Thursday, 19 February 2015

The importance of self-rescue in Patagonia

In my most recent post about Patagonia, I snuck in a couple paragraphs about some unfortunate  climbing accidents that occurred in the Chalten Massif this season. It was brought to my attention that my sneaky couple of paragraphs may have come off a little whinny. You know the old, "I'm a sponsored climber, and poor me that I had to participate in the rescue of an injured climber, and it got in the way of my climbing goals" thing. Upon re-reading said paragraphs, indeed, it did come off in a way that was not my intention. I am supremely lucky to be able to participate in the adventures that I have, and by no means would I turn a blind eye to an injured climber, just so I could complete my own climbing objective. 

But, what I did want to get across was the importance of self-rescue, and self-reliance when climbing in the Chalten Massif. With the availability of a guidebook, and abundant online information, climbing in Patagonia seems like a quick step up from climbing in your home mountain range. I want to warn you that it is not. Patagonia is a big place, with mountains that require significant skill to travel in safely. 

The most important factor here is rescue operations are volunteer, and are not trained to carry out wall rescues. There is an incredible team of local people who volunteer their time to assist injured climbers; however, these people have other jobs, and responsibilities in El Chalten. To complete a rescue in the Chalten Massif is no small task. Minus a tiny handful of helicopter rescues, all rescues are completed by walking from town, and back to town. These approaches can take anywhere from five hours, to eight hours one way. And that's if you're uninjured, or not carrying a rescue litter.

I want to encourage people travelling to Patagonia, to arrive armed with the skills necessary to be self-sufficient and carry out self-rescue. Unlike climbing in North America, you cannot rely on the assistance of a formal search and rescue operation. A helicopter is not a satellite phone call away.

Yes, the weather is bad, and yes you must take advantage of every window of good weather offered up, but without possessing the proper skills, I don't think "going big" at the cost of everything else is a suitable mantra. Just like succeeding on your first 5.14, there is a pyramid of progression that is followed as you build the skills necessary to travel safely in these mountains.

Rolo Garibotti posted a thought provoking article on risk to his website, www.pataclimb.com. Here's a link to the risk management document he is encouraging people to read when planning their objectives in Patagonia.

Below are a series of images from two rescues in the Chalten Massif. The first happened during the 2013/14 season and involved two climbers who'd taken a fall upwards of 300 m roped together while climbing the Supercanaleta. Both climbers survived, but it was a heroic effort on the part of the two injured climbers, and those that participated in the rescue. It took a little more than 24 hours to carryout the rescue, and involved about 50 people.

The second team of rescuers arrive at Piedras Negras to meet up with the first team who'd stabilized the injured climbers, and carried them from the base of the Supercanaleta to Paso Cuadrado.

Using 100 m static rope, the injured climbers were lowered one at a time in litters down the glacier from Paso Cuadrado.




Then, the climbers were again lowered from Piedras Negras down the roughly 1000 m high Polish Hill.



The second incident occurred this 2014/15 season, and involved two climbers who again, took a fall on snow while roped together. The rescue operation was considerably easier than the one recounted above, but still involved numerous people, and a lot of time to carry out the rescue. 

Colin, myself, and two Argentine climbers assisting the injured climbers across the Torre Glacier...

...until we were met with the volunteer rescue team from El Chalten.

The climbers were assessed for injury and stabilized. One was carried out in a litter, while the other was able to walk with assistance. 










Saturday, 14 February 2015

Wrong Girl.

You messed with the wrong girl
She's small but she's fierce
She shattered the glass out
With the highs of a heel
You led with the wrong line
When you called her c*** and all
So what make's a guy think
That it hurts a girl?

It don't hurt a girl
She loves her dangerous play
Kicks and screams as she dances
Keeps a pretty face

You messed with the wrong girl
She has her ways and means
Laughs at the traffic
From the easy streets
Enters in cages
With no bites when she leaves
If guys are too rough now
Then that's what you think!

It don't hurt a girl
She loves her dangerous play
Kicks and screams as she dances
Keeps a pretty face

She's like a mother eagle
Come'n down
She's like a mother eagle
Come'n down

Oh now she's cutting every corner
She's tearin' up the grass
'cause cars ain't for parkin' man
A car's what you pass

It don't stop a girl
She loves her dangerous play
Kicks and screams as she dances
Keeps a pretty face
Oh, I love her pretty face!
I love her pretty face!
What a pretty face!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

"The East Face, West Face Bullshit" ~ Seba Perroni

The weather is good here in Chalten. All the climbers are in the mountains, including Colin. It’s just me here now, and town is kind of quiet. I might like it.  This is my last day here, everything is packed and now I’m just deciding if I should rally for one last run, or just go buy some more empanadas.

