Rock, Ice, and Wild Weather: Patagonia Climbing Report

By Rob Gonzalez-Pita

Note: Rob Gonzalez-Pita, Greg Mionske, and Jordon Griffler reached out to us as they were gearing up for their trip to Patagonia to climb Fitz Roy. They wanted to make sure they were in top shape to move fast. We designed a plan for them, and they kept us posted on their progress each week. Here’s the final report after the conclusion of their trip:

image (1)

Training Review

The programming prior worked exceptionally well.  It was awesome to have a detailed workout every day of the week, to keep us on track, and motivated.  We all joked about how we weren’t training for a marathon, but all of the running we can all agree was super beneficial. Having the cardio endurance also translated to making the actual climbing feel easier with the added stamina.

The rotations on the tools, abs, and step-ups were very helpful.  Mostly just the tools.  I thought that the other two stations on that rotation of three were maybe filler, but I’m not sure of an alternative as to what we could have done in the interval between constant movement on tools.  We all thought the dips were a huge help, none of us have consistently done dips in relation to training for climbing.  The sandbags getups were good in terms of suffering.  If I were to do another training cycle, I might want to see more of those, max in 8 minutes or maybe max in 10 minutes, trying to improve that.  Just to mimic the burst of effort you need have in climbing.  As much as the step-ups sucked, they were a huge help.  I’d also want to do more of those, maybe variations.  Having a heavier pack some days.  Maybe larger volume other days with a lighter pack. That being said, the prescription you wrote up for us was perfect.  None of us ever had tired legs the whole trip.

The v-sum helped with grip strength as well as the top-rope laps, I’m not sure exactly how well they translated or helped us out.  A mix between the two, like a v-sum for sport climbing in the gym for maybe 2 hours would have been good.  Another suggestion for those TR days, it could’ve been better for us to go outside and climb as much 5.10/11 as we could (if the weather was good) to dial in our systems and efficiency more.

The mini-events were very beneficial.   It was great for teamwork, getting our nutrition dialed, rope work dialed, motivation dialed, and commitment all in a line.  It was also good to get outside and push ourselves more than we would’ve normally. I think next time, I’d focus more on length and difficulty of the event rather than the time.  imageExample: instead of 10 pitches/ 8 hours, maybe just 10 pitches of at least 7 at the 5.10 grade.  The time spent climbing down there was really arbitrary due to the conditions we found. The vertical/distance climbed during our longest mini-event day wasn’t even the size of the entrance couloirs to some of the climbs on Fitz Roy, but that Mini-event took us significantly longer.  There just isn’t mountains big enough in the continental US to train on.  Also, climbing outdoors with a pack would have been good for us to do.  We should have done it ourselves to mimic the climbing out there but didn’t think of it during the training.

I reckon that’s all of it, there were no holes in the training whatsoever, what is listed above are just suggestions, but not necessary.  I’d be perfectly fine doing that exact same program again.  We were letting everyone know who you were when people asked about the training, and after climbing Fitz Roy, it has proven to be successful. If/when I go on another big climbing trip I’ll be sure to get back in touch.  I know I’ve said it before, but we are extremely grateful for the programming and the support.



Trip Report

It is difficult to write a brief report of five weeks time spent in Argentine Patagonia, so I’ll go into a little more detail (novel) on the climbing than one might want to know.

