Alpine Girth Hitch

Here is a Tech Tip article I wrote for Climbing Magazine. It generated a slew of comments and concerns, some well-founded and other off base.


Aguja De l'S and Mojon Rojo

After spending a few stormy weeks in the Torres Del Paine, Scott Bennett and I learned that the next 7 days were looking even more stormy! This was bad news as we had only about 10 days left in the trip. Armed with this info and running somewhat low on the tastier food products of our supply, we hiked out of the Torres Del Paine under gigantic loads consisting of packs-strapped-to-packs-strapped-to-packs. We caught the bus back into Puerto Natales and stayed with awesome friends there who run a trakking and kayaking company called Fortaleza Patagonia. They are the most amazing and nicest, most knowledgable guides one could ask for. In addition, both are bilingual. I highly suggest chatting with them if you visit the Paine or Puerto Natales and need local info or want to go kayaking or hiking in the park.

With our friends and a rented Toyota Yaris, we loaded up all our gear and drove (~3hrs) from Natales to El Chalten, where Scott and I thought we would just be bouldering and sport climbing for a week before leaving.

However, after a few days of reacquainting ourselves with actual climbing, a small blip of decent weather showed itself on the forecast for the day or two before I was to take off. We teamed up with a partnerless Steve Swenson, who would have to leave when we did for his return to the states. Steve is a true climbing guru and fount of Himalayan knowledge, and it was great to go climbing with him in the big mountains, not just at a crag in Squamish or Index. The three of us kicked around all kinds of ideas. Given that several accidents had already occurred in Chalten this year, owing (at least in part) to a very limited selection of snow and ice routes climbable between storms, we didn't want to find ourselves queued up behind other parties or climbing a peak we had all done multiple times. We settled on heading (via an approach which was new to all three of us) up to the southern end of the Fitz Roy range.

Scott and Steve - Fitz Roy and Poincenot on the left

We hiked in and left our overnight gear at an amazing bivy boulder/cave a couple thousand feet above Laguna Sucia and ~500' below the edge of the glacier. Nobody was around, which was exactly what we had wanted. The wind was still blowing fairly hard and it was already mid day, so we roped up and brought just a few pieces of gear, eventually rambling up the eastern aspect of Mojon Rojo, which was snow and rock scrambling to a 20' V0 finish. The views over the summit to the Torre Valley were amazing, with wind ripping the clouds through the strainer of the Torres' jagged summits. Armed with knowledge of the glacier and a high camp, we decided to try to climb something early the next morning which we reasonably could manage in gloves and boots.

A few other parties arrived at the bivy cave that evening, but we were the first ones up in the morning and tried to make a b-line for Aguja Saint Exupery. However, we kept running into dead ends in the glacier. After a few attempts at end-running crevasses in the pre-dawn light, we decided that our options were to: A - wait until it was light, and try to re-navigate while probably getting dead-ended. B - try to climbing something on Aguja De l'S which we could reach more easily.
Scott and Steve at the first belay. Aguja Saint Exupery is behind them.
Still following

We settled on option B, and generally followed a combination of the Austrian route (to start) and the Baby Face route for the remainder of the way. After some crotch-deep snow wallowing, I lead up ~100m of steep snow/snice over the bergschrund to build a rock anchor and bring up Steve and Scott. From there I just kept leading, as Scott and Steve quickly followed, often making soup or hot broth or tea at the belays. It snowed lightly all day, but the route was very fun, with interesting and easy ramps and narrow little corners covered in styrofoam snow, but with ample rock pro for both leader and follower. Our line basically traversed the entire east face of the peak from north-to-south, then angled up to the summit pyramid on much easier terrain, before taking 2 final steep pitches to the cumbre. I lead the final 2 pitches with no crampons and 1 ice tool, which, in retrospect, was a bad choice. I had expected more freeclimbable rock but things were very much covered in snow and a thick layer of water ice filled in the cracks. I aided, grunted, and free climbed very slowly as Steve and Scott huddled at the belays and made soup. Highlights included a committing mantle onto a snowy slab with no pro, and a small surprise aid fall, caught with aplomb by the ever-vigilant Mr. Swenson. We took turns standing on the tiny summit being ROCKED by winds from off the ice cap and over the Torre valley, and then downclimbed and rappelled the standard East Face.

Scott and Aguja St. Exupery

We were back in camp before dark and spent a nice night relaxing and asking Steven questions abut his upcoming Karakoram book and his numerous trips to central Asia, and the presence of the abominable snowman claimed to have been seen by Reinhold Messner, et al. For the record, Steve does not, even under intense scrutiny, admit to ever being a yeti.

The next day we hiked out, made pizza in Chalten (dough pre-made and rising during our trip to the mountains) and I caught the bus out of town, with Scott and Steve leaving the next day.