The 0315 alarm rips me from a deep sleep. “Oh fuck” I mutter, “I could sleep for another eight hours.” Matt responds with silence. I search in vain for my headlamp, my hands patting and feeling all around in the darkness. I find only Matt´s. It will do. I slide out of my sleeping bag and pull on puffy layers. In the pale glow of a dying headlamp I pull my laces tight and unzip the tent.
“How are you doing Jared?” Matt asks from the darkness.
“Just great, ready to fall back asleep.”
The return to the mountains after the loss of a friend and fellow climber is bittersweet. The mountains, cruel mistress that they are, offer only cold indifference, even in the best of circumstances. It is that cold indifference and bittersweet fairness however that calls me back, once again searching for comfort, reassurance and solace in her embrace. It is the most consistent place I know, always there, always waiting.
We hike the loose rock moraine by headlamp. We wander upward, wary of loose rocks, following some vague directions from Jake. The glow of headlamps across the moraine, throughout the valley and on the cliffs tell of other intrepid souls out chasing the calling. Soon enough we catch up to Ava and Jake as they make their way up to El Mocho´s East Pillar. We amble across the slabs together and soon see the trail of headlamps of two parties leading up to the base of Media Luna. “Fuck, scooped” Matt mutters.
The rising sun turns Cerro Torre and her cohorts brilliant hues of orange and pink. We stop and take stock, acutely aware of the risks of climbing under other parties. We eye El Mocho and the Salvaterra-Caravello and alter our plans. We don crampons and zigzag across the ice, end running around the gaping crevasses, eventually running out of options. We turn around and retrace our steps, drop around the toe of the glacier and back up the ice at the base of the north face of El Mocho. As we near the beautiful pink corner system soaring 400 meters upward, we hear voices. Jake and Eva, having gotten off route on their way to the East Pillar, have changed plans and are roping up at the base of the Salvaterra-Caravello. “Drats foiled again. What now?” I look at Matt questioningly, knowing that neither of us want to climb below another party on this straight up route. I look at my watch. It is 0700. We have been on the move for three hours and still haven´t started climbing. We reassess and decide that maybe the parties on Media Luna are high enough and decide to go check and see if it has more protected belays.
We pick our way down the broken glacier, stemming, front pointing, and down climbing the cracked up ice. Back at the slabs we beeline it to the base of Media Luna, crossing a soft snow slope and dropping into a moat. Much to our chagrin, there is nobody there. The parties we saw were all en route to Cerro Torre. Our psych returns. It is 0800.
The routes initial pitches are basked in the sun and the white Patagonian granite is worlds better than anything we climbed on St. Exupery. Matt works up the initial wide crack. I follow, yarding on gear the whole way. We move up. Cracks, face, choss, splitter stone.
Higher. I stem the wide chimney around a giant chockstone and am greeted by a soaring hand and fist crack. Silently I wish I had taped my hands. I move up, cleaning Matt´s gear and soon enough I am dogging the slightly overhanging wide hands crack. “Take” I yell up to Matt and I rest on the rope. Without pride I transition into a lieback, make some moves, and grab the #4 Camalot in the crack ten feet higher, wondering how much I should tip the waiter for getting served so well.
We top out at 1700 and Matt rigs the first of the six rappels. Two hundred and ten feet lower we pull our ropes and our 7mm tagline gets tangled and snagged as it drops to us. We climb up and free it. This process is repeated two more times, allowing us ample opportunity for more short leads and down climbs. Dusk is settling in as we pull our ropes for the last time, the tag line dropping cleanly next to us from 220 feet up.
“Can you toast with a Fantoche?” I ask, splitting a triple blanco alfajorge in half and handing part to Matt.
“Sure, I guess” he replies.
“Here is to having known Carlyle, even if just for a little bit” I offer. Instinctively Matt raises his hand and treat toward St Exupery and our eyes follow and watch the evening light paint its golden stone yet again.
(Note: Carlyle Norman’s body was found on the Rio Blanco Glacier about 1000 feet below the east face of St Exupery. Her body will remain there. There is an accident report posted on the Alpinist website and a memorial service will be held February 3rd in Canmore, AB)