Alpine climbing


Tags: Posted on January 08, 2013


Cerro Torre, Torre Egger and Cerro Stanharhardt, as seen from the approah on the Torre Glacier.  The Ragni route on Cerro Torre approximately follows the left skyline.

It's been a great 4th trip to Patagonia, and once again I got lucky with the weather.  Since I arrived on the afternoon of December the 10th, to the 2nd of January, Colin and I managed to get in 5 big days of alpine climbing (a couple of updates in the last blog post), which by Patagonian standards is quite good.  It was only on "Venas Azules", the hardest route we tried, that we got thwarted by a storm and were forced to descend a mere 80 meters from Torre Egger's summit.  Despite it being the only 'failure", it was definitely the highlight of the trip for me, as for me, the journey is far more important than the often overrated summit.   

The last two weather windows fell exactly on christmas and new years.  On Christmas morning, about ten parties of climbers climbed the infamous Ragni route on Cerro Torre's west face.  I've never seen an alpine route so crowded and so many ropes intertwining like macramé, so high above tree-line.  But everybody was good with it, the mood was festive, and everybody made it to the cumbre of Patagonia's most aesthetic Torre.  The climbing although only moderate in difficulty thanks to a well blazed trail to follow, was incredibly fun!   Weaving around so many wild fluffy rime mushrooms on a path of perfect blue ice.  To top it off, a natural tunnel right through the summit shroom led to the top.  It was exquisite!

Because it was looking like big window, Colin and I hauled a light-weight tent, and extra food / fuel, with intentions of rappelling the north side of the mountain to the Col of Conquest, where we'd camp and attempt Venas Azules on the south face of Torre Egger the next day.  This all went smoothly, and the following morning we started up Venas with no expectations.  We didn't even get a glimpse of the third pitch until we were right below it, despite being so close to it on the rappel.  It was natural tube facing just west enough that it was impossible to see until right below it, and otherwise the cross-chasm view revealed only a giant overhanging white mushroom with no possible climbing features.   A couple of easier thin ice and mixed pitches wrapped around to it.  Then a few rock moves led up to some steep rime, which I climbed onto.  Eventually the steep rime would gain an overhanging tube of perfect blue ice, but with no protection available, I'd needed to find another way.  After down-climbing, I was able to traverse left a few meters to a splitter fingercrack up the face that offered great drytooling and protection.  After 15-20 meters of pure crack, it became possible to traverse into the tube.  The stemming and chimneying inside the tube got steeper and steeper until I was forced to exit onto vertical+ ice, which eventually led to a sheltered belay before the next overhanging corner pitch.  My biceps were barely recovered by the time Colin arrived at the belay.  I started up the next pitch as soon as possible with the first 15-meters of 85-degee ice going quickly.   The pace slowed as the overhanging corner, above took a fair bit of work to clean snow and ice out of the crack and find adequate protection.  With crampons skating off the smooth walls, it didn't take long before I pumped out and had to resort to some A1.  Colin got a nice combo of mixed ground, and tube climbing on the fifth pitch, and I got 20-meters up another tube on the sixth.  When the blue turned to white, I hacked a my way through a fin of rime on left, getting ready to get fully pumped on a few bodylengths of 90 to 95-degress ahead.  But the wind was suddenly howling and a storm was upon us.  Both us and our gear were instantly growing rime ice!  It was time to bail.  I clipped my last screw and lowered back to the belay.  The ropes were blowing sideways as we tried to rappel below and they had to be kept in coils hanging from the harness.  After a few airy and scary rappels, we were back at the col.  We climbed a 50-meter to get to the rappel line of the American Torre Egger route, and began down by headlamp.  The spindrift began to pound us as the storm intensified, and I missed the exit ramp that led to the fixed rappel line down the East face of Cerro Torre.  Now we were committed to making our own anchors all the way down into no mans land.  One particular rappel was very memorable.  Even with 3 directional pieces of gear in the rock, it was 62 meter's of completely freehanging rappelling.  Finally I was able to snag the rock with an icetool, and make anchor with only 2-meters of rope left.  It would have been the prussik of a lifetime had it not worked out!  Eventually we made it down safely, minus all our nuts, pitons, cordelletes, a few biners / slings, and a climbing rope that got stuck on a pitch impossible to re-ascend.  On the Torre Glacier we brewed as the eastern sky slowly became light, and by 7 am, we were back in our tent at Niponinos.  The window had slammed shut a day early and had made our escape slightly more intense that we had hoped for!  

