The group process yielded a desire to climb something. After talking options for a half hour or forty-five minutes we reached the conclusion that moving over the saddle to the base of our objective was not the best choice for our one day weather “window.” With our gear already at the saddle, making use of the good weather to climb something made sense and an ascent of the Tooth was the most logical. It’s eye catching symmetery and ease of approach made it an appealling one as well. Part time “local” resident and full time climber, Jim Donnini, along with a couple of Brits had made the first recorded ascent of the spire a year prior (2014) via a 300 meter route called the “Tooth Arete.” The pyrimidal shaped, easily accessible tower had seen at least one other ascent; they had found rappel tat on the summit from an unknown party. Nonetheless we wanted to climb it too, with the line of the likely first ascent being the obvious option. The north ridge was the lowest angle and with two parties it seemed like there would be a myriad of options. We settled on an easy, non-alpine start hour, not too late and not too early, called it a day and hit the hay.
The previous day’s hike to the saddle to shuttle a load of gear had been mostly over snow covered boulders, making the process slow, tedious and at times, treacherous. This morning though, twenty-four hours later, the sunshine had worked its magic and we made it to the saddle between The Tooth and the hulking mass of South Avellano Tower in a quick jaunt. Of course, our packs were significantly lighter too. The day is a Patagonian rarity and Ting-ting noted she now understood how people could actually climb down here. “It doesn’t actually rain all the time. It is not always windy either” she observed under the clear, calm skies.
At the saddle, we pull the gear out of the cache, rack up, then scramble around the west side of the formation to gain the saddle below the north ridge. Snowfields and scrambling through talus and boulders brings us high onto the ridge to a point where things steepen into, what was for us, fifth class terrain. Matt and I rope up and he clambers his way up an easy but somewhat chossy corner. Over to our left Ting-ting leads up a shallow cleft. Somewhere near the top of their respective pitches I hear Matt and Ting-ting chatting as they build belays.
“On belay Jared” Matt shouts down from somewhere not too far above. It is always a pleasure to touch the Patagonian granite and this fresh taste in a new range is no different, even though it is a bit loose and the line not super difficult. The sky though, is blue, friends are near and we have the entire range to ourselves. I reach the belay, we swap gear and I run the rope up through snow, loose boulders and blocks. Not much rock climbing on this pitch and snow made its way into my rock shoes and socks, but that is of little concern, as we are climbing in Patagonia. Again, we belay in proximity to Dave and Ting-ting as the ridge crest has narrowed and options gotten a bit slimmer. We decide to join forces, so I clip Ting-ting’s rope to my harness as I leave the belay, dragging their rope toward Matt, who somewhere above has woven his rope amidst the jutting, granite gendarmes. I find him in a small stance below a wide chimney.
“One more to the top” I think out loud as I clip in and Matt grabs the second rope and starts pulling it in.
“Yeah, probably” he says, an uncommon hint of uncertainty in his voice. Once secured to the anchor I take the rope from Matt and finish pulling it in and put Ting-ting and Dave on belay.
“On belay Ting-Ting” I yell down, listening to it echo off the imposing south face of Avenali Tower to our north. I almost hear the echo of Ting-ting’s “climbing” before I hear her actual words and marvel at the area’s accoustics. Over our shoulders to the west the spire drops away to a steep cirque where two turquoise lakes are filled by constantly calving glaciers and roaring waterfalls. In the distance a line of snowy, glaciated peaks line the horizon. The imposing bulk of Cerro San Valentin’s snowy massif dominates the surrounding jagged sea of andesite, granite, snow and ice. There is a ghost of a moon hanging midway down the afternoon sky, but still no sign of the incoming moisture that is predicted for tomorrow.
“Well, what is the best way to do this?” Matt asks once we are all on the bleay ledge. There are two ropes, four competent leaders and one pitch to go.
“Probably easiest for me to just take the next lead” I chime in selfishly and without much hesitation. “Dave and Ting-ting are tied in short and you are on the bottom of the pile” I quickly add for justification.
“Sounds good” Matt quickly agrees, while Ting-ting and Dave nod silently in agreement. I grab the rack, quickly arrange it onto my harness, shoulder my pack and untie. “On belay, Don Jared” Matt says as I squirm my way up a horizontal chimney to a stance just below a short section of chimney. I sling a pinch, stand up, then find a good yellow TCU placement, which I fiddle in while eyeing the next ten feet rather suspiciously. Seems like I will need to get in there, I think. I unshoulder my pack, take a sling off my harnes, girth hitch the pack and clip it to my belay loop, such that it will dangle below me. Then it is a chicken wing and a high foot which propel me into an armbar, replete with a bit of thrashing. Initially outside, then more securely inside, I wiggle upwards, stoppping to occasionally unstick the dangling pack. The upper back of the chimney provides a solid incut edge which helps me surmount the last of the chimney and stand. I reshoulder my pack, do a few exposed horizontal moves then climb to the precarious, needle like summit and try to stand. The top is narrow and pointed. From a somewhat secure crouching position I slowly rise up, fixing my gaze in order to hold my balance. I don’t have the nerve to stand for long and quickly return to the crouching position; a fall from here would be painful to say the least. The tippy top of the Tooth is not the highest place around, nor was the route the hardest climbing we could have done that day, but the spire’s highpoint is by far one of the coolest summits that I have ever stood upon. As I cautiously downclimb to a good belay stance I can’t help looking around to the south and east at a valley filled with granite and hope that this is only the beginning.