Like so many good missions in Patagonia, it started with the painful task of changing our plane tickets. A possible good weather window was coming, so it was go-big-or-go- home time. A day and a thousand bucks later we were committed to trying a new route on Fitz Roy.
On the morning of February 8, 2011, Kate Rutherford and I packed up, caught a taxi to the trailhead, and made the pleasant five-hour walk to Piedra Negras. In a light rain we headed to Paso Guillaumet and continued to the base of Fitz Roy’s southeast face and the Brecha de los Italianos.
In improving weather, we found deteriorating conditions in the couloir, and were sopping wet when we reached the ridge. We looked over to our objective, the shaded south face, and spent the next few hours soaking up the sun and drying out. Around midday we put the boots back on and slowly traversed beneath the south face. Conditions on the traverse were much harder than expected, and we regretted our choice of aluminum crampons, lightweight boots, one set of tools, and only two screws. After some sketchy traversing and rappels we reached easier terrain but once again were slowed by hard, blue ice. The day had grown late and we hadn’t even started any of the new climbing. We traversed farther west, past the start of our proposed line, hoping to find a bivy spot near the start of the California Route.
After a cold night sans sleeping bag, we were doubting our tactics: light, lucky, and slow. But with no reason to turn back we continued on, making one long rappel from the top of the ice slope at the base of the California Route. This deposited us back at the base of huge gulley/corner system. Kate took over the lead and navigated thin, ice-filled cracks via 5.10 and C1. Thankfully, the ice soon disappeared and we were rewarded with beautiful splitter cracks in a huge corner. A couple pitches of mostly hands led to a stout wide pitch, which was challenging to protect with only one #4 Camalot. We stayed in this corner system for many pitches, climbing mostly good splitters at 5.10 C1. I followed in boots and gloves and found myself bat-manning the rope more than I care to admit. After a cool alcove and a layback off-width through a bulge, we trended right for easier terrain.
I took over as the angle eased and the sun slipped toward the horizon. Fun, moderate climbing led us up and right to the large 50° ice slope shared by the other routes on the southeast face. We continued up in fading light, past descending teams. Not wanting to join the inevitable rappelling junk show, we found a sheltered spot on the summit, moved some rocks, put on our shiver sack, and stayed warm with the stoke of having just done a new route on Fitz Roy.
Mikey Schaefer, AAC