Monday, February 29, 2016

The Siren

Thwunk. The rock, remarkably similar in size and shape to a rugby ball smashed into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. The twenty something kilo pack on my back accentuated this, pushing me into the ground. “I don’t care if Cerro bloody Torre is at the end of this valley.” I thought, “I am never walking up here again.”


It is the middle of January, Matt Burdekin and I are walking along the side of Laguna Torre on our way into the Torre Valley. The ground beneath our feet is hideously loose and as a result progress is unfeasibly slow. We’ve been in Patagonia for around three weeks now and have managed to climb a couple of the smaller spires and have failed to climb Fitzroy twice.

Many hours later we arrive at the Nunatek, a rock dome sticking out of the Torre Glacier, and our home for the night. Matt, always the homemaker, sets to clearing a ledge and building walls. I collect water, brew up and prepare our freeze dried dinners.  Few words are spoken as we both work away, before settling down for the night. Our alarm is set for 4:30.

A couple of hours after dark the wind picks up and it starts to rain gently.  I snuggled down, grateful for the waterproof outer on my sleeping bag. Matt’s less fortunate, he has just an ordinary sleeping bag and is starting to get wet. He manages to fashion some sort of shelter by wrapping himself in our bothy bag, which seems to do the trick. It still raining when our alarm goes off so we stay in bed. Eventually the sun warms our bodies and starts to dry our kit. At around 8 we begin to stir and start getting ready. By 9 we are slogging up the Torre Glacier. Soon we branch off leftward towards Bifida. The crevasses and the snow bridges are huge. Probably the biggest I have ever tried to navigate through. We tiptoe through them with the sixty metres of rope between us, knowing that if it goes wrong it will go really wrong and wishing we’d gotten our planned early start.

Eventually, around noon, the base of the wall is reached. Our planned line of ascent follows a shallow chimney. The line is so obvious we are unsure as to why it hasn’t been previously ascended. Matt leads off apprehensively, expecting difficult climbing but it all goes smoothly. The initial chimney is about Severe. Soon we’re swinging leads up the huge slab. There is plenty of loose rock about, but underneath is solid granite. Matt and I, expecting difficult climbing had packed enough supplies for three days on the face and had brought along a huge rack, including all sorts of aid climbing esoterica, and a haul bag.  Thankfully this was mostly redundant and the climbing was mostly never harder than VS.

After thirteen pitches of climbing, shortly before nightfall, we joined the existing route, Cogan and found a convenient ledge. Matt busied himself the ledge palatial, while I melted endless snow. The night was clear and still. After a freeze dried dinner we both slept soundly.

We awoke the next morning to more perfect weather. Leaving most of our gear on the ledge we climbed up, down, then up again, on less than ideal rock to join the South Ridge. Here Matt led four tricky pitches, on wet but otherwise excellent rock that were the cruxes of the climb. These led to the summit of Aguja Bifida Sur, with views stretching across the vast Southern Patagonian Ice Cap.

All too soon we were on our way down again, abseiling back our line of our ascent. After a straightforward descent we arrived back at our advanced camp shortly before dark. Being alone watching night fall with Cerro Torre on the right and Fitzroy on the left, with not a breath of wind, will stay with me for a long time.

Matt and I are indebted to the following organisations who supported our trip: Mount Everest Foundation, British Mountaineering Council, Austria Alpine Club, Crux, Edelrid and Mountain House. Without your support the trip would not have been possible. Thanks a lot. 

Matt questing up new ground on Bifida. Fitzroy in the background. 
Burdy leading the probable crux of The Siren.
Burdy on our palacial bivi ledge.  
Me leading easy ground on Cogan on day two.
Burdy about to reach the summit. 
Matt, me (and Ueli the wolf) on the summit.
The line of our route. (c) Rolo Garibotti.

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