I was in Patagonia from November 14 to December 12, 1996. After 17 days of the worst Patagonian weather I have yet seen, we broke through on December 2, when Jim Donini and I attempted the first ascent of the west ridge of Inominata. We thought the route would go easily in a day as a “warm-up” for the season. Difficult mixed climbing and convoluted horizontal route-finding didn’t go easily, or in a day. Twenty-four pitches and one bitterly cold open-bivy later, we joined the 1974 British route at a notch six pitches below the summit. We were unable to continue to the summit and complete the route due to serious dehydration and exhaustion. We retreated to high camp in the evening of December 3 just in time to watch Doug Byerly and Rolando Garibotti climb the upper section of Chiaro di Luna. (Note: Neither Jim nor I consider an alpine route done unless the summit is reached.)
On December 4 and 5 we attempted the first ascent of the north face of Aguja Poincenot. The arrival of a storm trapped us on a ledge half-way up the face on the 5th. We spent the night of the 5th and 6th on the ledge beside the top of our ninth pitch, hoping the storm would end, but our food ran out and we retreated to high camp on December 7.
The storm broke next morning, and we climbed again. We spent the night on a ledge at the top of the fourth pitch after the 1300-meter approach. (Poincenot’s north face is approached as for the Carrington-Rouse route. From the base of the Carrington-Rouse ramp, continue up the hanging valley for another hour to the base of the north face.) Jim and I were very tired from seven consecutive days in action. The following day we climbed 13 more pitches of hard, sustained granite.
From the point where we reached the shoulder of Poincenot it took us three hours of scrambling, pitching and intricate route finding to get to the summit. A storm seemed to be coming on, so we spent less than two minutes on top. It was dark by the time we returned to the top of our route and we spent the rest of the night rigging rappels. We left virtually our entire rack for rappel anchors.
We arrived at our bivy gear, which we had left on the fourth pitch ledge, just after sunrise. After a few hours of rest we continued down to high camp, utterly exhausted.
Both Jim and I are very satisfied that we continued on to the true summit of Poincenot. A trend in Patagonian climbing has been to claim first ascents without actually bothering to do the last few meters to the summit. The hardest meter is always the last meter, because you have to get there to climb it—especially in a place like Patagonia, where a few extra hours in the face of an advancing storm can be the most terrifying hours of your life.
That Donini still has the “guns” to do new routes in Patagonia 20 years after his First ascent of Torre Egger is amazing. How many of his peers are still operating at such a standard? We named the route The Old Smuggler’s Route in honor of the Argentine whisky that made our bad- weather time bearable.
Greg Crouch, USA