but beautiful all the same. So psyched for you two!

Ty Gittins said...

Congrats on your new route Joel!!!!!!

Higher Ground Expeditions said...

Love the pics...awesome.

BTW, did you post any pics from Aconcagua yet? I haven't seen them yet.