It’s been a week now since Kate and I were standing on top of the Fitz and I can finally say we’ve elevated our body temperature back to normal. Though it took flying to the big island of Hawaii to do it.
Nearly two weeks ago now the weather forecast started to show a possible 4 day weather window. The only problem for us was we were suppose to catch a plane back the states right in the middle of the goods. As the predicted weather approach it became apparent that we’d have to change our tickets for an attempt at the Fitz. A few frustrating hours on the phone and 1k spent we were good to go. I kept telling myself it better be worth it….
On Monday the 7th we packed our bags and made our way through Piedre Fraile and onto the bivi at Piedra Negra. As luck would have it, the weather Monday night wasn’t so great. Just past midnight it started to sprinkle. To save weight on the approach we opted for no tent, so we sat there in a light rain deciding what to do. After much contemplation we decided we should just get up and start. It was 12:45am.
To our dismay the glacier hadn’t yet frozen as we made our way from Paso Guillaumet to the base of La Brecha. We had figured the it would only take us 3 hours from camp to the base but it ended up taking nearly 5. Which wasn’t that much of a problem but it meant we would then be climbing the Brecha in the full effect of the sun. Not fun nor that safe. Onwards and upward we went climbing right threw the waterfall that was starting run down the Brecha.
Due to the running water we were forced to stop ontop the Brecha in the sun for a couple hours to dry our clothes. At this point we were starting to run way behind. Little did we know were about to fall way behind schedule as we traversed to base of the south face. A few years ago we had covered this same terrain and has cruised right across it. This time we found boiler plate hard blue ice. Our old worn out aluminum crampons were drastically inadequate as well as our single light weight ice tool.
Late in the evening it became glaringly apparent that we were going to need to bivi before we even got on the “route.” We were both a little frustrated and morale was going down. With out any obvious bivi sites available we had to keep traversing farther to the base of the California route, even though this was taking us out of the way. Thankfully we reached the base of a large ice slope where we could excavate a decent platform for the two of us. We had a great view of our proposed new route up the south face which did give us hope as it didn’t look to intimidating.
On Wednesday the 9th we started up the real business of the route, which first involved making a short traversing pitch across the ice slope and then a 60m rappel down to the base of the system (a place where we had nearly been before but had to continue past to find the bivi.) I had lead a good majority of the climbing the day before as it was more of the alpine variety which I’m slightly more efficient at then Kate, so now it was Kate’s turn to take the lead and get the rope up. The first couple pitches were on good rock but unfortunately they were choked full of ice. She slowly chopped the ice out of the cracks resorting to a mix of aid and free. The rope moved up at a steady pace though. It wasn’t until a couple pitches up that the ice had disappeared allowing Kate to move and an even more rapid pace. I followed behind doing whatever it took to get up the pitch, this often involved “poor man’s jumaring,” which is just yarding up the rope in between pieces and then Kate would take the rope as tight as she could. ( I can’t even remember how many times in my guiding days did I tell clients to never do that….)
Kate lead on through a variety of cracks but most were in the hands to fist to off-width size. After getting set slowed down by poor conditions yesterday it felt nice to be moving efficiently on good rock in good conditions. Pitch after pitch fell below as we continued up sustained cracks.
After 12 pitches or so we veered right at our first opportunity, hoping for easier terrain. Kate turned over the lead to me at the first ledge we came to as she had been leading for over 8 hours and was properly cooked. The steepness eased up and after a few more pitches we reached a point where we started simul-climbing up the 4th class terrain that lead to the final snow slope.
Both of us had really hoped to top out in the light but that just wasn’t in the cards for us. We stumbled up the last easy 100m and reached the summit just before 11pm to tired and hungry to be that excited. A short discussion ensued about rappelling through the night but we choose the much more conservative and colder option of spending the night on the summit.
For some unknown reason Kate and I had opted to NOT bring a sleeping bag up Fitz. This was undeniably a very very poor choice. Our teeth literally chattered all night long. No amount of spooning was going to keep us warm. We put chemical warmers into our boots and hot water bottles in our jackets, this barely helped.
But each and every chatter of the teeth were quickly forgotten as the sun rose and illuminated our location on top of Fitzroy. The excitement finally hit. Somehow we had managed to climb a new route on Fitz. This one won’t soon be forgotten.