American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Argentine and Chilean Patagonia, El Mocho, Southeast Buttress and Mojón Rojo

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1978

El Mocho, Southeast Buttress and Mojón Rojo. After 12 days of hiking and waiting for climbing partners, I was graciously asked to join the Australian Patagonian Expedition. We spent the next few days of precious good weather ferrying loads up to Base Camp in the Torre valley. We had intended to attempt the southwest ridge of Cerro Torre, but after two of the lads were nearly snuffed by an avalanche, we revamped our plans. The elegant southeast buttress of El Mocho, a nearby unclimbed pillar, looked within our capabilities. While the other two expedition members, Bob Killip and John Nitschke, recuperated, on February 28 Robert Staszewski and I made our attempt. Two snow-and-ice pitches got us to the buttress of pure granite. Because of my familiarity with this kind of climbing, I did most of the leading. Four pitches of F7 to F9, stemming, jamming and chimneying went quickly. Then I huffed and puffed myself over a nasty, unprotected overhanging off-width crack. Since the next pitch appeared easy, Robert led, but it turned out to be F9. The famous Patagonian wind increased and high overcast became ominous. We were halfway up. The next pitch was over a dome-like bulge on giant, detached flakes and I traversed right to a single-finger crack splitting the bulge. Robert led a fourth-class pitch to the base of the crux. This proved to be a short F10 finger crack, giving access to a not obvious traverse right, which brought us to easy ground. Two more easy pitches found us smiling and shaking hands on top. The rappel was the scariest part of the climb, since we used doubtful anchors to save hardware for future climbs. For almost a month it stormed. At the end of March the walls looked desperate when the storm abated. Robert and I decided to climb alpine-style a route on Mojón Rojo, across the valley from Torre. We ascended unroped 1500 feet up the north couloir. The angle steepened and we roped up. The first five leads up the ramp were the most difficult of the route. Two pitches of up to 60° ice led to a slabby ramp which went to the summit. The ramp was covered with verglas and running water. With crampons poised directly above Robert’s face, I grappled with the bulging, slippery rock. My axe hooked on a half-inch edge and held my weight long enough to reach a finger-tip hold. The axe wedged in a crack too small for fingers while one crampon point tetered on a tiny edge. One long reach and I was over. Since protection was poor, the climbing on the ramp in the fading light was speedy. A tip-toe tension traverse off a knife-blade tip got me to a corner and a tiny bivouac ledge. A long, cold, sleepless night turned much too slowly into a beautiful dawn. We started for the summit with the sun. Unprotected F7 climbing up a loose-block-filled, ugly corner brought us to easy slabs. A traverse of the slabs and a final F8 summit pitch were the end of the climb. The day was perfect. We sat on the summit blade taking photographs and soaking up the sun.

James D. Bridwell

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