Corrado Pesce and his climbs in Patagonia
"How could I define the time spent in Patagonia. Expedition? Holiday? Journey? The right term is none of these." The trip report by Corrado "Korra" Pesce who has just spent a month in Patagonia which resulted in a series of ascents including a fast repeat of Supercanaleta up Fitz Roy together with Andrea Di Donato.
I live in a village where a road sign at its entrance states "the world's capital for skiing and alpinism". The statement is somewhat exaggerated nowadays, at least with regards to mountaineering and after having spent years taking full advantage of this, sometimes I surprised when I find myself yearning for those days when I climbed little or nothing, when I could spend hours studying a face, wondering when and how I'd manage to climb it.
My imagination isn't fervid enough to think about the Mont Blanc massif, say in the early eighties, a time not so long ago when it seemed as if all had already been climbed. The truth is that nowadays you can still get out there and experience adventure. Many might disagree with what I'm about to say, but at least it'll make people stop and think for a couple of minutes. Today's Patagonia, more precisely the mountains around the village of El Chalten, are approaching my idea of what the Mont Blanc massif might have been a little more than thirty years ago; the most obvious lines have been climbed, and this is a good thing because we can take advantage of the hard work of those who trod here before us! Much however remains to be done, to be completed, climbed quickly, freed... Departing from my French valley, entering an airport, switching from one plane to the next, jumping on a bus and finding myself sitting in front of a Quilmes and a couple of empanadas makes me think of a teleporter which has transported me to a better place, where I can dream even bigger dreams and where one can play even harder than in the Alps. Above al though, all of a sudden I'm in a place where I 've climbed little and have projects everywhere...
I met Andrea Di Donato by chance as the plane touched down in El Calafate and as we left the airport there was absolutely no wind. My climbing partner Manu Cordova would arrive the next day with a contingent of Iberians and it was on ever-happy Andrea that I vented my frustration at having arrivedin Patagonia at the end of four-day good weather window. The day after Manu's arrival we deposited our (little) gear at the Niponino Camp beneath the Torre. Bad weather set in and remained stuck for a week. As everywhere else, there are good days, bad days when it's better to stay put and a limited number of days which are worth hedging your bets on, during which you can dare but not too much.
During one of these days we walked back up to Paso Superior, to the base of the East Face of Fitz Roy and Aguja Mermoz, our goal for the next day which we hoped would turn out to be good enough. We left our bivy at 5am and started up Vol de Nuit, the mixed route first ascended by famous British mountaineer Andy Parkin. We took advantage of the fact that weather conditions were uncertain to climb in rare solitude, there was only one other team on the Guillaumet. Recent snowfalls had plastered the rock with a layer of fresh powder and although there was no ice we were climbing and, as things turned out, the rock was fantastic! A dozen pitches, some of which difficult, led to a col on the summit ridge. The route ends here, but from the col you can't see the Torre and since we were attracted by the idea of reaching the summit a further 80m higher we decided to climb the mixed terrain that separated us from the top. As often happens here, this wasn't particularly easy. Nor was the descent one of the easiest; a rope stuck in the wrong place resulted in us abseiling off a single rope down the second half of the route. We returned to El Chalten deep in the night.
After a day of terrible weather we we're back in business. This time we headed to Torre Egger which we hoped to ascend and descend in the single day of splendid weather forecast for the next day. Dawn arrived at four in the morning and we climbed the starting pitches of the Exocet route on Cerro Standhart. We then moved away from the Exocet, headed towards the South Face and above the Col dei Sogni a couple of abseils led us to the base of Spigolo dei Bimbi, the beautiful route on Punta Herron put up by Salvaterra - Cavallaro - Vidi. We ascended its beautifully weathered slabs which I'd climbed the previous year. At two in the afternoon we reached Col de Lux, the gap between Herron and Egger we'd just climbed. Col de Lux has always seemed magical, not without its mysteries. The pitches that followed led up steep slabs to the base of the summit mushroom that was melting away in the heat. I took the opportunity and traversed left to take a quick look at the finish of Titanic, the legendary route established by Giarolli and Orlandi. Our joy of the yearned-for summit preceded a certain degree of apprehension for the descent which seemed by no means easy. We descended directly down the South Face to the Col of Conquest, then continued down the East Face following a series of different routes, intent on completing our descent without mishaps and on enjoying this amazing place. A few hours later and we were back at the Niponino camp.
We were ready for action as soon as possible and a week later we and numerous teams fund ourselves at the mercy of an unreliable weather forecast. A good spell arrived and when it did we were already back in Chalten. The good weather didn't last long, Manu took advantage of it and climbed Guillaumet in a single day from El Chalten with Colin Haley. Bad weather then set in for ten days and Manu returned home. I teamed up with Andrea. The promise of better weather inspired us to dream of improbable projects. As improbable though as having a decent weather window to rely on.Supercanaletabecame our goal. The rise in temperature during the previous weeks had completely melted the snow on the route's first 1000 meters. Supercanaleta being our least improbable objective speaks volumes about the feasibility of the other ideas we'd abandoned...
The storms which had hit the massif could have helped the route come back into condition. We quickly prepared our gear, sheltered in the warmth of four solid walls and we were soon set, exaggeratedly lightweight as usual. After a six-hour approach we stood beneath Supercanaleta, it looked in good condition. The wait began and with it the hope that we wouldn't be fooled by Patagonia's whimsical weather which resulted in failure of almost all teams in the massif during that period. The fact that those who'd attempted the route right before us had turned back due to fickle conditions meant that we enjoyed this undertaking in complete solitude, a rare occurrence which we truly appreciated on this sometimes crowded route.
After a day's wait we reached the base of the route at one in the morning and ascended the remains of an avalanche, hoping the gully wouldn't collapse just as we ascended, hoping the night's frost had made the snow a little harder. We reached the Bloque Empotrado before dawn. The upper section of the route was plastered with fresh powder snow and Andrea and I fully enjoyed the excellent quality, by no means easy mixed climbing of this great classic. Every time I raised my eyes towards the Hielo Continental glacier I expected to see the first clouds bellow in from the ocean, but the only cloud I could see was the one which enveloped the summit of Fitz Roy. These conditions slowed us down but the weather held up better than expected and when we reached the top at one, a few hours prior to the storm. Supercanaleta's descent, dangerous when the sun hits the face, seemed almost easy after the descents off Torre Egger and Cerro Torre. Twenty or so abseils, some down climbing and we were on our way back to El Chalten. It began to drizzle but we were in the forest, the time had come to return home. But, once again, we said see you soon!
A special thanks to the companies that support: adidas, Blue Ice, Kayland, Petzl.
And thanks to those with whom I shared these beautiful mountains: Manu Cordova, Andrea Di Donato and Sebastian of the Aylen Aike Hostel
by Corrado Pesce