After three days of rest in town, we were hiking back up.  Plan A was to give Venas Azules another go, but temperatures seemed a little high, and the window was looking on small side for it.  Plan B was go rock climbing on "Festerville", a route up the north ridge of Cerro Stanhardt that came highly recommended by friends.   On the 1st of January, the alarm went off at 1:30 am, while many in Chalten were still ringing in the new year.    We were at the Stanhardt Col by sunrise, and climbing in rock shoes shortly after.  By the time the sun rolled around it was hot enough to climb in t-shirts!  The positions and the quality of Festerville were superb and it was so nice to have the pointy stuff inside the pack for a change.  A true choose your own adventure up a smorgasbord of splitters, Festerville delivered the goods.  Some 15 pitches later, we were climbing around mushrooms on the summit ridge, and soon standing on the top of the highest one, enjoying calm winds and evening sunlight shining across the icecap.  By the time we rappelled Exocet and hiked back to camp, it had been a 27-hour round trip, and was once again the light of day was upon us!  Sure enough by the time we awoke in the afternoon, it was starting to rain.  Once again, the window was closed.  Time to hike out and go home!

Summary of the trip:
Dec 12th - Guillot Gully, M5 5.9,Aguja Guillaumet
Dec 18th- Tobbagan, M6, Cerro Stanhardt
Dec 25th Ragni Route, AI 5+, Cerro Torre
Dec 26th Venas Azulas attempt, AI 6+, on Torre Egger (high point was approx 80 meters from summit)                  
Jan 1st  Festerville, 5.11b AI 3, Cerro Torre

Some b roll: 

Paul, Tony and Chris on the Torre Glacier - a force to be reckonned with


On the West side of the Torre's at around midnight, while approaching the Ragni route under a full moon..  The Ragni route is the right skyline of Cerro Torre (rimed up peak on the left), and Venas Azules is the right skyline of Torre Egger - the rimed up peak in the center 


The top of Torre Egger at Sunrise


If you look really closely, there are about ten climbers in this photo, xmas day on Cerro Torre


Colin, Sean, and Stephanne enjoy the first rays of the day on Cerro Torre


Bottleneck on the headwall looking up


Bottleneck on the Headwall looking down.  It just didn't seem to matter.  


Amazing views to the north from high on the Ragni route.  The southern Patagonia Icecap on the left and a sea of clouds hids the valley bottoms on the right.


Sig-Bjorn leads the last pitch of steep ice and tunneling


The Belay at the last pitch


Colin and I at the summit


Argentino climbers about three pitches below the top.  We passed them on our way down.


Our tent site at the Col of Conquest wasn't quuite big enough for the entire footprint of our Firstlight.


The North Face of Cerro Torre looms above.  It was about ten long rappels from the mushrooms at the top to here.


Colin in the finger crack of the third pitch of Venas Azules


Colin emerging from the overhanging tube on the third pitch


Colin starting up the fourth pitch of Venas Azules.  The north face of Cerro Torre on the right, and the south face of Torre Egger on the left 


From left to right: Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, and Cerro Stanhardt.  Festerville follows the left skyline of Stanhardt


Colin on the first pitch of Festerville from the Stanhardt Col.


A little higher up



Colin on the steepest pitch of the route, a sweet 5.11b finger and hand corner
Nothing but good times on Festerville
Choose your own adventure country


Getting near the top of the rock climbing


Colin Leading the summit mushroom


The nice view of Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, and the Southern Patagonia Icecap from the summit


A summit fist pump!



