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South America, Argentina, Southern Patagonia, Chalten Massif, Aguja Saint Exupery, Austrian Ridge, First Free Ascent

Aguja Saint Exupery, Austrian Ridge, first free ascent. Beginning on January 29, ten days after we arrived in Chalten, Jonny Copp and I were treated to nearly 16 days of continuous good weather, interrupted only occasionally by 10- to 15-hour periods of instability. At the start of the weather window we made a premature attempt on Fitz Roy’s Franco-Argentine route, finding it encased in ice. Two days later, on February 2, the route was still locked in ice but we’d had enough of the arduous approach and decided to climb despite the conditions. Every pitch was a battle with ice-choked cracks and huge patches of rime. We reached the summit after 12 continuously difficult hours and arrived back at Rio Blanco base camp after 29 hours on the move.

Tired from Fitz Roy and sure that the benign clouds signaled an approaching storm, we wanted an objective that we might succeed on even if bad weather moved in. After deliberation in the Rio Blanco hut, we decided on a free-climbing attempt on St. Exupery’s Austrian Ridge (5.10 A1): a soaring 700m skyline first climbed in 1987 (Barnthaler-Lidl). After an approach gully that proved to be the route’s crux—a slushy vertical bergschrund followed by a mud groove that set a new standard for choss—we arrived at the base of the ridge proper. A sneaky traverse to the west avoided the route’s initial wet A1 sections. Higher on the ridge we found relatively straightforward free climbing, interspersed with short sections up to 5.11a. We also found several bolts placed next to useable cracks. On the summit we celebrated our good fortune with our new friends Filip and WaWa, who had just made the first Polish ascent of St. Exupery via the well-traveled Italian Route. The Austrian Ridge is a beautiful free climb at a moderate grade and should become a popular alternative to the peak’s normal routes.

Josh Wharton, AAC