Saturday, February 28, 2009

The First Ascent - smiled on by the weather gods!!

We are hard at work on video dispatch 10 “A New Line” but in the meantime, here is the latest.

After two weeks of rain, wind and some of the worst climbing conditions Patagonia had seen in years, our whole crew was in pretty grim spirits. It was looking unlikely that we would make it in to the mountains at all. The worst case scenario seemed to be, alpine climbing dreams deferred until next year for Renan, Sean and I, no footage for the Sender Films crew, and nothing but pictures of Rain and fog enshrouded mountains for Kempy. We all were facing the very real possibility that we were getting served up the classic Patagonian shutdown. We wouldn’t be the first to come to the edge of the Americas only to go home empty handed.

And then, when we had finally given up all hope, and embraced the increasingly likely reality of a soul crushing mega-failure, something unexpected happened. In the dark depths of our festering angst, Sean unleashed a bit of wisdom. He remembered that, “Roberta always said that you have to let go of your expectations here, Patagonia has a way of forcing you to let things happen.” And so after two weeks of emotional downward spiraling, we reached a zen-like state of non-attachment. That is when the miraculous transpired: a two-day weather window was forecasted amidst the endless spiraling icecap induced weather vortex. Blue skies, low winds, warmer tempertures…Woohoo!

And so, we packed up five days of food with high hopes and for the first time, actually made it onto the glacier, only to realize that after the two-week super storm, all of the high peaks were encrusted in rime ice. The normally fearsome Cerro Torre group looked positively murderous, and the Fitz Roy group looked like slushy snow plastered death inducers. And so Plan A became plan B became plan C and we opted for one of the only climbable and filmable options, Mochito, a 900 foot massif that sits below Cerro Torre. That afternoon after the long hike in we selected a line with plans to start up first thing the next morning.
Plan C was was shut down before we got off the ground by a huge gaping fifty-foot snow moat that we had not seen from our scoping point. We moved to the right down the cliff. Plan D was almost immediately shutdown by a lovely mix of protectionless dirt filled flaring death cracks, and water soaked rock. A quick bail left us with time for plan E. In all my years in the mountains I had never made it to plan E…this was exciting, but also in equal measures…irritating. Plan E was repulsed after Stanley pulled off a coffin sized block and nearly killed the whole wide-eyed climbing team. Plan F never got off the ground when we realized the crack was actually a decomposing vertical moss infested water course.
This was unprecedented….we had made it to the unheard of stage of plan G in one morning. Plan G was audacious, and entailed the proudest looking line going straight up the steepest part of the cliff. We had discounted this line as looking much too difficult for human hands. So it was with great surprise and delight that I was soon at the end of my seventy-meter rope and the first pitch. That’s when our good friend Jeremy Collins fresh from some bailed plans of his own appeared at the base and asked if he could hitch a ride with Renan and I. And so, Sean tired from so much bailing in one day headed back down to camp to rest up for his attempt to hopefully basejump off El Mocho the next day, and our impromptu climbing team headed up into the unknown.

Jeremy Collins a fellow artist who Renan and I both look up to, had been chatting with me daily on facebook trying to get me to commit to climbing plans, but our film obligations made it impossible to promise him anything and he went down to Patagonia with no partner, on a wing and a prayer to make it work out. He had suffered the same demoralizing bad weather no climbing fate as us, so it seemed karmic that he had somehow stumbled his way onto this first ascent with us. Having let go of any hope of climbing anything it appeared that we just might be receiving our reward.
The climbing was steep, demanding and burly, and ran the gamut from fingers and laybacks, to offwidths and squeezes with everything in between. Mortimer and Kempy and Bean Bowers our Patagonia gnar-master veteran/rigger quickly ran to the top, rapelled in and shot photos and video from above. Plan G was looking up, but night was coming down. With darkness quickly falling I stretched the last pitch 70 meters to the end of the hard climbing running it out on 5.11+ soul-puckering protectionless rope-draggy face climbing. With one headlamp for the followers, Renan seconded the pitch with out light, ripping impressive chunks of flesh out of his gnarled fingers in the process. He spent a minute in the black spiraling nerve wracking abyss on a precarious perch half way up the pitch while he applied half a roll of tape to the flappers to stop the blood from spurting everywhere. This would seem epic to most people but compared to his twenty days of trenchfoot-inducing sub-zero-temp big-wall suffer-festing on Meru earlier this year it was kind of par for the course.
Could it be…yes… we had made it to the top of Plan G. We stumbled down the descent with Kempy who graciously waited for us on top, and an hour later were curled up in sleeping bags basking in the angst releasing afterglow of a successful first ascent adventure. All was good in the world. We would not come home empty handed, and tomorrow Sean was going to try his hand at alpine base-jumping, and Kempy and I formulated plans for one last spikey summit before the weather closed out and we headed for warmer rock and better weather in Brazil. We named the route “No Bad Weather,” and dedicated it to Roberta Nunes who in her life embodied this positive outlook regardless of what came her way.
Stay tuned for more Dispatches.
Lots of Love. Cedar Wright.


  1. Way to go, team! Sean, your family is watching! Thanks for letting us vicariously share in your adventures. Give our love to the Nunes family.

  2. Thanks guys for all the posts and documenting your trip to the Argentinian side of Patagonia. I'm hoping for better weather in Feb '10 than you had.