Guy Lacelle

Tags: Posted on December 22, 2012

As many have heard, I've been presented with this years Guy Lacelle award.  Guy was a friend, climbing partner, and mentor to me.  Guy's psyche, modesty, and blissful approach had a strongly influenced me, and I found his achievements were incredibly inspiring.  I'm deeply humbled and honoured that the award committee feels I share a similar attitude and values.  The news came as a surprise email, completely out of the blue, and I'm overwhelmed it's been given to me.  Apparently, I'm to receive some gear form his sponsors Petzl, Arcteryx, and La Sportiva.  

Guy leading the second pitch of Les Miserables WI6+

I certainly carried his spirit as I attempted various new mixed lines in the Canadian Rockies this fall, with varying successes.  There were some sweet sends, and as usual, some projects have been put on hold until next year, with high hopes of having more attemps to complete them. 

R. Slawinski avoiding unprotectable thin ice via mixed corner in the Canadian Rockies, during the anual fall time new routing binge

As I write, I'm between missions amongst the imfamous Torres of Argentine Patagonia.  Guys spirit, amongst others are definitely present.  Colin Haley and I are partnered up and have climbed two alpine routes in the last week or so, and we're now packing for the next one.  The first adventure we had was up the Guillot gully on the east face of Aguja Guillaumet. It was generally an easy climb, with about 8 belayed pitches, but it felt pretty intense in high winds and cold conditions.  It's amazing how subtle changes in conditions or weather can make an easy route suddenly feel very real!  It was especially cool for me to reach a summit I had never been to, on a day that we were likely the only climbers to even bother leaving the valley that day, and within 48 hours of being here.  2300 meters of steep up and down, in 18 hours round trip from town had the legs screaming for days!  I suppose it was good training... Some more pics can be found here on Colin's blog.  

Our second alpine climb was Toboggan, a 700-meter mixed route that ends at the Col de Suenos between Cerro Stanhardt and Punta Herron.  We had hoped to make the first integral ascent of this by taking it to either of the above mentioned summits, but the super rimed-up pitches above the col looked uninviting, out of condition, and at 8 pm, the night wasn't far off.  Had we had slightly better conditions, I think we might have gone for it through the night but prudently we opted otherwise.  As it turns out, we did what was likely the second ascent of the route and the first free ascent.  Most of the route being thin ice climbing up slabs, chimneys, and corners, with rock gear for protection.  Upon returning to town, we found out from Rolo, that we likely had considerably more ice than him and SIlvo on the first ascent in 1999.  All and all, it was a fun and worthwhile outing and took nearly 25 hours round-trip from our camp at Niponinos.  

Colin approaching the Torres! Cerro Torre on the left, Torre Egger and Punta Herron in the middle, and Cerro Stanhardt on the right.Tobogan follows the gully / chimney system just right of the hanging glacier part way up Torre Egger.

Colin coming up a slab of neve about halfway up the route.

Colin heading entering cruise control up another chimney laced with good ice 

Some sport climbing and bouldering has been keeping our blood flowing and fingers strong in the days spent in town between weather windows.   It seems like all the climbers in Chalten are getting a better than average Xmas window, so hopefully there'll be more cumbres to write home about soon!

Tony Richardson sending Chimango, a fun 7a amongst the Madsen Boulders, Chalten

As good as it is here, I can hardly wait to start shredding the super deep pow at home in three weeks time! 

Recent favorites

Tags: Posted on October 14, 2012

The last couple months have been one of the best high pressures I can remember in years.  On stat I heard was it's been the warmest summer in Calgary since 1881!  It was so nice in fact that it was impossibe for me to sit at a desk and share the photos, stories, or get much else done, as the mountains were calling.... 