I intended to write a blog post or two throughout the season. I guess I failed miserably on that one. I got too caught up in Instagram, and my clever little hashtag #mysilverlining, to spend time writing down an actual paragraph or two. I’ve now got two full days of travel ahead of me, so surely this post will be done by then.

There’s a lot to tell, a lot has happened. I think I achieved my goals. Not because I climbed the east face of Fitz Roy or something rad like that, because I didn’t. Not because I acquired 700 more Instagram followers due to my clever hashtag, because I didn’t. I achieved my goals because I managed to make good decisions in the mountains, and climb safely and efficiently with my girlfriends. And, because I put myself, and my gear to the test in all kinds of conditions and managed to bring many of you along with me. It was fun, and I feel satisfied.

As promised in my last post, one of the primary goals of my Patagonia blogging, is to share another round of clothing system recommendations for women who climb in the mountains. Remember, I love clothes, and as much as I enjoy talking about east faces and west faces, I like talking about hemlines, and the “hand” of a fabric more.

My wonderful sponsor, MEC, asked me to take a few new clothing samples down to Patagonia to test them out, and document the process for their MEC Instagram site. I was stoked to do so. Everyone knows I love clothes; however, when I attempted to enlist Colin's help in taking a few photos of me in my sweet new kit, he started taking random butt shots...

...and pictures like this. Thanks darling for the "help". Ha!

So, I’m going to break up my blog posts into a couple editions to separate the men from the ladies a little bit. Surely you dudes only care about the east faces and west faces, while all the ladies would love to join me on a photographic journey through clothing choices.

The west face of Aguja Mojon Rojo and our route, El Zorro. Isn't that a pretty west face?

Edition 1, “The East Face, West Face Bullshit” ~ Seba Perroni

The season started out slow, really slow. Colin arrived to southern Patagonia early November to head to a new zone, San Lorenzo, with our friend Rob Smith. They had one good climbing day in about three weeks. I arrived to Chalten on December 1, about the same time as Colin, so we could settle into our apartment, see Rob off, and get climbing. We didn’t do any climbing though. The weather was crap and in total for November and December there were two mediocre climbing windows. We did do a lot of bouldering though...

That's me.

Rolo photo-bombed this one of Doerte bouldering. I think he's pointing at the next hold?

Colin on a slab problem that was apparently V4. It took both of us two days of effort to send it! I hate slab climbing!

Our favourite little smoothie shop, VerdeLimòn. Colin and I hung out there a lot with the shop owners, Mariana and Leaondro, who are also our good buddies.

We rented a new apartment this season. Recall if you will, we've rented the same little apartment in town for the last five years. This year, Lilly, our landlady, offered us a bigger apartment. It had a big picnic table in the kitchen, and two bedrooms! 

And, some more bouldering. Ben is a very attentive spotter.

Meet the Luxury-Mother-Fuckers, Seba and Rob.

Captain Safety, and Major Danger.

Colin and some pretty Patagonian clouds.

Yours truly testing out the aerodynamics of my new MEC samples. 

After two weeks Colin and I were finally able to rally and head into the mountains for our first adventure. Unfortunately, in what is becoming a growing trend, we got caught up in a climber rescue which sucked up two days of our three day weather window. Needless to say, we were a little bummed, and ended up just climbing Rubio y Azul, 350 m 6c, on Aguja Medialuna.  Still totally worth the trip. It was an incredible route, but it was with a touch of bitterness that we settled on it.

Colin, along with two other Argentine climbers, and the volunteer Comisión de Auxilio de El Chaltén carry one of the injured climbers across the Torre Glacier in a litter.

There's Aguja Medialuna above Colin while he fills up water on our approach. 

Me following the first pitch of Rubio y Azul.

Colin scrambles third class terrain to the upper headwall of Rubio y Azul. Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, and Cerro Standhardt are behind him. I really like this picture.

That's me climbing the first pitch on the upper headwall. The final two pitches of the route are somewhere way in the back of that gaping chimney above me.

Colin following on the headwall. The third class terrain that we scrambled to the base of the headwall is visible below Colin.

Here's Colin stemming across the giant gaping chimney that cuts the upper portion of Aguja Medialuna's headwall. This was the crux of the route, an offwidth crack that forced you to eventually stem the width of the whole chimney to surmount the difficulties. Colin managed to climb this pitch clean. I think it was probably 11+ offwidth climbing! Yowzers!

Me following the last technical pitch to the summit which required us to climb out of the giant gaping chimney and onto the final summit block. Super cool!

Looking back at me as I belay from where we popped out of the giant gaping chimney. El Mocho is visible behind.

So, that first window Colin and I got caught up in a rescue. Climbing Medialuna was still a great trip to the mountains, and it’s always special to hangout in Niponino, the climber’s bivy below the Torre’s, with Colin. We always manage to have lots of fun there.


We made a double wall tent out of a single wall tent pitched inside another single wall tent at Niponino. How clever is that? It was Colin's idea.

