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South America, Argentina, Argentine Patagonia, Poincenot, North Face, New Route

Poincenot, North Face, New Route. Dean Potter and I went to Patagonia in early January, 2001. Last season we’d had a summit frenzy in a brief weather spell, climbing fast routes to reach the summits of Saint Exupery and Innominata, both from the west side, and then running to the east side to climb Poincenot. Our plan this season was to wait on the east side for another two- or three-day spell, and blast Fitz Roy by whatever route seemed most in condition.

By early March, the locals were calling it “the worst season in years.” Almost all the climbers had left in disgust. Apart for one 12-hour spell, there had been no decent weather since late October. Every crack was choked with ice, and the ice routes were unconsolidated.

A bit mentally impaired by now, Dean and I extended our plane tickets to wait for the final full moon on March 9. We’d been there two months and had summited only the standard route on Guillaumet.

The full moon brought two days of the worst, snowiest storms we’d seen yet. But the following morning looked pretty good. We immediately left our snow cave at Passo Superior for the Red Pillar on Mermoz, knowing the big peaks would not be in condition. We wallowed across the glacier and up the first snowfield in a sudden blizzard, but the weather cleared as we reached the first rock pitch, which turned out to be an ice pitch. Not a big surprise. The next pitch was too ice-choked to get up in any fashion. We descended and got back to the snowcaves by mid-day, realizing that the only thing that might even possibly be in condition right now would be the Supercanaleta on the northwest side of Fitz Roy, as it is mostly snow and moderate rock.

We packed and left by early afternoon, crossing the Paso Guillaumet and then dropping around the north side of the range. We chose the second pass of the three before us, and that took us straight down snow to the glacier on the northwest side of Fitz Roy. We moved faster as dark fell and snow started again, making it to a boulder in the ice about four hours after we’d left our snowcave. After a cold, stormy bivy, we hiked to the base of the Supercanaleta and immediately saw that the rock above the snow gully was white and rime-plastered. Not a big surprise. We also got a good view of Cerro Torre’s east face (the Compressor Route): pure white, almost down to the base.

We immediately returned to Passo Superior, making it there in an arduous six hours. The weather was finally starting to look truly good. We rested and re-organized for six hours, and set out in the dark for the north face of Poincenot. We had not had any intention of climbing it before, but it looked to us like the only face that was not completely ice-choked, and we could see that a long couloir of ice and snow would probably lead us to the rock. We’d definitely gone and looked at everything else, and this was the only route that could conceivably be in condition right now.

On March 12, we started simulclimbing at 3 a.m., mostly névé with a section of steeper ice up high. We reached the notch on Poincenot’s right side (looking straight at it from the east) as the sun rose. There was no crack system above us, so we rappelled back down 100 feet to a bolt slung with rope that we’d seen on the rock. The granite was indeed mostly dry, and we found three anchors, each a single bolt with rap slings, as we climbed to the top of a flat pillar. Above, the climbing became more difficult and harder to protect, without a direct crack system for the next pitch. We found no more anchors as we continued up steeper rock into a massive roof system, which eventually took us directly onto the summit by evening.

We rappelled the Whillans route, but had to downclimb the snow, all the way from the base of the Whillans to the start of our route, the Potter-Davis route (V 5.11 Cl WI4). We were back at Paso Superior at 4 a.m., exactly 25 hours later, just as a storm started to come in.

Locals in Chalten confirmed our suspicions that this was a new route. We waited another four days, but the ensuing storm buried the entrance to our snow cave in 15 feet of snow. A final adventure of gear retrieval left us free at last to go home!

Steph Davis, unaffiliated