Friday, March 6, 2009

Torre Central attempt, New Years Eve
Alpinism is hard. You have to wake up early, the approach is always long, ice hurts when it hits you in the face and it is hard to tell if you are shivering from the snow melt waterfall drenching you or if you are just shaking in fear.
My first attempt on the Central tower ended poorly, hell it started poorly. The approach couloirs shared between the North and Central Torres had previously taken me 1 hour to free solo in good conditions. After weeks of storms it was now coated in thin ice and snow filled cracks. Fearing a fatal slip I proceeded to rope up for what had been 5.6 rock climbing weeks earlier but now probably warranted some m grade that is lost on me. Six hours later I arrived at the Col Bich around midnight. I then prepared for an open bivy by putting my feet in the pack, cinching my hood tighter and throwing a chemical hand warmer down my shirt. I’ve had a lot of open bivies and this one wasn’t much different except for the incessant wind whipping thru the col, between that and the cold I didn’t sleep a wink. The skies were promising and I spent the next few sleepless hours shivering while I watched the starry sky.
At dawn the clouds came in thick and the wind picked up but after the open bivy I had just endured I decided to go for it anyway. I had suffered too much to quit now. As I repacked my bag I was disturbed that the camelback had frozen solid during the night. I accidentally bit the bite valve off in a failed attempt to get a drink. I chased a gu packet with a handful of snow and called it breakfast.
The first pitch was great! Splitter cracks and funky face climbing led me 60+ meters to a nice ledge and pin belay. By now the wind was wicked and the route was covered in ice. The cracks were ice filled when I started but now the windblown rain was freezing everything. Gri-gri’s just love wet and frozen ropes which made for an interesting rappel down to my last anchor.

The next pitch was of the same quality, awesome rock climbing but the frozen rope was beginning to concern me. My 9.5 mm rope is a little small for the gri-gri anyway and I started to doubt its ability to catch a fall. Not to mention that after 12 hours without water I was getting some gnarly cramps in my hands. Several times while laybacking my thumbs refused to move open and I was forced to hang on a cam and manually open them with my other hand. After the second 70 m pitch I said fuck it and began my descent screaming obscenities into the wind.

After several stressful hours of rappelling and stumbling down ice covered talus I arrived back at my cave. I ate chocolate and drank a few liters of water while hurriedly packing a bag to go down to Campamento Japones. I was anxious to see my friends who were wisely holed up in the tarp shelter we had dubbed “the rat shack” and undoubtedly drinking mate. Upon my arrival they were all relieved to see me after their failed radio attempts earlier in the day. Steve Schneider informed me today was not a climbing day; yeah I knew that now, but a hell of a way to ring in the New Year none the less.
With no break in the weather in sight most of the soggy Japones residents returned to Puerto Natales for pizza and beer. Ever the optimist I trudged back up the moraine to my cave where I sat out another 10 days of bad weather more or less alone in my tent. My orange Patagonia t-shirt/wind sock combo attracts most people that come to the Silencio valley directly to my tent. I go through the same conversation almost daily with the trekkers who come by looking for a view of the Torres. “It is 1 hour more to the Torres view,” “yes, I am here to climb,” yes I am climbing alone,” yes my mother knows and yes I am sure it bothers her.”
Finally on January 10th I received word from my returning friends that there is a weather window on the 11th and 12th. I hurry to the platform below the Torres where my gear is stashed, crawl into the bivy sack and wait for my 3 am alarm, which rings as usual well before I am ready for it.

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