South America, Argentina, Central Andes, Aconcagua, South Face, Alpine-style Ascent of French Direct, with Variation
Aconcagua, south face, alpine-style ascent of French Direct, with variation. December 20 Andres Zegers (Chile) and I are at the Plaza Francia, and the weather is fantastic. We are watching the face, noting the fall lines of avalanches and seracs. There appears to be the possibility of a new variation to the 1985 French Direct. Andres would like to climb the awesome ice column, left of the French Direct, through the rock barrier. I prefer a more amenable ice-fall to the right. But in reality I would like to run away, like a thief in the night.
We are both nervous and admit it. We decide to follow the easiest, quickest line. We’ll climb the lower slopes a little right of the French Direct, avoid the difficult pitches on the rock buttress via the icefall to the right, reach the Pasic Glacier where the 1966 Argentinean route comes in from the right, follow the latter, and finish up on the original 1954 French route.
December 22. At 3 p.m. Andres asks, “Would you mind leaving now?” At 5 p.m. we leave Plaza Francia. The approach to the face is quick. We climb the initial slopes, then the 250m WI4 icefall. Above, an easier gully leads back to the top of the buttress, where we join the French Direct. Just before reaching the Pasic, we bivouac on a snow slope at 5,400m. It is 10 p.m., the weather is excellent, and we manage to make contact with a friend by radio.
December 23. The night was passable, and we climb easily up the left side of the Pasic on rock and snow. A wall of hard mud and a few short gullies lead to an easy icefall. Above, after more rock/mud we arrive at a smooth section below the frightening upper glacier. We traverse right to the exposed edge of the glacier and spend five hours crossing it. One km of climbing for a vertical gain of just 200m, a fight with snow-covered penitentes. At 7 p.m., exhausted, we bivouac at 6,200m, just below the spur of the French Route.
December 24. It’s difficult to get our legs moving. We climb a vertical pitch to snow/ ice slopes left of the spur. A quick glance at the Messner finish: respect! Above, doubt: should we go right to a snow spur or follow a gully up left through rock? The topo mentions grade V chimneys. We go left, and below a loose chimney I find an old peg, which I remove by hand. The rock is still like hard mud. Farther on Andres suggests going right and, when I do, am surprised to find sound rock with protection. I belay on an in-situ corkscrew ice peg in the rock. Another pitch on rock and a snow slope lead to a ridge with a huge overhanging spur above and a doubtful fixed rope anchored to a Simond ice axe, buried like a deadman. Easy snow and a gully take us to the exit at 6,700m. The technical difficulties today have been a maximum of 60° and UIAA V. It is 5 p.m., and in two hours we are on the summit, 50 hours after starting up the 2,800m face. We stumble down the Normal Route to Nido di Condores, where friendly lights greet us. Argentineans, who are preparing supper, extend their hospitality. What a Christmas, guys!
Andrea di Donato, Italy, translated by Luca Calvi