IMG_4702It all started with 3 days of planes and buses to reach El Chalten, a small town which serves as a launching point into the Fitz-Roy Massif and Parque Nacional de Los Glacieres.  At the beginning of the trip, it was Greg Mionske, Jordon Griffler, and myself (Rob Gonzalez).  That’s where I’ll start specifically going other the forays into the dramatic spires and mountains in the immediate vicinity.  The first plan we made included heading up to Cerro Standhardt to climb Exocet Chimney, a classic Grade 5 ice climb which Griffler had attempted 6 years prior.  We had all of our ducks in a row and left town.  We hiked for 4 hours or so, just about to cross the glacier to camp at Nipo-Nipo, a camp on the Torre Glacier which serves as a major launching point for climbs on the Cerro Torre Massif, as well as the W faces of the Fitz Roy Massif.  We were a stones throw away from the glacier, and the wind literally knocked us on our assess.  If I were to give it a number in MPH, I’d have to say 80+, I mean how fast does it have to be blowing to the point where: a) after you get blown on your feet, you still can’t get up and b) a contact lens get blown out of your eyeball.  It was dangerous/impossible to walk on the screen to the glacier.  So we returned to El Chalten.

Next weather window, which was only predicted to be 12 hours, we hiked up to Piedra Negra Camp, stashed a tent down low in the forest, and planned on a car to car ascent of Aguja Guillamet, one of the smaller peaks on the Fitz Roy Massif.  We planned on climbing an ice route due to the forecasted cold temperatures starting around 1600, finishing in the night, and hiking back down to the forest.  Upon arriving at the base of the mountain, we stopped to drink water and were comfortable taking our shirts off in the sun.  Not ice climbing weather.  We also neglected to bring enough food and a tent to camp up there, and climb the next morning with colder temperatures, so we descended.  One more night of sleep with 70mph winds at the tent, and we made it back down to town.

The next window that came along after 3 solid days of rain in town and snow in the mountains found us wanting to stash gear at Paso Superior and attempt a ridge traverse of Guillamet, and Mermoz (The motocross traverse).  Snow conditions were miserable, taking an additional 3 hours more than normal/expected to reach Paso Superior.  We really should’ve had even been on the glacier in the first place, as all of the crevasses were covered with snow, and hidden.  Being first on the rope team, I found myself falling into the snow up to my armpits, with my feet hanging in space.  Exciting…  This might have been a reason why we didn’t see anybody else for three days we spent on the glaciers in the mountains.  That day, we attempted a couloir that looked reasonable on Aguja Mermoz, am unbeknownst direct and unclimbed start to Jardines Japoneses.  Horrible snice (snow+ice) conditions warranted a retreat after two pitches, but not without two gratuitous bloody noses received by Griffler and myself.  Spent the night on the glacier, awaking the next morning with plans to go rock climbing if the rock was dry.  Still miserable waist deep snow on the approach.  We attempted a new route up the East Face of Guillaumet.  Made it up 7 pitches or so before we bailed due to steepening terrain and dwindling daylight.  Hiked back to town.

Greg left a couple days later to shoot Will Gadd climbing a frozen Niagara Falls.  Griff and I head up to climb the Casarotto on the Goretta Pilar of Fitz Roy with a predicted 3 days of sun and no wind in the mtns.  We were planning on taking our time and getting up the fucking mountain because we were in shape and could carry heavy loads.  The first climbing day we climbed the entrance couloir on the E side of the pilar in horrible conditions.  Unconsolidated melting snow, and wet rock, what should’ve taken us four hours took us 10.  Not good to be in that couloir when we were, almost russian roullette with all of the snow/ice/rockfall.  Not smart. Regardless, we made it to the Bloque (base of the actual rock climbing) to find atleast 5 teams descending due to ice high up on the route.  We had planned to bivy at the Bloque Empotrado, so we stayed overnight.  The next day we got a late start in hopes of some of the water/ice melting off more, and blasted 13 pitches before making our bivy for the night.  Shared a sleeping bag and bivy sack.  Next morning I led a miserable pitch on a 5 in crack covered in ice. I had an ice tool out whacking away the ice in order to place protection. Upon reaching the anchor, it looked like more of the same shit, slow progress.  There was a team rappelling the route, in they let us know that the route wasn’t in condition, too much ice.  So we bailed…. again..  All the way back to town.

