January, 26th, 7:00PM, Camp 1
Me, Pete, a Columbian girl named Maria Camellia Calle Adventura, and a Japanese guy known to us only as Japan, stand in our camp site. The Rio de las Vueltas flows swiftly by, and dwarf trees and ragged tents surround us. In preparation for our departure, Pete puts medicated Gold Bond on his privates and convinces the rest of us to do the same: A strange scene and another story altogether. Pete and I double-check our packs, pound down some water, and begin our 10.2 kilometer hike to Rio Blanco (Camp 2), leaving our tingling international friends behind. After a slow and steady hike we arrive at Rio Blanco where we had previously stashed gear. We pack up the gear, drink more water, and head two kilometers up to the base of the glacier where we will spend our first night.
A beautiful bivi under the Southern Cross with minimal winds and mild temps; a rarity in this part of the world. By 5:00AM the temperature has dropped considerably and crawling out of my bivy sack is a bitter pill. Fortunately, the cold is soon forgotten after a steaming yerba mate session, Pete’s new favorite vice. We shoulder our packs, rope up and once again start up the glacier for the three kilometers climb to Camp 3 at Paso Superior — a small rock band nestled in a sea of crevasses. Our early start ensures safe and efficient glacier travel since the sun has not yet softened el sendero. We arrive at Paso at 11:00AM. Our plan for the day is simple: eat, drink, and rest. Despite our nervous energy and anticipation for what lies ahead, we succeed. For many hours we melt snow and review our plan for the climb.
January, 27th, 9:30PM, Camp 3
When the sun finally begins its descent in the western sky, we leave Paso Superior and resume our journey to the summit of Cerro Fitzroy. After two hours of glacier travel we arrive in the dark at the base of La Brecha, a 1,000 foot Grade 4 ice/mixed climb.
Slow and steady, we swap leads and push upward, encountering more rock than ice which proves to be difficult with crampons. At pitch 4 things take a quick and unexpected turn for the worse. Pete zigs when he should have zagged. He mistakenly leads up a snow ramp to the left of our route (which we later discover actually goes right, up a horrible, wet chimney). We follow the snow/ice ramp for two pitches until we hit a dead end at a headwall. We must rappel and fix our mistake (something we sensed from the beginning). We rappel off old slings and attempt to swing around a prow of rock to get back on route — surprisingly, it works. We make an anchor in the middle of the next pitch and began to pull our ropes, thankful we have only lost two hours. But as we pull our ropes, one gets stuck — a climber’s nightmare. It’s now 3:00AM. We are wet, cold, tired, and stuck — and we haven’t started the real climbing yet.
To recover the ropes I must do a scary tension traverse back around the prow to the ice gully, solo up to the tangle, free the rope, down solo the pitch, clip a piece of protection and tension back around the corner to Pete. Ridiculous, but we have no choice. By the time I arrive back at the belay we have lost a total of three hours of precious time.
With regained composure we continue up. The top of La Brecha leads to a few easy rock pitches and some simple scrambling, which in turn leads to a wind-blown snow ridge called La Silla. It is now 8:00AM and the sun warms our bodies and dries our wet clothes. A blue bird sky is overhead. Our plan is to pause here to melt snow and brew up some soup — until we discover that Pete has accidentally dropped our only fuel canister. Most of our food is now useless. (Usually, I’m the one to who drops or forgets shit, so it is strange to see Pete in this position. Naturally, he is very angry with himself.)
At 9:30AM, after climbing through the night and despite our mini epic on La Brecha, we finally begin to climb our route, the Franco-Argentine — an amazing line up a perfect piece of stone. Pete aids the first pitch, a finger crack splitting immaculate, golden granite. After this, my block begins; seven pitches of bomb-squad crack climbing. Although the rock is wet, it is certainly better than if it were frozen. My third pitch proves difficult – now it’s my turn to lose the route – but after lots of wasted time and energy, I eventually find a way to get back on route and once again we push upward.
Pitch 5 and 6 climbs a soaking wet, 300-foot, 5.10+ right-facing corner with perfect thin hands — amazing! The top of pitch 8 is the end of my block and Pete takes over. On Pete’s first pitch, the route is unclear and again we get lost, causing us to lose more time and energy. By the time we reach pitch 10 we are exhausted. We have been climbing for over 25 hours, eaten just two Cliff bars and some Gu and consumed only four liters of water. And we are running dangerously low on water; just a single liter remains between us. We must stop. At 11,500 feet we prepare for an open bivi. Using our ropes and packs as insulation and putting on all of our clothes, we hunker down. As darkness surrounds us, we begin to shiver. It is a long, miserable night. At best we will gain only a few meager hours of sleep.
At 4:30AM I awaken Pete. We slowly warm as we begin to move and by 6:00AM Pete is once again leading us up steep, beautiful granite. Pete races up the last four pitches of the Franco-Argentine and we reach the final section of the climb: 150 meters of 45 degree snow, ice, and 4th class rock. We simul-solo this final section with one ice tool apiece. I am exhausted and at times crawling and panting. As we approach the summit, pure joy becomes my fuel and we climb the last rock section to the summit. La cumbre de Cerro Fitz Roy; no doubt the most beautiful place I have ever been.
Overwhelmed with emotion I begin to cry. We have done it! Thirty-six hours after departing Paso Superior, we are now on the top of the world. Light winds, bluebird skies, and smiles the size of boomerangs; we stand together on the summit. After a smooth, 9.5 hour descent, we return to Paso Superior at 8:00PM on the 29th of January, forty-six hours after we had departed. We collapse in our tent and sleep. An amazing sunrise greets us the next morning. After eating what remains of our food — a PB&J — we shoulder our 60 pound packs and begin the 15 kilometer hike to the dusty town of El Chalten; tired, sore, and proud.
“Beneath the pain and the suffering is a trail of footsteps through the snow, and if you look close enough, peace.”