South America, Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, Fitz Roy and Aguja Guillaumet

Publication Year: 1980.

Fitz Roy and Aguja Guillaumet. On January 4 Chris Blatter, Jim Jennings and I arrived at the entrance of the Parque Nacional de los Glaciares, hoping to repeat the French route on Fitz Roy, climbed by Terray and Magnone in 1953. As far as we know, there has been no second ascent of the route. During ten days of reasonably fine weather (during which Bridwell and Brewer climbed Cerro Torre), we established a snow cave at the base of the Brecha de los Italianos. A thousand feet of fixed line extended up to the col and beyond to the French col and the base of their route. On January 19 the weather became fine. We climbed the permanent “electron ladder” (anchored to the face by an astonishing mixture of early European hardware) and fixed the following pitch. After a perfect bivouac at the base, we reascended the fixed pitches and began a series of rising traverses out onto the very exposed east face. After eight pitches, five of them traverses, we reached the base of the chimney-and-crack system, where the more serious aid climbing began. A Chouinard pin attested to another post-Terray attempt. By this time, however, the committing nature of the route had become apparent. On the protected east face there was no way to keep an eye on the oncoming westerly weather. In bad weather the five traversing pitches would be complicated to reverse. After an hour of deliberation (a trademark of our Patagonian stay), we retreated, reaching the French col 12 hours after our departure. Several days later we teamed up with Britisher Nick Kagan and New Zealander Nick Craddock to climb Fitz Roy via the American route. Craddock and Kagan had just spent over a month in the Torre Canyon waiting for the Super Couloir on Fitz Roy to come into condition. Several attempts, involving much rockfall, convinced the pair that the couloir was suicidal at the time. For the next month, high winds and bad weather kept us going up and down the mountain endlessly. In the first days of March, during an impressive period of storm, we abandoned our snow cave and brought down all the gear and food cached at the American col (at the foot of the final 1800 feet of rock). On March 5 the weather cleared. Discouraged by the poor condition of the fixed lines, Blatter set off for a few days by himself up the upper Piedra del Fraile valley. Jennings teamed up with a new arrival, American Robert Beager, to attempt a fine looking line on Aguja Guil- laumet’s southeast face, while Craddock, Kagan and I left Base Camp for a “final” and tenth attempt on Fitz Roy. After seven hours in desperately deep snow, we returned to camp, pleading avalanche danger. The weather held and on the 8th all five of us headed up to the Paso Superior, where Jennings and Beager left us for the base of Guillaumet. That night, the two Nicks and I bivouacked in the Brecha de los Italianos, while Jennings and Beager slept several hundred feet up Guillaumet’s face. At eight P.M. the following evening, a pin pulled and our New Zealand mate fell some 50 feet, determining our site for the night. Meanwhile on Guillaumet the other two hacked a platform for their second bivvy. This pair reached the summit in the early afternoon of March 10. They immediately began rappelling the route, arriving at the base well before dark. We believe this route on Guillaumet was a first. The climb had good technical pitches of ice and rock, including several tension traverses to gain the central ice face. There were 16 pitches up to F9. This southeast face is approached from the Paso Superior on the Piedra Blanca side of Fitz Roy. The two Nicks and I stood on the summit of Fitz Roy at seven P.M. on the fantastically clear, windless afternoon of March 10. In growing winds, we rappelled until eleven P.M. We continued the descent the next morning in high winds. By two P.M. we were reunited with Jennings and Beager at Paso Superior and got to Base Camp several hours later.

Geoff Radford