This blog is called go light go fast. It is designed to showcase the light and fast superhuman endeavors of the world's best adventure athletes and, in turn, analyze how the gear we use promises to affect our performance. Blake Herrington, one of our US athletes, came up with a nice caveat during his recent trip to Patagonia. It is important to be fast, and traveling light is tantamount. But it is also important to approach climbing, especially on the big peaks, with an open mind. In other words, one has to be flexible. We hope you enjoy this summary from Blake about his recent trip to Patagonia where he bagged the first ascent of one new route, the first free ascent of another, and visited a towered region above the town of Bariloche where the team cragged around on the beautiful spires. Here is a summary from Blake about their long hike and short climb for the first FFA of A Fine Piece:
Scott Bennett and I both were the fortunate recipients of Mountain Fellowship Grants from the American Alpine club, which provided a few hundred dollars to help offset the cost of our trip to Patagonia. It was in the peaks surrounding Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre where we may have gone 'light', but it was also going slow that actually paid off.
Our primary goal was to climb the unrepeated 1999 route 'A Fine Piece', which rises from the Marconi Glacier, adjacent to the massive continental ice sheet, and climbs the West Pillar of Cerro Pollone. This route had never been free climbed, or followed to the summit. From atop the peak's West Pillar, we hoped to cover new ground to the top, and continue on a traversing carry-over, tagging the East summit, and finding a way down onto the glacier between Pollone and Fitz Roy.
The plan started out well, with a projected 5 days of clear weather. But as we began our approach, lingering illness and unsettled conditions had us continually re-evaluating our itinerary. We required good weather to attempt a FFA of the route, and ideally we'd even give the pillar a day to melt and dry off first. After three days of approaching (instead of the one we'd expected), Scott and I finally stood, well-rested and ready, with enough food for two more days. And although we were down one ice axe (river crossing mishap) and 500 feet too high (route finding mishap), spirits were running high.
A normal backpacker's load for a 6 day hiking trip is well in excess of 40 pounds. But we were not just backpacking. We had found ourselves on a 6 day hiking trip with climbing thrown in as well. In addition to the necessities of sleep and survival, we carried 2 ropes, 2 pairs of crampons, a full rack, rock shoes, helmets, and an ice tool. For us to succeed, all this gear had to be as light as possible.
Early on the morning of day 4, we powered down most of our remaining food and finally were able to make the switch from light-and-slow to lighter-and-faster. Three rappels and a speedy glacier crossing got us to the base of the pillar and 13 stellar pitches up to 5.11d got us to 'Hotel Pollone' – a classic alpine bivy ledge overlooking the ice cap. We had initially hauled one pack and followed with another, but as the climbing got easier and our packs were destroyed more and more by the coarse stone, we switched to both climbing with a pack. I can honestly say that I am not a strong enough climber to have done this route in the free style we were able to maintain with the older and heavier gear of a generation ago. Whether a 23 gram Nano carabiner or a single 10oz shared bivy sack, having lightweight logistics on our side allowed us to free the route, complete the traverse and get off down the other side just as clouds and rain began to move in off the continental ice cap.
And although our final rappels onto the Fitz Norte glacier were made through an active waterfall, the added pounds from soaking wet ropes (and almost everything else) were made a little more manageable by the greatest human advantage of all … adrenaline and sense of accomplishment.
Read more about Blake's trip on his BLOG.