2014, Climbs, El Chalten

Plan B…?

17 January 2014–In his guidebook Patagonia Vertical Rolando Garibotti refers to the Amy-Vidailhet couloir as “ultra classic” and “mega-classic”. It was not on the top of my list of routes to climb this year, but flexibility is part of making plans in Patagonia. I had climbed Guillaumet last year with Matt via the Brenner-Moschioni. It was a long day of climbing getting to the top. We battled ice filled cracks the entire way up and in that it gave us the lessons we needed.

With a large cache of gear already at Piedra Negra, Anne and Rainbow invited me to join them on an attempt on the Whillians-Cocharane on Poincenot. It was a bit out of the way, but they had already done a route on Guillaumet, albeit they had not gone to the top. At this point in the season many more ice, snow and mixed lines were being climbed. Given the current and past conditions it was pretty apparent that the sunny rock climbing of years past was but a distant, happy memory and consequently, as we made the trek in I silently wished to be more well versed in the ice discipline.

We ambled up the long hill in a intensifying rain, driven hard by strong winds. Our plan was to grab the cache, sort some gear and travel up to the Paso Guillaumet. By the time we hit Piedra Negra, things were looking pretty bleak, but at least, as Rainbow and Anne said, it wasn’t covered in snow as the last time was. We set up a tarp and decided to make some hot water. We quickly deduced that none of us wanted make the ascent to Paso Guillaumet, so we set up the First Light, crammed ourselves into it and made a plan to wake up at midnight and give it a go.

Midnight came with not quite unexpected driving rain and steady wind. A protracted decision making session, capped by a phone call to a weather reporter in Lander had us falling back asleep by 0100 hours. We would wait. The day dawned much like the night, raining and blowing wind. Throughout the day more folks staggered in, the result of a more favorable forecast for the following day. Only Johan and Steve left, off for a grand adventure on Guillaumet.

So we ready ourselves for Plan B, or was it C, or…? The next morning we pull ourselves out of our sweaty fart sacks long before the sun breaks the horizon. We make a slow, meandering ascent of Paso Guillaumet, passing many others en route. We rope up somewhere below the bergschrund and watch two other climbers angle up into the couloir above us. No matter, there is enough space for all. I cast off from the belay and soon we are simul-climbing up across the ‘schrund. I make my way to a rappel anchor to the bottom left of the couloir, beef it up and belay in Anne and Rainbow. Behind us the sun begins to do its morning routine of warmth, brilliance and rejuvenation. I lead out sideways and push up the couloir, taking the sixty meter rope another eighty meters. We simul-climb the final twenty five meters and I establish another belay. Rainbow and Anne climb up and clip into the anchor. They kick out stances into the steep, hard snow and ice. Rainbow and I swap spots and he jets off up the steadily narrowing couloir. Behind us two Montanans’ solo up to our belay and then rope up. The two pitches of moderate snow and ice end with a mixed move up over a boulder to a big ledge in a notch. Two meters away, on the windward side of the formation, the wind howls and rages, but somehow fails to find its way into our little stance.

Anne and Rainbow at the bottom of the "Ultra-classic" Amy-Vidailhet couloir on Guillaumet's east face.

The two Montanans who have passed us in the couloir are striking off up the summit ridge as I reach the belay. We eat, drink and watch them scrape their crampon clad feet up bare rock and bits of snow. “Hmm, I think I’ll take my spikes off for this next section” I say, referring to what I perceive as the insecurity of crampons on rock.

“Yeah, it seems that they are bad-ass ice climbers. They’re probably better at climbing mixed stuff with their ‘pons on” Rainbow says as he sticks his in his pack. Anne has gotten the summit ridge block of leads and racks up. Once the last Montanan is a bit above, Peick launches off up the ridge with a belay from Rainbow. Anne’s “belay off” floats down and Rainbow and I, tied in two meters apart, tackle the initial steep and snow covered cracks out of the notch. A pitch later Anne hands me the rack and I swing around a large boulder, out of the sun and onto the cold, dark side of the mountain. I look up at the five-sevenish finger crack above only to see one of the Montanans still scraping upward in their crampons. I step back and give them a bit of room, then yard my way up the finger crack, jamming, stemming, edging and pulling on gear. Two pitches later we are standing at the base of the summit snowfield. We don crampons once again, grab our axes and start making tracks up the thirty degree slope. Around us ephemeral clouds coalesce and disintegrate from and into the deep blue sky. To the west pellets of rime shoot high above our heads, driven aloft by raging westerlies.

The summit is much the same as it was last year, only this time it is still the morning hours. We hang out in the relative calm of the lee side of the granite summit ridge, taking photos and eating chocolate.

Although it is known as “the easiest route to any of the granite summits” the Amy, as it is more commonly known, does not lack enjoyable climbing. The climbing this day was efficient and fun as our group of three moved up and down the ridge. A group of five climbers moving upward slow our downward progress a bit but once past the cluster we drop efficiently down an adjacent couloir and out onto the glacier. After a quick reorganization we decide to push for the road, so we make haste toward the windy Paso Guillaumet and Piedra Negra below. Once through the pass loose rock and scree lead us to a soft snow slope which yields a 1000 foot glissade which deposits us just short of camp and knocks forty-five minutes off our expected descent time.

We pack up, cache our gear and head down the long, steep descent towards Quilmes and empanadas.

One Comment

  1. Great 6 as always! I guess like any sport, you have to have your head in the game cnstnaotly in order to succeed, but man, with this sport, unlike golf or something, you could literally die if you don’t stay focused! I felt like I was right there