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South America, Argentina, Southern Patagonia, Poincenot, El Sacrificio del Raton

Poincenot, El Sacrificio del Raton. At its best, alpinism challenges not the heights of distant mountain ranges, but the limits of human cognition, our ability to dream, create, and remember a reality that perhaps never existed anywhere but in our minds.

December, 2006: For 40 days and 40 nights, the west wind blew and a solemn curtain of gray clouds obscured the granite spires of Patagonia. Climbers came and left empty-handed, some without ever having seen the summits of the Fitz Roy range. We drank coffee and boul- dered, drank beer and danced. The Bridwell Hut was torn down, and mice snuck into our tents and food bags. A rash of injuries sidelined many friends: a pulled back, a sprained wrist, a tweaked knee. A quiet desperation stirred through the base camps and the town of El Chalten.

Rumors of good weather circulated, but nothing materialized. Something had to be done. Some small act of defiance, some symbolic show of fortitude. One rain-soaked afternoon I discovered that a particularly plump mouse had begun nesting in the stuff sack that served as my underwear drawer—I stunned him with an overhand toss of Peter’s paperback copy of Shogun, tossed him outside the tent, and finished him off with a blow from our cooking stone. We hung his bloodied, stiff body by the tail outside our tent as an offering to the Torre Gods.

And, miraculously, the weather improved. In early January 2007 Dave Sharratt and I, with a half-dozen other parties, raced up the valley toward high camp. Dave and I were on our second Patagonian campaign together. He is tall, thoughtful, and a remarkable technical climber—different from me in all respects. But perhaps differences, rather than similarities, make partnerships successful. Our chosen climb was a crack system on the south face of Poincenot, to the left of Jay Smith and Steve Gerberding’s Judgment Day (1992). We began climbing at 6 a.m. from the Niponino bivy, summited at 2 p.m. the following day, and descended via a combination of the Fonrouge and Southern Cross routes, arriving back at our tent by 3 a.m. that same night. Unfortunately, the crack system we climbed, aesthetic and alluring from afar, ended up being a bit gravelly and went at a rather ignoble 5.11 Al, with plenty of scrappy groveling. We named our climb El Sacrificio del Raton. Sorely missed was our friend Peter Kamitses, who was sidelined by a wrist injury but nonetheless held down the fort at high camp while we were climbing, guided us back through the moraine by flashing his headlamp, and had a big dinner of tortellini waiting for us. The memory of my two friends’ faces, illuminated by headlamp in the dead of night, with the stars and summits of Patagonia twinkling overhead, will remain long after the other details of our climb are slowly, inevitably, erased.

Freddie Wilkinson, AAC