Whirrrrrr….. the sound catches my attention as I stand and stuff our sleeping bags into the bottom of our pack. First thought: oh, we are about to get buzzed by a plane. Second thought: hmmm, this is not the Fox Neve and I haven´t seen a small plane in weeks. Third thought: Oh shit… ¨ROCK!!!!¨ I scream to Matt who is standing not a meter away. I lunge for the faux protection of the cliff in front of me as the rock smashes into a ledge below and right of us, shattering into pieces. Moments later I pry myself away from the cliff and glance over at Matt. ¨That was close.¨ We are ten pitches up on Fitz Roy´s Franco-Argentina route. Our sloping bivy ledge that we called home last night was quickly being organized with things being put into their correct places. Now more debris, ice, snow and small rocks, rain down on us and Matt reaches for his helmet. I lean back in against the wall seeking what little protection it offers. I look at my intended route off to the right as the early morning sun once again begins the age old process of bringing down the mountains and contemplate the necessity of upward progress.
Our first attempt on Cerro Fitz Roy days earlier had ended up with us bailing off of the massif´s Pilar Goretta. After a low quality sitting bivy atop pitch five and some morning upward progress of two pitches it was 10 AM. We were moving slowly, once again overestimating our abilities and underestimating the objective. Our ability to reach the bivy on pitch 15 with its precious snow seemed highly unlikely. Realizing that our dream climb was not in our grasp and that instead of continuing to look up we instead, needed to start looking down was disappointing and dejecting. So we built anchors and started our retreat. Morose-fully we navigated broken glaciers, moraines, ice, postholes and boulders back to camp. We sat in Piedras Negras and discussed what went wrong and where we could do better. Eventually Matt suggested the Franco-Aregentina on Fitz Roy´s southeast side. I agreed. We plannned conservatively, not wanting to once again overestimate and underestimate in the wrong proportions.
Ttwenty- five hours later we find ourselves walking by headlamp across Glacier Piedras Blancas, postholing into knee deep snow. Above us the grey hulking mass that is Fitz Roy is silhouetted by the night sky. It looks down on us, almost mockingly as we struggle to reach its southeast flank. Slowly, as we pass under Guillamet, then Mermoz and finally ol´Fitz itself the sky begins to lighten and the Cruz de Sur and Milky Way fade into a beautiful dawn sky.
Back on the bivy ledge Matt and I exchange a few worried glances and comments but continue on with the business at hand. The morning has been cool and that which was wet eight hours ago is icy now. I move right then up a wide crack. I smear, stem and jam around the ice, my sticky rubber shoes useless on it´s frictionless surface. The pitch is long and wandering and our one borrowed ice screw finds its way into a small ice runnel. Soon enough I have reached the belay, fixed the line and Matt has started jugging upward, bring with him our pack and gear. Route finding indecision on my part costs us an hour or so as I navigate the next pitch, but soon enough we have traversed left to the base of the crux pitch. A shower of snow melt rains down on us. The steep right facing corner above is no longer icy but instead running with water. ¨With a fury, Don Jared¨ Matt says as I unclip from the anchor and launch upward into the vertical bath tub. A series of free moves lead to the awkward crux which finds me deploying a makeshift aider in order to clip a fixed hex. Each upward reach, and there are a lot of them, causes a cascade of snow melt to run down my sleeve, soaking my under layers, the inanimate water somehow smart enough to find the weakness of the Gore-Tex shell. It is only at the top that a reprieve is given from the onslaught of incoming wetness. As Mateo jugs I don a puffy jacket over my base layer and reapply the Gore-Tex shell then trade in my sticky rubber climbing shoes for boots and crampons. With a quickness, Matt is standing next to me and we are swapping gear. I clip my ice tools onto my harness and, high on Fitz Roy´s south side, embark on my first ever mixed lead.
Four low angle ice and snow pitches later we unrope and scramble for the summit and make our final upward movements through a loose rock tunnel. We crest the summit ridge and the grand vista of steppes, mountains, plains and glaciers spread out before us. We step up on to the high point and Matt offers up a high five. ¨Number four¨ he says in reference to our summit count.
¨Nice work Matt¨ I offer in return. ¨Halfway there…¨