Fitz Roy, Slovak Route, third ascent and first free ascent; Desmochada, El Facón. Patagonian weather seemed like it was never going to let up this season for any long spell. Does it ever? December brought more snow than all of most winters. In one night in late December the weather turned warm, rainy, and windy, and remained unseasonably warm until the end of January, making the Torre group a shooting range from falling ice and water. However, on January 31 the jet stream that battered the 50th parallel shifted well to the south and brought what turned out to be a monumental spell of high pressure. On February 5 Jvan “The Wad” Tresch (Switzerland), Ben “Super-Hijitus” Bransby (England), and I (Bean “Poroto” Bowers, from Bushlandia) headed up the Torre Glacier and established a bivy that was even with the Sitting Man Ridge below Fitz Roy’s west face. We brought enough food and fuel for one day and two “meager” nights, wanting to go light and fast. Originally we had eyed a dihedral system on the left side of the face, but upon closer inspection it revealed little possibility of access and climbability, so we turned our attention to a free ascent of the Slovak route, and its third overall ascent. The route follows the 1,300m diagonal crack system that bisects the face from bottom left to upper right. We left our bivy at 6 a.m. and climbed the route at 5.10d in three long blocks, each leader freeing his pitches. The two followers climbed mostly but used jumars and one aider in awkward, hard, or icy spots, of which there were few. The crux was the moves from rock to rock on the summit ice slope, with the one ice axe and no crampons we brought to save weight and time. We arrived on the summit by 7 p.m. and descended the Franco-Argentine route on the east side of the mountain through the night. After a hearty cup of cocoa with Jonny Copp in Rio Blanco, we arrived in town for happy hour, a little over two days after leaving.
Fortunately the weather was bad for five days, during which we let our skin recuperate from the west face’s rough granite, and slept. High pressure returned on February 12. We reloaded the packs with gear and food for a couple of days and headed back up the Torre glacier for rock climbing on Desmochada. Ice still wasn’t refrozen into place sufficiently for us to venture into the waiting gun barrels of Egger and Stanhardt. We set our sights on a new line up Desmochada’s southeast prow, to the right of El Condor (Bridwell-Dunmire-Smith, 1988), which was the route of this spire’s only ascent. February 13 dawned with heavy, moist low clouds. We woke at 4 a.m. to our usual breakfast of coffee, oats, and a cigarette. We didn’t hurry out of camp, due to the heavy haze above, but as Patagonia—the mountain-climbing Las Vegas—teaches: You can’t win if you don’t play. The worst that happens is that you “go for a hike.” As we got in our morning hike with a hefty free-climbing rack, we began to break through the sea of low clouds and entered the realm of the giants, for a sunrise on the Torre group with the clouds below.
We began the route in the left center of the face, with a 5.9 chimney that led to three pitches of moderate-to-hard 5.10 splitters and a ledge at one-third height. A 60m class 4 traverse to the right put us right below the overhanging prow. A couple of hard crack pitches put us below the crux: 5.12a, shallow, rattly fingers in an overhanging dihedral. The next pitch sported 5.11+ thin hands through a dead-horizontal sickle roof, which was exited via a Harding Slot-like pod-chimney that ended in 5.11a fists. Above that a rope-stretcher 5.11c A0 offwidth to 5.11a hands got us into some easier 5.10 terrain that got us to the upper east face, where icy 5.10 slot climbing and an unprotected icy 5.10+ offwidth got us to the two final 5.10 pitches to the summit. We led a total of 16 pitches, arrived on top at sunset, hugged, and rappelled the less but still overhanging El Condor by headlamp. No sign remained of the first party [the El Condor party descended the backside, east and then north of the tower—Ed.]. We left mostly single “bombproof” stoppers for each rappel into space. We continued down the seemingly endless class 4 slabs to the Polish bivy, where we grabbed yet another beautiful sunrise before a well- deserved nap. We named the route El Facón (650m, V+ 5.12a A0), which means “the gaucho’s knife,” for the cutter nature of the stone and the way our bodies felt the following day.
Bean “Poroto” Bowers, PLT
Historical note: In February 2000, Kevin Thaw and Alan Mullin free climbed most of the Slovak Route, retreating some 250m below the summit. The first ascensionists defined the route as ending on the summit, having twice retreated high on the route (once from a point similar to Thaw and Mullin’s) before returning. For a report on the 2000 attempt, see 2000 AAJ, p. 282.