Friday, March 6, 2009

Central Tower solo

Central Tower

After the seemingly requisite botched attempt on the Boninngton-Whillans route on Torre Central on New Year’s Eve, we had 10 days of typically shitty Patagonian weather. Winds capable of knocking you off your feet and an impenetrable armor of rime ice on the Torres kept the residents of Campamento Japones pacing endlessly around or ghetto nylon tarp village, drinking mate by the gallon and obsessing over every small rise and fall of the barometer.
Finally on January 10 we got a promising two day weather window reported for the 11/12 from the local meteorologists in Puerto Natales (actually rock starved climbers scanning NOAA and navy weather sites on the net at the Erratic Rock hostel.) So I went through the familiar hiking ritual up into the Val de Silencio and up the large talus slope to the Boninngton platform below Torre Norte. Little to my surprise but much to my disappointment the Torres had a white shimmer to them indicating rimy conditions higher up. So at the platform I cranked the gangster rap on my Ipod and attempted to use my mind to melt the ice while I waited for nightfall.
After the same damn pasta dinner I’ve eaten for the past 2 months I crawled into my bivy sack for a few fitful hours of intermittent sleep. At 3 am I awoke to my alarm and a cloudless sky punctuated by a full moon over Fortaleza and Escudo, a great sign! I slammed no-es-café and shoveled plain oatmeal into my mouth before monkey calling to my sleeping friends who were going for a late morning start.
I arrived at the start of the couloir rock approach at 5:30 am. I free soloed a few of the now familiar pitches before confronting with the same icy conditions I faced on my last attempt. What had taken me 1 hour to free solo in good conditions again took me 5 hours in icy mixed conditions roped up. I scrapped my way up to the Col Bich alternating between brushing snow off holds and smashing ice out of the cracks using a quickdraw.
After my personal crux of reaching the col, I took a nice soup and tea break at the same spot I open-bivied on New Year’s to get psyched for the route. By now it was 11 am and there was plenty of ice fall as the route started to get sun. I took that as a sign to get going! I felt very comfortable on the first 2 70 meter pitches as I had climbed them just 10 days prior before getting turned back in a storm. Although on the third pitch an icy layback almost sent me onto a ledge but I managed to reverse my moves and do an intricate face climbing sequence in guide tennis to access the traverse that leads into the beautiful red dihedral that is the jewel of the route.
Upon reaching the money pitch I was less than enthused to have to chop out each and every piton from underneath 2 inches of ice using a locking biner as brass knuckles, by now I was leaving a well marked trail of blood up the route. On this pitch all the ice fall was funneled right onto my dome piece and prevented me from looking up at the upcoming climbing. By now the pitches were running with water and I was soaked. The climbing was easy A1 but I took a fall when my superlight aider broke a step and undaised I fell bruising my hip when I penjied into a corner and the mini-trax on my harness took the blow.
I took a break on the next ledge to try and warm up with more tea and soup. That was cut short by ice fall and my now violent shivering. I started out on the next pitch and heard a pair of monkey calls from the col and saw my friends Jean and Lori in the couloir. They left me with “the monkey’s always send!” a trademark quote of our good friend Ivo. I climbed the next traverse with psyched up monkey calls echoing from below.
Thanks to my 70 meter rope stretcher pitches I ended up at a jingus belay in loose blocks 5 meters from a bolt anchor and a nice ledge. The following pitch was an icy chimney that rained ice on me from above. This pitch ends at the bivy ledge labeled pitch 14 on my topo. With the approaching night and cold I knew I didn’t want to bivy out and I dropped the pack and grabbed the summit kit, the camera and a caffeine gu packet.
I free soloed snowy 5.7 until the ice filled cracks necessitated a belay and built a cam anchor about 100 meters below the summit ridge. Blocky climbing led to an icy roof sporting fixed pins followed by another icy layback up a 4” crack; I slipped and slithered my way up from there.
Finally on the summit ridge I traversed more blocky terrain over towards the summit proper. I scrapped my way to the top for a few self-portraits in the dark and a gu packet that had exploded in my pocket. Satisfied and thoroughly cold, I rapped in the dark back to my pack and a few extra layers and the highlight of the night, fresh socks!
On the way down I replaced almost all the anchor tat with fresh 6mm cord as the Patagonian winter had ravaged the old tat. Not far below the bivy ledge I got the rope stuck and no amount of swearing and pulling would free it. I re-climbed to retrieve the rope and then down climbed to prevent a repeat. Not long after that the rope got stuck again on a long traversing pitch. I clipped the pack off to a pin and again re-climbed the pitch to free the rope. This time I built a stopper anchor to avoid down climbing the traverse in the dark and by now I was pretty tired.
More 30 meter raps brought me one pitch away from the col where once again the rope got stuck, by now I was furious. I cursed Patagonia, the Central Tower, Boninngton and all sorts of other irrelevant shit. I pulled and hauled all the stretch out of the rope from below to no avail. I re-climbed a 5.10 A1 pitch to free 2” of rope stuck in a flake, totally over it I rapped off a single pin to get back to my gear and the final rap to the col.
I arrived at the small ledge at the start of the route at 5 am totally spent. I curled up into the fetal position and felt a wave of relief sweep over me realizing I was almost done. A few more short raps down the couloirs led me back to the talus and my friends waiting tent.
I was greeted by big smiles and handfuls of mate and chocolate to celebrate my climb. After many photos of my battered hands and a belly full of candy and cookies, I passed out in the beautiful sunshine under a clear blue Patagonia sky. I got wicked sunburn but I didn’t really care as I had been so cold and wet only hours before.

1 comment:

Scout 2 said...

Way to send it Aaron super monkey call aaoooohoo... get back to the ditch without too many Gobies!
Keep it up