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Fitz Roy via Californiana Route

August 04, 2016

Fitz Roy via Californiana Route

Decision was taken within 5 minutes, bags weight reduced to minimum, we arrived in front of the check-in desks at Saint-Exupéry airport ready for anything to get on board without paying the extra weight charge. Destination Patagonia, via Istanbul, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, El Calafate.Finally arrived in El Chalten after 3 days of traveling.
We are happy to find the same place we left 1 year ago. The meteo forecast shows good weather, sunny, and the most important, no wind. Without any rest, we take the path to Niponino, on the Torre Glacier, carrying all we need for 6 days in the mountains: climbing equipment, tent and food.
We have a very precise plan: we’ll go there and we’ll see! Finally our eyes fix on Aiguilla St Exupéry, located just in front of us, on the other side of the glacier. The conditions are very dry this year. We start early in the morning, very light: no gore-tex jackets, no down parkas, just climbing equipment and 2 liters of water. 3 pitches before the summit, we have do bail down. The wind is the king of this place and the raindrops falling horizontally forced us to abandon. With the last abseil through a waterfall, we finally arrive at our bivouac at 11:00 pm, completely wet. The fox is the head of the local mafia on the glacier, and he has already collected the protection tax: half of our food disappeared. Chocolate, sausage, cheese and power gels, I am sure that mix sent him to the toilet for several days. At least I hope so. He has stolen the lighter too, he will need it to light his stove during the long winter months.
Following two days of rest in front of the phone, watching the weather forecast on several web sites, we leave the town again towards Aiguilla Guillaumet. We already know the path to Guillaumet Col, we have already passed by there last year. This is a private land so an access fee has to be paid in order to pass. As camping at the hut is cheaper that the access fee and this gives you the right to pass through the private land, we decide to bivouac in front of the hut. We left the tent just after midnight, 1000 m lower than planned, aiming for Comensana-Fonrouge route, but we change once again our plan and we continue on Amy-Vidailhet route, sheltered from the west wind. Light and fast, we have left one pair of ice axes at the bivouac site, therefore Ioana passes the overhanging bergschrund without ice axes. New style. After a couple of pitches in an icy chimney, we continue on the rocks, then a short snowy and mixed slope and early in the afternoon we arrived on the summit. Our first summit in Patagonia, we are happy. Late in the evening we are back in town for a well-deserved pizza and beer.
A new weather window is forecasted. 5 to 6 days with no wind. That’s what we were waiting for since we arrived, even since 2015. We prepare our bags and we leave towards the Laguna de los Tres where we bivouac in our small tent. We spend one more day watching the smoking mountain – Cerro Chalten, in Tehuelche language.
On the 19th February at 1am, we are finally leaving our little tent, equipped for 3 days of adventure on the mountain of our dreams. The approach on the glacier goes well, without any problems for passing the crevasses. The bergschrund is in good conditions and just in time for the sunset we find ourselves on the steep slopes before La Brecha de los Italianos. A small down climb, some pitches of rock, mix climbing and ice traverse bring us to the Silla. 14 hours after having abandoned our tent, we arrive at the start of the Californiana route. Some pitches higher, we arrive at a difficult passage in off-width, which slows us down and obliges us to cross to the left and look for more fine cracks. At the end of this pitch, the most difficult from the route, we decide to bivi. One sleeping bag for both of us and a lot of wind… the night doesn’t pass by very fast.
The next day starts out cold in the morning, so we are leaving late and we are continuing our climb towards the summit ridge where we are going to pass another night. The wind is very strong on the other side of the ridge, we pass some time just going with our heads back and forth, the difference in wind is incredible so we are obliged to stop sooner than planned.
The view is fantastic. View from the airplane over all these mythical Patagonian summits. Behind them is Hielo Continental, this infinite white desert.
Day 3, the wind finally sits still and we continue our climb on the ridge. We are tired, we had already eaten all our LYOFOOD and we have nothing else to eat, except some coffee bonbons, but our motivation is higher than hunger and we continue climbing. We arrive on the summit in the same time as the clouds. Big moment of happiness, some photos, a short video, we don’t have much time to stay.
Low visibility to a couple of meters and we have to find the rappel lines of the route Franco-Argentina before the night sets.
Some 10 hours of rappelling, ropes stuck at every rappel, knots on the ropes, this is all part of an alpinist’s life, but this time it’s too much. The last rappel, the one which brings us at the start of the route, is fatal for our ropes. After almost one hour of pulling on the ropes, we pull out the knife and cut them. We recover what we can: 2 pieces of 7m rope.
We still have 3-400 m of descent in rappel before putting the feet on the glacier. The other possibility would be waiting for the freezing of the night and go down on the snow slope we went up 3 days before. After the snow and ice traverse of the shoulder, we luckily find the depot of our Slovak friends. At the bottom of their bag lies a beautiful new static rope. We descend the couloir under La Brecha de los Italianos in 10 rappels. Finally, after more than 30 hours non-stop, we arrive back on the glacier. Small break in Passo Superior and we continue our descent to our little tent left at Laguna de los Tres.
The next day, we wake up under heavy rain, we descent to town and celebrate the summit with ½ kg of ice cream, delicious meat and beers…
Thank you LYOFOOD for fueling this adventure!
Californiana Route, first climbed in 1968 by Yvon Chouinard, Richard Dorworth, Lito Tejada Flores and Doug Tompkins (USA) and Chris Jones (UK). Richard Dorworth later declared:
“[…] the 1968 Funhog trip from California to Patagonia and the climb of Fitz Roy was a natural, even logical, step on the endless road of self-awareness and consciousness.”
Ioana and Mihnea
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