Friday, December 23, 2011

Rise of the Machines

VI 5.11 A2+
900m (650 new)

Southwest Face, Aguja Poincenot, Argentine Patagonia

Mikey Shaefor photo!!!

Moonset over Sitting Man Ridge.

Mikey Schaefor approaches the climb

Happy happy joy joy!!

Jens Holsten is All Smiles!

The smiles stopped.

Jens leads into the steepness.

"Extraplume." Literally, more than plumb, is the term used to describe the steepness in Castillano.

Mikey looks forward to A2.

We cultivated psyche when our butt-floss harnesses threatened to cut off circulation to our legs forever!

The night passed rather quickly after Jens delivered us to the Awahnee bivy ca. 0100 hrs.

Mikey stitched together a few photos to make this incredible panorama of me greeting the Torres at first light. Everyone needs to check out his amazing photos at this site.

Final brew.

Massive rockfall on El Mocho. An example of how good weather can actually be too good...

Mikey and Jens looking skinny back at camp.

Parting shots.

Eat Your Words.

Mikey Schafer arrived in El Chalten just in time for a few days of good weather. Jens and I met him on the street as we were heading into the Torre valley with large loads. Mikey had sprained his ankle in Yosemite a couple months ago and, when coupled with jet-lag, had decided to sit out the albeit short weather window. In the mean time, he was schemeing about a much larger objective.

While Jens and I were running around the Valle Torre, Mikey was resting and meticulously planning for the next mission. He downloaded photos and topos to his I-phone, spent hours putting together the perfect tools for the job, and began religiously checking the weather. Finally, he bided his time so that Jens and I were sufficiently rested and well fed before dropping the idea on us.

Meanwhile, in the Valley of Torre, Jens and I had succeeded in carrying the loads to Niponino high camp and climbed halfway up the right pillar on El Mocho the following day. The same pillar had thwarted Neil and I a couple years earlier and provides a short approach to rock climbing. The following day we ran out of the Torre valley. Unbeknownst to us at the time, we would be returning in three days with Mikey to climb one of the biggest routes of our lives.

Getting on to the Torre glacier has become increasingly challenging. The lateral moraine supporting the final approach trail has collapsed into Lago Torre. This mass wasting event has revealed it’s true nature; a concave ice face below and house sized boulders glommed into the unsorted moraine above. It’s an entrance exam on the way in and icing on the cake on the way out. Either way, it’s looming in the back of ones mind, tucked into a little box and put away for later.

We were delighted to be accompanied by Hayden and Jason on our way in. All five of us donned helmets and somber expressions before darting across the collapsing moraine. Mikey kept pace and revealed that he felt his ankle for the first time while rushing across the unstable “trail.” We continued up the glacier, taking our time finding the easiest way. The sticky dot rubber on approach shoes does little to keep one upright while walking on the aerated ice of the lower Torre Glacier. Jen’s retort to slipping and putting a hand down, which was promptly sliced open, reminded us that every step counts in the mountains. Furthermore, this was the first event of the Journey that is best described as "eating our words." Throughout the rest of our time in the Torre Valley, no sooner would we open our mouths and an event would occur that was exactly opposite what we had just spoken to...

Jens, Mikey, and I made use of our previously established cache at Niponino. We pulled out two backpacks full of gear, set up the tent, and went about organizing the rack. Our lesurely attitude on the approach extended into the evening as we ate dinner and got horizontal around 2100 hrs. In fact, we took our time on the final approach to the route the next day and even laughed our way up the initial seven pitches of free climbing (up to 10c). However, the laughter stopped abruptly when we were forced to eat our words at the base of the headwall.

The clip-in point on my approach shoe (the front lace) failed as I sat down at the end of my lead block. From a seated position at the base of the headwall, I watched in detachment as I the shoe tumbled down the steep granite, no where near my two partners who had yet to make the final traverse. No need to yell. Only inner distain... I steeled myself for a few nights out with the extra effort of keeping the toes happy minus a toe box. I finally confided with Jens, who, understandably, responded with a barrage of questions. I answered with cultivated positivity. There was a much larger task at hand...

