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 02 FEB 2001 > En route to the US
 Parting Shot

Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson

Today's Photos

6 images
"Well, I think we are pretty much done for this year," I tell Dean Potter.

"What? You guys have a couple more days left, right?" he asks. "I have a feeling you will get a window."

A window has several definitions. A window on a house lets in light. The phrase, "a window," often means a space or opportunity. To Andrew and myself, both of these definitions apply. A window to climb in Patagonia means a period of fair weather, with lots of sunshine and no wind. We have seen few windows during our month-long stay at the base of the Fitz Roy massif. The longest stretch of good weather lasted about 12 hours. In three days we will start moving our gear down to Chaltén for the journey home. The chance of getting in some more climbing seemed rather slim.

Two hours after my conversation with Dean, the weather had made a remarkable about face. The wind had died and the clouds were clearing rapidly. "I think we should go for it," Andrew announced at 5:30pm. Within half an hour we were packed and once again hiking up toward our high camp at Paso Superior.

The setting sun caused our shadows to grow as we climbed the hill above Base Camp. "Whoa, check that out," exclaimed Andrew, turning toward the valley to the east. Stenciled in a crisp shadow, across the bright green of the beech forest below, was the outline of the Fitz Roy massif: Guillaumet, Mermoz, Fitz Roy and Poincenot.

Poincenot was our objective. Our goal was to climb part way up the Whillans Route, then branch out after the snow ramp and try to climb a new direct finish to the summit.

At Paso Superior, we brewed up some food and sacked out for four hours. A weather check at 3am revealed thickening clouds. Not the perfect day we were hoping for, but at least there was no wind. We talked about our climbing options and finally headed towards Poincenot at 4:30am. As we traversed onto the Pedras Blancas Glacier, we could see the distant headlamps of Steph Davis and Dean Potter climbing the col to the North Pillar of Fitz Roy.

As we got closer to Poincenot, the snow changed from a bulletproof wind-scoured layer to deep powder. Our lightweight snowshoes made trail breaking a lot easier. Off in the distance, the sun started to peak above the horizon. First only the high stratus clouds received the scarlet paintbrush of the sunrise. Then the cumulous clouds below were illuminated and made part of the spectacular morning canvas. But before the warming rays of the sun reached us, the increasing build up of clouds blocked the light.

Andrew and I were actually happy the sun was not shining down on us and our route, because it had taken us longer than we had planned to reach the ramp. The ramp is a 1000 foot section of snow and ice that varies from 30 to 70 degrees. Although the sun would bring warmth to our chilled hands and feet it would also bring slush and scary climbing.

The avalanche-prone slope near the base looked a little better today. Andrew put in a snow anchor and I headed out across the final 100 feet. I stepped gingerly over the bergschrund and looked down. Below me, the slope disappeared and dropped 3000 feet to the Laguna Sucia. I focused back to the ramp. The beginning had some exposed granite slabs coated with a few blobs of ice. I clipped my rope into a section of old static cord sticking out of the ice. I had no idea what the cord was attached to, but there was no other protection available.

The face in front of me was a complex jigsaw puzzle of climbing. First, I solved a sequence straight up, then I linked together of few smears of ice to the side. After forty feet of thin, insecure climbing the rope came tight. With no way to build a belay I yelled to Andrew, "We are going to have to simul-climb."

If I were to fall, the only thing keeping us from making a world record dive into the laguna, was a piece of old rope. I no idea if it would hold us. With falling out of the question, I continued up talking to the ice, "Come on stick, that's it don't $!#$^* fracture." Soon the scary climbing was only a sweaty memory and we were racing up the ramp. Later I learned Andrew was planning was to jump into the bergschrund in a last ditch effort to arrest our fall if I had slipped.

