South America, Argentina, Southern Patagonia, Chalten Massif, Fitz Roy, Canadian Route; Aguja Rafael Juarez, Comono; Other Firsts and New Variations

Publication Year: 2005.

Fitz Roy, Canadian Route; Aguja Rafael Juarez, Comono; other firsts and new variations. There was excitement among the climbers at El Chalten in the fourth week of January 2005. The barometer was finally rising after three weeks of stormy weather. Paul McSorley and I had just arrived, and found ourselves scrambling to get in position for Fitz Roy. Within a few days we were setting out from Paso Superior with two days of food, bivy gear, and intentions of finding a new route on the south or east face. We topped out on the Brecha de los Italianos, saw a system of right-facing corners just left of the Boris Simoncic Route (Biscak-Fabjan-Lenarcic, 1985), and knew it was our line. We crossed the small bowl, roped up below the ‘schrund, and started climbing at around one p.m. Recent storms had left ice on ledges, and sometimes cracks, for the entire route. Afternoon shade on the south face made our hands too numb to free climb much harder than 5.9, and we climbed in mountain boots rather than rock shoes. Two pitches of easy mixed up a left-trending ramp brought us to a 5.9 square-cut corner with double cracks. A finger crack connected it to the next right-facing corner, which turned out to be the technical crux of the route. We aided this eight-meter section on small nuts (A1)—it would probably be 5.12 free— and continued up easier terrain with a mix of aid and free, aiming for a long laser-cut corner. A 5.9 squeeze for 15m behind a triangular flake landed us at the base of the “Enduro Corner.” This perfect pitch of fingers and hands was sustained for 60m (though too cold for us to free) and required the belayer to unclip from the anchor so the leader could make the ledge at the top. The best pitch of the route, it would probably be mid-5.11 free. Another 30m right-facing corner brought us to terraced ledges, where we hacked out a bivy site. Sunshine the next morning made free climbing with rock shoes pleasanter, as we cruised up a long ramp system below a steep wall on our left. A short offwidth put us on the summit slopes, and we were soon enjoying T- shirt conditions on top. The descent went smoothly, as we rapped the Franco-Argentine and made it back to Paso Superior with daylight to spare. About 10 days later, in much warmer conditions, Aaron Martin and Jacob Schmitz, both from California, made the second ascent. Using short fixing, they climbed from the bergschrund to the summit in seven hours with Aaron leading every pitch and freeing 85% at 5.10 and under. We agreed on the quality of the route (Canadian Route, 5.10 A1, 500m new) and felt it would be a better alternative to its popular neighbor (the Franco-Argentine) for a party looking for a clean line without fixed ropes and manky old poorly equalized fixed anchors. A standard double rack is all that’s needed, as a perfect nut or cam is never more than a body length away.

A week later we turned to rock climbs on the west side of the Fitz Roy group. From the Polacos bivouac Paul and I made the probable second ascent, first free, and first integral (to summit) ascent of the complete west buttress of Rafael Juarez (Crouch-Donini, 1996, who retreated from the junction with the 1974 Anglo-American route, four pitches from the top). We found four pitches of solid 5.10 and many of 5.4 to 5.9, which we mostly simul-climbed. A fun day on great rock.

Another week later, after resupplying, we found ourselves back at Polacos. However, Paul twisted his knee and was forced to rest for a few weeks. Not wanting to miss a good weather window, I decided to rope-solo the beautiful north face of Rafael Juarez. With no information as to what had been climbed, I started up the right side of a red pillar, and after couple of false starts due to unstable weather, I had two ropes fixed. The first 120m were mostly 5.9 to 5.10-, except midway up the second pitch, where a left-facing squeeze chimney led to a hand crack through a roof (probably 5.11 free). The barometer finally rose, and I ascended my ropes and climbed six more pitchcs, for a total of eight 60m pitches up, then about two pitches of easy traversing on the east face. I reached the summit in 12 hours. Further research suggested the first four pitches (240m; 5.9, A1, 5.9, 5.10-), to the top of the red pillar, were new (I called the line Comono), and then I followed Artebelleza (Clauss-Von Birckhahn, 2002) and the Anker-Piola route (1989) to the top.

Again I stashed my gear at Polacos, and returned a week later with Andrés Zegers of Chile and Isaac Cortes of Catalonia. The three of us had just recently met and had never climbed together, but we were psyched and the weather was perfect. The next morning (February 27) we were at the base of the south face of Aguja Desmochada, cursing ourselves for forgetting the food bag. Fuck it! We don’t need food: the face is too beautiful! With no previous-route info, we climbed Five amazing pitches, all 5.10 but for a short 5.11 + offwidth on the third pitch, just left of El Facón. At the horizontal break a third of the way up, we traversed to El Facón and merged with it for two long pitches of gritty 5.1 la hands and Fingers. We then moved left into the big left-facing corner and climbed the overhanging wall for 120m of A1. We then merged again with El Facón (Bowers- Bransby-Tresch, 2004) and followed it through the night, topping out on the summit at 10 a.m., for the third ascent of Desmochada. We called our variation Dieta del Lagarto, and it will go free at around 5.12+. A #5 Camalot was key for the upper pitches and likely made the difference for us. We rappelled the route, as we had found an old 8mm rope near the base and used it to sling horns and make other rap anchors. After 36.5 hours we made it back to our bivy and gorged ourselves on the treats we had forgotten on the climb. It was one of the best adventures we had ever had.

Jon Walsh, Canada