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South America, Argentine Patagonia, Fitz Roy, Supercanaleta, Attempt, and Aguja Poincenot and Aguja Guillaumet, First Winter Ascents

Fitz Roy, Supercanaleta, Attempt, and Aguja Poincenot and Aguja Guillaumet, First Winter Ascents. Paul Ramsden, Jim Hall, Nick Lewis and Andy Kirkpatrick were in Argentine Patagonia from June 20-July 20, 1999. Setting off at 2 a.m. on July 1, we found deep unconsolidated powder in the initial section of Fitz Roy’s Supercanaleta. As height was gained, this changed to powder-covered rock slabs before eventually thin ice was reached after 300 meters. There then followed pitch after pitch of very thin ice.

At half-height, the gully opens and gradually peters out. We climbed several steep rock pitches in order to reach the obvious chimney line above. This was quite hard with difficult route finding. What followed were many pitches of extremely hard (Scottish VII) and uncompromising climbing before the first half-reasonable ledge in a basin was reached at 2 a.m. From the basin, we climbed straight up and were treated to many pitches of excellent mixed climbing, with ice smears, snow-filled cracks and nasty offwidths all adding to the fun.

We broke out onto the ridge proper at about mid-afternoon. Beneath the so-called Second Pinnacle, we found a reasonable ledge and decided to stop for the night. The weather by this time had deteriorated considerably, but we hoped it would blow itself out over night as many of the previous storms had.

Unfortunately, it did not. Several times our bivy tent was actually picked up off the ground with all four of us in it. (In Chalten, the Ranger Station recorded winds up to 120 m.p.h., and that’s in the valley). Dawn eventually arrived with no improvement in the weather, but we decided to stay where we were as we still had plenty of food and fuel and still felt roughly in control of the situation. Unfortunately, the roof blew out of our bivy tent around mid-day and sitting it out was no longer an option.

What followed was a rather grim 16-hour descent back down the couloir. We eventually emerged out of the spindrift maelstrom much relieved in the early hours of the morning. With thoughts on tea and biscuits, we descended to the tent, only to find it gone. We had left the tent well secured, but now all that remained were the snow stakes anchoring down a few tatty guy lines.

Unfortunately, the tent contained our passport, credit cards and cash, as well as all our camping equipment. We spent the rest of the night crammed in the ripped bivy tent making brews and getting thoroughly soaked as the temperature on the glacier seemed to be hovering around an abnormally warm 0°C.

Dawn brought no relief in the weather, and with little food or fuel, no tent and saturated sleeping bags, we had no option but to make for Chalten in a day. The route back was now avalanche-prone, but there was little choice.

Now distinctly lacking in gear and running short of time, we decided to opt for something with a shorter walk and the possibility of good snow hole accommodation. We decided to head on to the Paso Superior and check out Guillaumet, Mermoz and Poincenot.

We dug a snow hole at the col, which made an excellent base for our last week in the mountains. What is more, the weather appeared to have settled down, so we were hopeful of ticking a few routes. We made the first winter ascent of Guillaumet via the excellent Amy Couloir and North Ridge. The weather was excellent and the climbing on good granite was very enjoyable, though the gloves did stay on.

We left the hole early the next morning for the Whillans Route on Poicenot. The first half of the route followed the obvious ramp line and was fairly straightforward, if unprotected and very exposed. The transition from snow to mixed also involved a considerable increase in difficulty. From the shoulder, things looked steep and intimidating and we were unsure of the feasibility of our proposed alpine dash. In the end, though, the blank granite walls and overhangs were passed and we found ourselves on the summit.

The next day we descended to Chalten, well content with our first trip to Patagonia. In conclusion, we would say that the winter offers longer periods of good weather, but with the huge drawbacks of little daylight, very cold temperatures and relatively little ice build-up. Winter may well be the key to getting up some routes, but not all of them.

Paul Ramsden, United Kingdom