IMG_4601Griff and I reassessed.  We both went down there to climb Fitz Roy, but it was very appealing to just go alpine rock climbing on some of the other spires in the region, and not have to deal with all the bullshit snow and ice approaches, climbing with a pack, and using ice tools.  Our original objective outweighed the desire for relative ease.  We set our sights on the Franco-Argentine Route.  Not the route we planned on climbing, but given the conditions on the North Pilar, we had to change the route.  Up into the hills again after 3 days of rest.  We made it to Paso Superior 4 hours faster than the first time up there and had a huge cache of gear we left up there (tent, rock gear, harnesses, ice tools, 3 days food, etc.).  Attempt number 2 on Fitz Roy.  We left camp at around 0100.  Crossed 3 bergschrunds in the dark, and made it up high, climbing around 700 ft of 80-degree snow very quickly and effortlessly.  Upon reaching technical rock, Griffler excelled at climbing 5.10 off-width with a 25 lb. pack in mountaineering boots.  3 Pitches of rock climbing, and a sunrise later, and we reached a Col.  Not the right Col.  We climbed the wrong couloir.  Fuck.  Blew it… Way off.  The main issue I believe is that we couldn’t see our intended route in the night, there was mist in the air, and our headlamps wouldn’t illuminate far enough to see where we needed to go.  So we got into bail mode, it was tempting to climb to the top of either Aguja Kakito or Poincenot, but we were both torqued off at not being at the base of Fitz Roy at that point.  In hindsight, we should have just summited something on that day, considering we had done a lot of climbing to get to that point, and it would have most likely been a new route.  So, we traversed the ridge and made it to La Brecha de los Italianos (the rappel/ascent route to the base of the S. face of Fitz Roy).  Hiked back to town.

Only have 10 days left in the trip at this point.  I started getting the Fuck-its, being down there for so long and not succeeding with any of the climbing.  Luckily, another window opened up for our last chance to climb the thing without extending our trip.  So, we did the approach up to Paso Superior for the fourth time.  Which took us around 7 hours total from town, with light backpacks.  Left Paso at 0200.  Made it to the first ‘schrund at 0300.  Started climbingIMG_4590 the couloir (a long stretch of angling 75 deg snow/ice, followed by 5.7 rock).  Made it to the top of the couloir at 0500 to catch the sunrise.  Made it to the base of the rock face a little before 0700, and started climbing shortly thereafter.  From there it was pretty standard, Griff and I both know how to rock climb.  Climbed 13-ish pitches of alpine rock up to 5.10d.  Some of those would be classic if you put them anywhere in the world, others… we could have done without.  Some interesting mixed climbing on 5.9 rock with climbing shoes and one ice tool.  Made it to the top of the technical climbing at around 1630.

We were enjoying ourselves up there, and not in a huge rush, we knew the weather would hold, and we knew we were going to be doing the rappels in the dark.  Climbed a couple more iced over 5th class pitches before we needed to melt water, rehydrate, and eat some food.  Continued up the remaining 700 ft of 5th class to the summit, getting there around 1930.  Amazing. Huge sense of accomplishment, one of the greatest single moments of my life.  Started descending around 2000.  Off the final headwall, into the Franco Argentine Rappels.  Rappelled the whole face in the night, around 17 rappels, and sat near the Brecha de Los Italianos at 0200 for another snow melting tea drinking session where Griff was falling asleep sitting up and spilling hot tea all over himself.  We motivated to continue the final rappels down the couloir, and made it back down to the glacier to catch another sunrise.  Back to Paso Superior to retrieve all of our gear, and hiked all the back to town (the final 3k we ran at a 9:00 min. mile pace) getting there at 1730.  All in all it was around a 38 hour push.  2 days later we got on a plane headed to the US.

All in all, I’d consider the trip to be a big success in that we accomplished our objective, even though we screwed up a couple times…



Learn more about MTI and our Programming Philosophy for Mountain Athletes

Subscribe to MTI's Newsletter - BETA