28 January 2014–“We could do the five pitch route that Rainbow and I have done a couple times” Anne says as we load gear into our packs. “Or we could go do La Botella or we could go to the crags at the far end” she continues.
“I have never been over there and I am open to whatever” I answer.
“Well, I think I would be most psyched on either going to the far end crags or La Botella.”
“Sweet lets go hit the single pitch stuff. You think we should bring two ropes?” I ask before reaching for the orange half rope tucked under the bed.
“I don’t think it would be a bad idea” Anne replies. I grab the rope “Ciao” she says to Rainbow as we walk out the door.
I add my good-byes and we troop down the stairs and out the door into the constant, unrelenting El Chaltén wind.
We walk up the road, across the bridge and gain the footpath on the far side of the Rio de Las Vueltas. The cliffs that line this distant side of the river stretch on for at least a kilometer and offer a wide variety of climbing options. We wander southward through a small stand of beech trees and before long are below our intended crag. The base of the cliff above is dotted with people and as we make our way up the well worn path I wonder if there will be an open route.
We run into a couple of friendly faces and try to track down some beta. After a bit of hemming and hawing Anne settles on a route that is supposedly rated 6c. I throw out my usual caveat: “I am happy to give you a belay, but I am not sure if I can lead it” and Anne replies not to worry she will bring a bail ‘biner.
It has been almost five months since I last did any semblance of rock climbing, unless you count the mixed pitches of five-seven on the summit ridge to Guillaumet. Kinda different, I think. Back around the end of August, Ari Hertz, Amy and I drove over to Paynes Ford at the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand and clipped some bolts for two days. Needless to say, the last five months have been one of the longest stretches of my recent life without rock climbing.
Despite the wind tunnel that is the valley of the Rio de Las Vueltas, there is a modicum of calm at the cliff base. A few drops of rain spit from the mostly blue (at least overhead) sky as I flake out the rope, hand Anne the draws and put on my harness. I silently hope that I have not forgotten.
“Locked, through the carabiner and ATC, doubled back times four… you’re on belay” the systems check rolls off my tongue as if it was yesterday when I last climbed. After checking her own system, Anne starts up the rust colored, andesitesque rock. She pulls through a series of balancey moves with high steps and side pulls before exiting into a corner just below the crux. Stems and smears propel her up to a poorly located bolt and the subsequent crux. After several good tries and a bit of strategizing, she throws in the towel.
“You want to give this a go or should I leave a biner?” Anne yells down.
“Aww hell, I’ll give it a whirl” I reply, figuring I need to at least try. I lower Anne off a quickdraw and we exchange spots. I lace up and tie my shoes, run through a check, then retrace Anne’s route up the face. At her high point I pause, my feet perched on a scant edge that stretches a meter or so across the face. A few handholds exist at the outer reaches of my arms, but footholds for upward progress on this slab are nil. After a couple half-hearted attempts Anne asks if I want some local beta. “Sure, why not” I reply, otherwise feeling bereft of options.
“Marcos here” she says, gesturing to the dark haired, goateed man with bright green pants who is standing next to her, “says that you go left. Use that crack for your left hand.”
I inch over, find the best spot for gripping and scan once again for a useable foot placement. I see a high smedge and, encouraged by the beta of Marcos, pull out, transferring my weight on to the high foot. I reach up, grab another solid incut and am soon standing on a decent rest. The rest of the route, one of the crowd below had told me earlier, is just balancey. I reach up, clip a quickdraw and deposit my rope securely into it. I breathe easier and start plotting my route to the anchor.
“You want to climb this” I yell down to Anne as I clip the rope into the anchor a few minutes later.
“Yep, for sure” her response floats up.
“Okay, tension” I shout back down. She takes the tension and I sit back in my harness and am quickly lowered to the ground.
“Nice work” Anne offers up along with a congratulatory high five.
“Thanks and belay off” I add. “It was definitely my kind of route: half done through the crux and not very pumpy. More balancey and technical” I continue with a half smile.
We once again swap spots and I give Anne a belay. After we finish the hard warm-up, we warm down with two easier routes then call it a day. As we pack up I think to myself that I would consider this trip to El Chaltén a success if someone or something were to let me know that one of the routes we climbed today was named either The Whillians-Cochrane or Poincenot.