The sky has completely filled with clouds and the build-up had started to squeeze moisture—in the form of light snow—from the atmosphere. The ramp ended at the bottom of a chimney. I thrashed up the narrowing slot, with my backpack scraping along the coarse granite. I put in a marginal nut and pendulumed 15 feet to the left to gain a thin ribbon of ice. More spectacular mixed climbing led to the southeast shoulder of Poincenot.

At that point, Andrew and I branched off the Whillans route and ascended two pitches of uncharted climbing. At first the pitches were fairly low angle, but the climbing was intense. Using ice axes and crampons as our hand and feet, we cammed picks into cracks, gently placed front points on small edges and slowly gained elevation.

The snow began falling harder—soon visibilty was down to 100 feet. Above us the rock steepened. The cracks were filled with ice and would require a lot of time and gear to aid climb up them, neither of which we had. Andrew and I conferred and decided to rappel down and try to reach the summit, via the Whillans Route.

As Andrew headed off, I could hear his crampons scratching across the verglased slabs. I gazed out into the whiteness swirling around us. In normal conditions, climbers wear rock shoes on the upper section of the route. Today, the route was in winter conditions and we were forced to climb it as such. By linking horizontal ledges of rock with short bouldery vertical sections, we slowly crept upward. As we continued further to the west, the wind began to increase.

The wet snow had saturated our clothes and we had been going non-stop for almost 12 hours. Exhaustion and hypothermia were starting to creep in. As we looked up at the two pitches of climbing that separated us from the summit, we knew that it was time to start down. If the two pitches of slab climbing were free of snow the summit would be ours in short order, but in their present condition the proccess would consume several hours. It was 5pm and we still had over 15 rappels and some sketchy snow to cross, before we were back on the flat glacier.

Small spindrift avalanches were our constant companions as we made our way down the 2000 feet of technical terrain, across the glacier and home to our snow cave. "That was some of the most amazing climbing I have ever done," beamed Andrew as he sipped a mug of hot chocolate from the cozy confines of his sleeping bag.

"Yeah, I had to pull quite a few tricks out of my sleeve for those conditions," I concurred.

Once again the infamous Patagonia weather had shut us down. This time, just a couple hundred feet from the summit. As I lay in my bag, listening to the wind howl outside the cave, I relaxed my tired muscles and mind and felt content. The weather and the summits will always be there and all I have to do is find the open window to get through.

The "Harpers Index," Patagonian style:

1 — Number of summits attained by Andrew Chapman and Dave Anderson in Los Glaciares National Park in February of 2001 (two pitches from summitting Poincenot)
2 — Number of summits attained by all other expeditions in Los Glaciares National Park during the month of February 2001 (all climbed Guillaumet)

88 — Number of miles between NYC and Philadelphia
117 — Number of miles Andrew and Dave walked during the expedition

53,000 — Number of feet in elevation Andrew and Dave covered during the expedition
29,035 — Number of feet in elevation of Everest

125 — Pounds of food consumed by Andrew and Dave
2 — Number of rolls of toilet paper used by the team

1 — Number of times avalanche debris buried our tracks
0 — Number of times we thought that was funny

720 — Number of pictures taken on this trip
? — Number of quality pictures developed

1,500 — Number of times Dave checked the pressure on his watch
20 — Total change in millibars of mercury during the expedition

20 — Number of times we did weather checks between 12 and 3am
1 — Number of times those checks led to a summit day

1 — Number of times we saw Brady Robinson and Jimmy Chin in El Chaltén
1 — Number of times we drank way too many cerveza in El Chaltén

16.5 — Number of hours Andrew and I spent actually climbing on this expedition
30 — Number of years combined since Dave and Andrew first thought about climbing in Patagonia

1 — Number of showers taken by Dave and Andrew during the expedition
10 — Number of feet most people stayed away from us

273 — Number of times Dave said "*%$!!$% this" while post-holing up to Paso Superior
310 — Number of times Andrew said "Dude" on the expedition

We're out of here. Adios!

Dave Anderson, Correspondent

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