From our previous vantage points, the headwall looked as if it would be a perfect hand-crack. This idea was squashed when Jens led the first pitches of steep, exfoliating, cerrado como culio de munuca (closed like a dolls ass), crack. Jens's high-stepping on a 000 C3 to a hook move off an ice tool and Mikey's Rrrrrrr!!! rated (with only 3 pieces to protect a hundred feet of climbing) .75 crack and subsequent crack switch (read: large pendulum), earned them both medals of honor. At times throughout the next two days, we nearly chocked on our words.

Suffice to say, Mikey led a huge aid block on day 2 and Jens led us to an Awahnee ledge at around 0100 the next morning. All this coupled with a canister for the Jetboil that was never refilled to it's maximum and we were tired and dehydrated. I filled the three liter dromedary twice with snow from a small patch before we all passed out in our separate bivy systems.

We sat up more or less simultaneously at 0500 after enduring dreams of suffocating and having to put in ear plugs because of the increasing winds. A little water and an energy gel was "breakfast," even thought it would have taken a lot more actually break the fast. I led off the ledge and into broken crack systems with the idea of eventually breaking right to join the established lines. We simul- climbed on moderate terrain and traversed a red dike of chossy rock before beginning to see signs of the other routes.

Without much beta on the upper rambling pitches, I connected lines between tattered anchors and found my way to the base of a right slanting hands to fists crack that definitely earned extra credit as did the following steep crack off the belay. I pulled into the sun on the right side of the summit and finished the classic "spiral staircase" to gain the true high point. Looking down on my companions, Mikey stretched out more than likely asleep, and Jens seated while belaying, I realized that we had reached the halfway point.

The Cumbre is a knife edge ridge line which we walked individually. Mikey and I returned for a quick summit photo while Jens led the first of many raps. We paused before rapping the headwall to finish off the gas canister. The small amount of gas left was enough to melt a couple liters of water and rehydrate a meal. The blast of caffeine was exactly what we needed to perk our attention for the next step in the Journey.

Mikey led all the raps down the headwall (Standing ovation!!!). He rebuilt every anchor and salvaged gear from at least three different routes that we crossed. Halfway down the steepness, Jens and I looked across the Torre Valley for the source of the loud bass. It was rockfall on El Mocho. The debris ran the entire morainal approach and rock dust quickly swept over Niponino. Psycho-sematic responses included an increase in respiratory and heart rate. We looked at each other and tried to justify the fact that we had been there just a few days earlier.

Mikey belayed Jens back to the packs and we started post holing down the gully in iso-thermic snow up to our thighs. With a moderately tight rock shoe on my left foot, I quickly lost sensation in my toes. Strung out, I struggled to maintain positive as the now cold canister failed to produce enough pressure to ignite the stove. Our only food, a freeze dried meal would not be consumed until we reached base camp. Replacing the soaked socks and rock shoe was made better only by the insulated pants. When we reached the ramp I pulled off the heel of the rock shoe and the ensuing surge of blood can only be described as the "screaming barfies."

Having bragged to Jens about sticking the descent to Niponino in the dark during my first season, I took over the lead and turned off my headlamp. Would I be eating my words one last time? The ambient light from a nearly full moon illuminated the rubble strewn Torre glacier. I turned my lamp on again and slowly picked my way through the morainal debris. I used a combination of terrain recognition and intuition to bring us in above camp and then reset the trajectory for the large boulder which our tent hid behind.

It’s not the same without my longtime patagonian climbing partner and brother, Neil. He and I understand each other on a level that goes far beyond any other relationship in my life. Neil knows what I’m thinking and vice versa. Therefore, we easily move beyond the communication barriers that limit most of my relationships and get down to the true meaning. Neil came up with the name of the route, Rise of the Machines, after the Terminator theme (Judgement Day is right of our line). I requested his help in leu of our fading creativity (Direct South Face and Eat Your Words didn't ring in our ears). Muchismo gracias hermano!!!

Talking to Neil over the phone, he described how to quickly regain psyche after large routes. In doing so, he quoted one of our Argentine friends, Matheas, “Lots of rest, lots of meat, and a girl.”

Huge thanks to Mikey and Jens! The Rise of the Machines would not have gone down without Mikey's inspiration and skill and Jens's psyche and hardman status!

Salud amigos y suerte!

Rise of the Machines in the news:

Climbing Magazine

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

We get by with a little help from our friends!