Rest day in Niponino..."Hi Mom and Dad!"

And I engineered a way to collect melt water off the boulder above our tent. How niffty is that? We got like, four litres out of this little rig up.

Ahoy mate! Our Feathered Friends pirate flag flying proudly at Niponino. 
After that trip to the hills, my buddy Doerte arrived. Doerte is Rolo Garibotti’s girlfriend, and a good friend of mine at this point. Doerte and I planned to climb together for three weeks. We waited out the bad weather along with every other climber in town, and then finally managed to sneak in a day of climbing on Aguja Guillaumet. It was a cold and snowy window and we climbed the Giordani extension to the classic Comesaña-Fonrouge, 6b+ 700 m altogether, mostly with boots on. I climbed one pitch that felt like the hardest “mixed” climbing I’d ever lead. Even though climbing to the top of Guillaumet isn’t anything too rad at all, climbing it in snowy conditions with gloves on felt pretty badass. So, one more tick off my list of skill development here in Patagonia.

Me leading out on the first pitch we belayed on the lower Giordani extension.

Doerte simul-climbing along the lower ridge. The summit of Guillaumet is visible in the upper middle of the picture.

Doerte on the ridge with the west faces of Aguja Guillaumet, and Mermoz to the right.

That's me, starting out the mixed climbing pitch that I think might have been the hardest mixed climbing I'd ever lead. 

Doerte climbs across the 5.8 handcrack traverse on the upper Comesaña-Fonrouge.

Yes, conditions weren't exactly primo for rock climbing. That's me climbing through the snow with my bare hands.

Summit shot.

Re-racking to go down, with El Chalten and Lago Viedma visible behind.

What happened once we got down from climbing that night, was not badass, and didn’t feel very nice at all. Two hours after arriving to our bivy, I started to feel sick. Everyone went to bed, and I lay in my shared double sleeping bag with Doerte wondering if I’d just eaten too much or something? Then, it hit, and I immediately knew I was in trouble. I spent the rest of the night throwing up, and…you know what…all over Piedras Negras, the climber's bivvy. There were climbers curled up in their sleeping bags all over the place and I had to try and make it far enough away so as to not wake anyone. Unfortunately, I was so horrendously ill that I could barely make it two steps out of the tent before...well, you know what. Then I’d slump down on a boulder and lay in the fetal position for a while until I started to shiver so uncontrollably that I had to sneak back into the sleeping bag before the next round of sickness hit.

Amazingly, Doerte didn’t wake up. Which made me feel much better. I didn’t want anyone to live through my disgusting illness. By the time the sun came up, I didn’t have an ounce of anything left in me, and I lay on a rock with a hot water bottle until I was ready to take my first sip of water.

Miraculously, I made it out of the mountains that day. But, I think the bug lingered. As you’re about to find out, it struck a second time…

A week or so later another tiny window of reasonably good weather appeared. Perhaps that’s an overstatement, as Colin and I were the only ones to hike into the mountains for this day of climbing. It had snowed down to the Torre Glacier and walking from town to Niponino took a very, very long time. We arrived exhausted, so decided to rest one day at Niponino, and then begin approaching our climb at 10:00 pm that night. You heard me correctly, we approached our climb from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. The whole night we walked in the dark.


I've never seen the Torre Glacier covered in snow. It was horrendously slow going, but it sure was beautiful.

Captain Safety sharpens his crampon.

Without providing too much unwanted detail, at approximately 5:45 am, as Colin and I were simul-climbing the last hundred metres of steep snow to the base of our climb the gastrointestinal-bug-from-hell struck again. There was nothing I could do about it. For the second time on this trip the unspeakable happened.

We had to go down. It was a sad, sad day.

Climbing up steep snow to the base of the "actual climbing".  We began our approach at 10:00 pm the night before at Niponino. It was quite the slog.

For some reason, Colin wanted to take a picture of me as I arrived to the belay. This was moments after I told him in tears, that we needed to go down, for reasons I shall not name.


Yes, I was a mess...

On the walk back down the glacier despite being in a less than jovial spirit, I still couldn't resist taking a few photos because the place is just so darn beautiful. Here's Colin with the Fitz Roy skyline behind him.

Some of you might recall that during the same window that Colin and I were participating in the rescue of two Italian climbers from the Torre Glacier, another rescue was simultaneously happening on the other side of the range. An unroped climber had taken a bad crevasse fall. Here's the full report from Chalten's local newspaper. Colin and I surprisingly came upon the helicopter debris right near the top of our descent from El Hombre Sentado. It was quite the juxtaposition seeing the Torre's bathed in glorious light, with a mangled and burned helicopter corpse in the foreground. 

Down climbing from the Bloquete del Piergiorgio. We'd climbed up it the night before.

This seems like a reasonable spot to conclude edition 1 "The East Face, West Face Bullshit". Stay tuned for more, dear reader.