News and Updates

Day 8 in Patagonia
Written by Tonya Clement   
Sunday, 22 January 2012 00:00

This was the day....the moment.....the push.  We got up super early and everything was going according to plan.  We were all a little on edge because it was very dark and we could no longer see the headwall or the route before us.  Especially when we turned on our headlamps, we could not see anything in the distance.  The Canadian team was up and at em right along side us.  My mind was racing with many thoughts.  In particular I could decide if it was better to be out front leading or following just behind.  In this particular case, I was gravitating to being the team to follow even knowing I have followed people that did not know where they were going on many a rock route...only to discover we were way off track.  

For a moment it appeared we were all leaving at the same time and then we heard the leader of team captain remind his team to make sure they had their sunglasses....almost an exact repeat of what Brad was telling us yesterday......and then Brad casually said, "Good point, where are my glasses."  Now we were roped up, crampons on, packs on our back ready to walk.....the tents were flattened should the routine high winds of Patagonia decide to pay us a visit.....and Brad had no sun glasses.  It was melt down city....as we went through a few moments of watching him crawl in the tent when cramponed feet carefully staying outside....to no avail.  

Since I was last in line and the smallest of the four, I was able to to unload, crawl in and come up a winner....the display of activity had to be a comedy for the four Canadians who chose to stay back and take a rest day.  They heard all of our debates and cursing.  All and all we remained somewhat cool and collected....The Canadians had about a 30 minute headstart which at the time seemed perfect.  We will always laugh at the chain of events that we played out.  

Then we were off and going....steady steady steady....step step step.  It turned out to be a gorgeous climb.  We think we saw Mars as there was one beacon of a star that at first looked like a plane or a climber on a close peak shining his/her torch or shooting a flare for a rescue.  We did not see any brightness in the sky until at least 5:45.  What a morning it was....there was so much navigation required as we crossed and circumvented so many crevasses.  It seemed like forever until we gained the ridge.  I remember looking back at our path and watching several blocks of ice cut loose and slide directly over our path changing the decent route ever so slightly.  

Crook did great for it being his first time on crampons and for having one hot spot that gave him some grief on his toe tops. Topper was fighting a bad knee and yet had no problem dropping down on his knees when Brad would drop into a crevasse. Both stayed steady and stable the entire way.  The only thing really slowing us was the fact that we had never been a rope team before and so much of the terrain was a first experience.  Instead of simulclimbing, we often did static belays which probably added a couple hours to the journey.  In no time, the Canadians pulled away and were completely out of sight.  

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At one point we could see them leaving the ridge to the back side of the mountain and it appeared they were more than an hour and half in front of us.  So once we got to the base of the mushroom cap (just 500 feet below the summit), we decided it would be another two hours to get all four of us up and down due to the vertical ice facing us.  Not only is this a daunting final summit but it is known for killing the very best.  In addition to the difficulty of the climb, we would have to contend with the Canadians coming down from the top (a lot of debris and ice was tumbling on top of us) which would add a bit of complexity and danger to our efforts.  We were headed for a 13-14 hour day and the team voted against making it a 15-18 hour day.  You never know how far you can push your body till you go there, and this was definitely a bigger push than anything I had seen this team do before.  There was both physical and emotional stress associated with this climb. What was great was the fact there were no agendas and everyone felt as though they had gotten their money's worth.  It is always comforting to choose safety first.  

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This was a team that valued staying together more than anything.  We had the option to send two of us to the top in half the time, and the team chose to stick together.....which has immense long term value!  At the turnaround point we wrote, "OH CANADA, CONGRATULATIONS!" in the snow at the only rest spot where they were sure to see it when coming off the summit. 

As we descended it was bitter sweet yet we had perfect weather keeping our spirits high.  At some times it was so hot we were boiling and we wished we could strip down into shorts.  It was just a perfect day.  

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When we returned to camp we were in disbelief to see that the four Canadians that stayed behind pitched our tents believing they were being a big help to us.  Because they did not fully stake it out properly, the tent Brad and I shared had 3-4 inches of standing water in it (we think some of the snow we threw on top to weight it down, fell in during the set up)....so in our state of utter exhaustion, we had to remain outside and dry things for a good two hours before we could snuggle into our bags.  As it turned out, we still had an hour of good sunshine and got to see two condors fly directly over us.  This big day was followed by a big bowl of mac n cheese and some real bacon bits.  As we slept and as morning broke we experienced our first sleet and snow.  

In recap we left at 3:30 am and returned to our high camp at 5:15 pm.