Sunset at Piedra Negra. Jens Holsten photo!

Sunrise on Gorra Blanca.

Jens Holsten photo. Approaching Pier Giogio.

Steep schrund climbing. Mountains 1. Dirtbags 0. Jens Holsten photo.

Fitz Roy!

Yeah for Powerbar GU and Fitz Roy!

Sunny Rock Climbing!!!

Guillomet's Brenner Ridge.

Jens doing what he does best. A bit of verglass kept it interesting.

Jens leading the wideness.

Cumbre! I have climbed 7 times on Guillomet and it's been pure fun every time. This is the first time either of us completed the boulder problem in order to stand on top. It's possible to put your hand higher than the summit without doing the boulder problem. However, there are some that think that it's nescisary to press up above the summit in order for it to count...

Cumbre Alfajore!

Traveling to the End of the Earth is rarely a smooth ride. However, friends make it all possible. My friend Jason put me on the plane in Los Angelos and is keeping the Subaru happy (loading it with surf boards) during my 4 month vacation.

Adversity builds character and is most easily overcome by deep breathing and a healthy dose of help from Amigos. This year, a volcanic fissure in Chile emitted an ash cloud that obscured the flightpath from Houston, TX to Buenos Aires, AR. While in Texas, a state that I've never been in before, I received lots of messages from friends encouraging and comforting me. Fortunately, the wind direction in BA changed and I hopped on the same flight the next day.

Once in BA I transferred airports and in doing so missed the flight to El Calafate. The Continental representative in the U.S. had informed me that there were three more flight to the same destination that day that I would surely be able to get a seat on. The reality of the situation was that all these flights were full, I didn't have a ticket, LAN didn't have any more flight to the destination until the following Saturday, and Aerolineas had a seat on a flight the next day they would sell me for 2000USD. Fortunately, A nice gentleman at LAN gave me the number for the U.S. continental office and I spent 40 minutes and 35 pesos securing a flight to Rio Gallegos.

The flight left at 2230 and landed in Gallegos at 0230. I gave into the first cab driver that said, "Taxi!" and spent 55 pesos driving to the Hospital ("No, yo querro un Hostel, not Hospital."), knocking on the door of a hostel with no room, and finally sleeping in the bus station with some friendly Bolivian workers...

The bus from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate was 3 hours long. I boarded the bus, put earplugs in and passed out. I woke to someone shaking me. When I pulled out the ear plugs and looked around, I realized that the bus was empty. We had arrived in El Calafate and I had slept the whole way. There was a couple hour layover in El Calafate where I bought some empinadas from a street vendor, made a new friend with an Argentine climber headed the same way, and gave a carabiner to a police officer who asked if I had any (he was psyched!)

Another three hour bus ride, during which I slept the whole way again, and I woke to the lower part of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy Dominating the bus's windshield. First stop was at the Parque Nationales for the Leave No Trace speach, which I've heard no less than 7 times, and during which I saw my friend and park ranger (I do have friends that wear green pants, just not in North America), Kappa. The first friendly face in 10,000 miles of traveling. I hadn't seen anyone I knew since Jason put me on the plane in LA. How comforting to see someone who knows me!!

I put the two 51 lb. duffels on the longboard that Jason gave me a few years ago and rolled on over to a friends house where I dropped the bags. I was just starting my second lap around town on the longboard when I saw Jens. Jens had left the States a day after me and we arrived within an hour of each other...

Meeting Jens made everything better. We ate great food prepared by our friends at La Senyera and retired to the tent at Del Lago Hostel for some much needed rest. The next day was spent purchasing food, gas, and a pocket knife in preparation for heading into the mountains. I could hardly walk a block without seeing beaming familiar faces. Everyone asked, "Where is Neil?"

The weather was getting good and in Patagonia that means we go into the mountains. However, before we can head up, we have to deal with life stuff like where to put our gear that isn't headed up. Our friend Matheas stepped up huge and offered to store our duffels in his trailer. Another Amigo making our lives easier so we can do what we do best, go climbing!

We split the taxi with Rob and Jen and had a great time reliving memories on our hike into Piedra del Fraille. Jens and I opted to walk around the Estancia where we learned that they are now charging 75 pesos to cross their land. Not having the fee to pay the trolls to cross the bridge, we climbed through dense brush and crossed a couple treacherous washouts to meet up with Jen and Rob who paid.