 I'm lucky and grateful to live in such an amazing part of the world.  The Canadian Rockies are at my doorstep and the Bugaboos and Selkirks are a short drive away.   These three ranges never cease to blow my mind!  A few more reasons why I love being a canadian alpinist are (in no specific order):

-I can always find talented and inspiring people to climb with on world class objectives

-There is so much variety in the mountain sports I'm most interested in: sport, trad, ice and alpine climbing + unbelievable deep powder skiing on piste, off piste, ski mountaineering...  All in a relatively small area
-The development of the sport climbing scene in the Bow Valley is going off and provides the perfect training grounds to get strong, have fun, and prepare for harder objectives in mountains
-There is an abundance of multi-pitch adventure routes of all levels, in all disciplines of climbing
-The Rockies provide the world's most consistent, extensive, easily accessible ice and mixed scene - bar none!  
- First ascents -- Although the most obvious lines have mostly been done, some only once, there are still a lifetime's worth of first ascents to do, very much the opposite of Europe or the U.S.A..  I can share that because oddly enough, a little friendly international competition to get to them first would make them even more exciting!

-Getting to the incredible stone and scenery of Baffin Island only requires a handful of airports, no passport, and one day of travel

Here's a few pics from some of the climbing highlights from the last two months, starting with the Bugaboos:

Josh on the crux splitter of Hell or Highwater, Snowpatch Spire


Chris and Simon working on yet another sick new project


Josh leading the first pitch of Chris' other freshly completed new line: The East Columbia Indirect (mid 5.12), located just right of Hobo's Haven on the east end of the East face of Snowpatch.  Easily the highest quality route I've done in a long time!

Me leading the overhanging thin hands to fingers second pitch - photo: Joshua Lavigne 


Josh leading the third pitch


Looking down at Simon and Chris climbing the route behind us.  Simon is seen here leading the second pitch.


And looking down at Chris on the third pitch.

Here's a line of the East Columbia Indirect as seen from the Crecent Glacier.  The fourth pitch finishes up the last pitch of the Power of Lard.  Although 4 pitches is a short route by Bugaboo standards, I'm not sure of another route that has four pitches of this quality, sustained at 5.11+ with a few 5.12 cruxes.  Soooo good!  Start directly or scramble around via the the start of Sunshine Crack.


The Applebee gang


Lydia leading Sheldon's Corner, Easpost Spire


Josh on a new route .12b on Eastpost Spire


And then there's the Rockies. 

Magda enjoying a really fun and new 12-pitch, 5.12- route on Ha Ling Peak above Canmore, called a Particular Manner of Expression.  Cudos to Jeph Relph and a variety of partners for putting this one up.


Colin Haley on the Greenwood / Jones route on the North Face of Mt. Temple.

This classic really exceded my expectations and I'd highly recomend it.  Better than the other routes I've climbed on Temples nordwand. Colin pulling a small overhang near the top of the rock.

Colin on the walking the line to the summit

A raven joined us on top.  Here he's sitting right at the very peak, just a little bit higher than we made it! 


On thanksgiving weekend, October 6-8, Raphael Slawinski and I climbed this line on Howse Peak - a combo of the NE buttress and some mixed variations  It wasn't the line we set out to do but as the Stones said "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find, you get what you need".  We got what we needed, a great adventure up an iconic peak!

Raphael looking for the way about a third of the way up

Our first bivi about halfway up

The first pitch of day two was more sideways than up, as we deked out of the mixed gully system and back onto the ridge. 


Good rock climbing on the buttress

Raph following a little traverse between gully systems

Back into more mixed gully action, Chephren Lake below

Raphael sorting out the rope cluster in the sun

Fun couloir climbing in the M-16 gully

Still a bit of a cornice left from the revious winter.  Fortunately it was easily passed

Raph taking in the view from the summit!   

Our second bivi sight.  After descending 1000m of the summit of Howse on our second day, it got dark as we arrived here.  The following morning, we ascended 600m to the misty Epaulette / White Pyramid col above the tent, and then descended down to the river Icefield Parkway beyond.  About 5.5 hours from the bivi to the road.  All said and done, it was a very satisfying and rewarding adventure!


The following weekend, I couldn't help myself but go back to sport climbing. 

Alpine climbing means a lot ot me, but it's pretty hard to beat the overhanging streaky rock at our local crags such as Bataan seen here.  It's just so much fun I don't think I'll ever be full.  Jen onsighting a .12a in the upper photo and Jonny cranking below on a chilly mid october day.