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South America, Argentina, Southern Patagonia, Chalten Massif, Saint Exupery, Tical, and Other Ascents

Saint Exupery, Tical, and other ascents. This year’s seven-week trip to Patagonia didn’t start well. I flew out of London on New Year’s Day while everyone else was ice skating in Fontainebleau. After four weeks of high winds, long hikes, tendonitis, knackered knees, and heavy rucksacks, Patagonia wasn’t looking like the best idea. Jvan Tresch, Bean Bowers, and I were in the Torre Valley planning a traverse from Standhardt to Egger, but extremely warm conditions and our small necks forced us to move over to Polacos and try a bit of rock climbing.

Toward the end of January Bean needed a holiday from his holiday, and headed to Bariloche for a week’s climbing. His departure triggered what turned out to be an eight-day spell of good weather. On 29 January Jvan and I headed up to Poincenot (3,002m) and soloed an unclimbed ramp below the Carrington-Rouse and above Southern Cross. We joined the Fon-rouge-Rosasco route and climbed 200m farther, before the threat of bad weather forced us to retreat down the south face.

The 31st dawned fine, so we approached St. Exupery to try a new line close to the Crouch-Brooks attempt. The first five pitches were pleasant corner and chimney climbing, leading to the loose vein that crosses the mountain. Climbing through this vein proved the crux of the route: a scary and committing pitch, from which a fall could have resulted in serious injury. Luckily, the slab climbing just above was relatively amenable 5.11X. I spent most of last summer climbing on the excellent, esoteric, and friable crags of the Lleyn Peninsula in Wales, and am rather partial to kicking steps up sandy grooves and laybacking creaking flakes, so I thoroughly enjoyed myself (in retrospect).

We regained the golden granite, and more cracks, ramps, and flakes led us onto the south ridge and a junction with the Austrian Ridge route, approximately five pitches from the summit. We climbed the rather snowy upper section free. Jvan’s anger increased with each unnecessary bolt and peg that we passed, until one bolt next to a perfect crack turned him into the Incredible Hulk, and he removed it with his bare hands. We reached the top in midafternoon and descended the northwest face.

February 2 saw us returning to the Poincenot line Jvan and I had attempted, this time aiming to reach the summit. By daybreak, though, our incompetent routefinding in the dark found us not only 500m below the start of the climbing, but also under the wrong mountain. Deciding that things were not meant to be, we headed up to the smaller, less-serious Aguja Rafael. An hour later, while we were climbing snow to the base, early morning sunlight lit the south face of Poincenot just above us, and we changed our minds yet again.

Climbing with only 1.5 liters of water, a few power gels, and two belay jackets, we managed a free ascent of the Fonrouge route, at about 5.11. The crux pitch was a 45° ice slope, which Jvan crimped and smeared up in rock boots and chalk. We were back in Polakos after a 24-hour roundtrip.

We returned to Chalten the following day to celebrate and to restock food, feeling satisfied with our achievements and looking forward to plenty of rest in the bad weather which was sure to follow. Our recovery and hangovers were rudely interrupted early the next morning by Bean’s return and the continuation of good weather.

Ben Bransby, U.K.