A skinny kitten followed them the whole way up the hill to Piedra Negra where we set up the first light and they continued on toward the Supercanaleta. Jens and I woke at 0230 and made a few strong cups of coffee (our adventures in the mountains together are largely fueled by cafe and lots of psyche). We quickly dispatched of Paso Quadrado and descended to the Fitz Roy Norte glacier where the throngs of Supercanaleta bound hopefuls had kicked in a nice track. A few big holes where folks had punched in reminded us that this was indeed a large glacier.

Before the final climb to the supercan base we turned 90degrees right and took a bead on Pier Giorgio. The frozen crust on the snow supported our weight at times. When a bulge in the glacier changed the aspect that we were walking on, we punched through the crust up the the top of our boots. An hour past like this and we took turns breaking the crust.

Just before crossing under the Cerro Pollone ice cliff, we stopped for a quick Powergel and some water. Jens had been out in front for a while and I took over moving as fast as possible under the blue ice of the serac. We proceeded to slingshot/relieve each other as we passed under another serac before arriving at the Pier Giorgio schrund.

Jens belayed me as I placed a couple screws and began excavating for some purchase. A snow picket protected the final bit as I trenched in the slightly overhanging mass of unconsolidated snow. After a half hour of digging and no upward progress, I called it and came back down. Mountains 1, dirtbags 0.

The temperature went right through the roof and snow conditions on the glacier deteriorated on our walk down the Fitz Norte glacier. We found a flat rock to regroup and contemplated the next move. It was too late in the window to climb Afanasief even though that's what we really wanted to do.

The climb back to Paso Quadrado was hot... We spent the next day resting and dove into the tent on multiple occasions as rain squalls passed through. We woke at 2300 on Friday with the intention of climbing the Whillians route on Poincenot. Cafe again fueled the alpine start and we were on top of the Guillomet col at 0100 Saturday morning.

We descended onto a trackless Fitzroy East glacier and found a breakable crust over unconsolidated snow. Ryan and Peter's headlamps winked at us as they left Passo Superior a kilometer away. After an hour of slogging, the snow conditions proved too much and we retreated to Passo Guillomet where we had stashed a pair of rock shoes and a pair of Ganda approach shoes.

We brewed multiple cups of hot chocolate and waited for the sun. When it hit, we droped layers, ice tools, crampons, gloves, and the stove in preparation for a light ascent of the Brenner Ridge on Guillomet. A party the previous day had cleared most of the ice from the cracks and we enjoyed mostly warm rock and clean hand jams on the route.

We summited, both of us completing the boulder problem topout, around noon and descended the Amy Coulour. A freeze-dried meal of Thia Peanut noodles back at the pass fueled us to Piedra Negra where we ate the last package of Fruity Grans, packed the kit, and descended.

We made it to the road and were thumbing it by 2130. At around 2200 a cab pulled into El Pilar, dropped it's load of two gringos, and returned to pick us up. Jens and I were sitting on the side of the unpaved road in the dirt when the cab stopped and the driver, a beautiful young Argentine girl emerged. We were beside ourselves as we loaded the packs in the trunk and got in. In broken English, the girl asked what we had been up to. She said she was honored to give us a ride after we told her of our adventures. We were equally appreciative of her generosity. We talked about our favorite ice cream flavors and did our best to describe what Ben & Jerry's meant to us. The ice cream at Domo Blanco is still our favorite in the world! Thanks to our new friend, we made it back to town just in time to catch dinner at La Senyera. Jens and I had 41 pesos between us and split a bowl of fries and a huge hamberger. The total was 41 pesos and we vowed to return with the tip the next day. This is how we get by with a little help from our friends!!! HUGE thanks to everyone who is making this possible!!!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Desert Turkey-Fest

Tim Dittman gives thanks for the Steve Carruthers Memorial

"How's it goin' over there?"

Best cupped hands splitter ever?

And now there is one more in my wolf pack!

Sunset on Sacred Cow

Ben likes deep-fried turkey!

Needles Overlook

East towards Moab, from the Anticline Overlook

The Mitten and Atilla's Thumb