Off The Couch and onto Poincenot

Nearly three months ago while descending El Cap I took one false step, heard a pop, and fell to the ground clutching my ankle. I instantly knew I wasn’t going to be “walking it off.” Fast forward two months and a change of location to Smith Rocks, where Kate and I posted up for my recovery. After sitting around for so long I started to loose the plot and deemed it time to start climbing again. I gradually worked back into it, 5.8,5.9 and 5.10 the first day. 5.11 the second day. And then the real surprise came on the third day when I managed to climb Chain Reaction, one of the most classic 5.12c’s anywhere. Needless to say I was fairly happy with my progression though I knew Chain was a more of a monkey trick than a rock climb.

Fast forward another month and this time to El Chalten, Argentina, the small cozy town that lays at the foothills of the massive Fitzroy massif. I arrived early December with my sights set extremely low knowing that climbing a 35ft 4 bolt sport climb at Smith Rocks hardly got me ready for climbing in alpine. Or maybe it did? At least thats what I had to tell myself as a weather forecast started to appear that I knew I couldn’t miss out on.

Cerro Torre on the approach to the Torre Valley

Thankfully for me Jens Holsten and Joel Kauffman offered to take a gimp along with them (that would be me). What I lacked in fitness though I made up for with a good plan, which be might arguable looking back… But never the less they were sold and the bags were packed. Our plan, take a new steep and direct line up the 900m south face of Poincenot.


Like any alarm that goes off at 3am, this one came way to early for me. We took our time getting out of camp waiting for a faint illumination from the sum , wanting to avoid crossing the loose moraine by headlamp that guards the entrance to the Poincenot-Inominata couloir. Slowly we picked our way through huge loose boulders and up into the couloir that leads to the base of the massive and steep south face on Poincenot.

steep and clean

The south face is split into three parts, the first being characterized by lower angle cracks and larger open dihedrals. Joel took the first block, which involved stellar climbing in clean corners. Jens and myself followed free in our approach shoes laughing about the quality of the rock and the climbing. Little did we know it wouldn’t last. We arrived at the ledge cutting across the lower 1/3rd of the route at a civilized time of 5pm, had quick brew and Jens took over leading up onto the headwall. It quickly be came apparent though, that laughs were going to be replaced by grimaces and fear. As the angle of the rock increased the quality decreased. Jens quickly had to resort to aid and the use of a few pins. After battling away for a couple hours he fixed the rope and came down. We snuggled in for a fairly comfy bivi with great views of Torre’s

Not a bad place for a nights rest

The Torres

The warm early morning rays of the sun coaxed us out of bed which was quickly followed by a healthy early morning dose of steep granite jugging. Jens continued on leading another pitch, which again required mostly direct aid in funky kitty litter rock. Soon enough he had enough and kindly passed the lead onto me just below a pitch littered with large loose blocks.

At this point I had to draw deeply on all of the training I’d done for this mission in the last few months. I just kept telling myself it wasn’t that different than sport climbing at Smith and Chain Reaction. Clip a few bolts, drop knee, slap up the arete, dyno for the top and lower. Though, in reality the similarities to the South Face and Chain Reaction were glaringly in-obvious…. Fortunately for me, to many years of aid monkeying around El Cap has always left me prepared for this sort of climbing. I slowly made my way up tricky but not as difficult as it looked aid climbing around one large chopper block after another. After a few body lengths it would appear the rock was improving but briskly those hopes were whisked just like the rock being cleaned with my ice tool.

rope monkeys

I continued on aiding up a short pitch that lead to what a appeared to be a beautiful and clean corner but like before I was disappointed. After lots of cam leaping and back cleaning I started to run out of options. Our double set of cams wasn’t enough to aid climb on and build anchors with. I spied a thinner crack out right that I pendulum’d to that offered a more varied crack and possibilities for an anchor. Jens and Joel followed what would be one of the more exciting maneuvers I’ve seen in the alpine. Without a piece to lower out on they were forced to simply take the swing (sport climbing style) that I had pendulum’d across. Fairly high on the pucker factor scale.

This last maneuver would mark the end of the technical difficulties, as I was now in a fairly clean A1 corner that got cleaner and better the farther it went. Slowly still, I managed to get the rope up which took us to a much needed ledge (this being the first non-hanging belay in 7 pitches!!!). At this point I was cooked and the sun had slid preciously low into the horizon but the ever exuberant Jens took the rack and rope and ran up the moderate 5.10 terrain. The rope quickly came to the end and Joel and I sluggishly followed on jumars. This went on for a couple more pitches till Jens hit what was a much more than acceptable ledge for us hunker down on. This ledge also marked final point of new terrain for us. From here on up we’d be following the ’68 Fonrouge-Rosasco

click on me for the full affect

With little effort I passed out on a pile of uneven rocks as the thought of making a nice smooth comfy spot was more than I could handle. I could of slept on a bed of broken glass and not noticed at that point. The 4 hours or so of darkness quickly passed and we were up at it again with the rising sun, however this morning we only had a short distance to the summit and a long ways down.


Joel took over the leading and navigated us through meandering moderate terrain veering up and right toward the Whillians route and the summit. With a few extra credit steep pitches and some route finding issues we gained the summit in just a few hours in nearly dead calm and warm conditions. What a treat. Little fan fair awaited us on top as we still had a massive 900m wall to rappel below us. Quickly we switched gears and slid back down the ropes. Instead of reversing our line which would be a costly affair we opted to follow the Gerberding-Smith route, Judgement Day, down. There is something a bit unnerving about dropping into a huge wall but my fears were unfounded as the rappels went as smoothly as one could ever expect in the alpine. We touched down into the couloir just as the light faded.

In the end maybe I was initially right Chain Reaction and Poincenot weren’t that different, you start at the bottom, do some weird monkey trickery, hang on the rope, lunge for the top and come back down. It’s all just climbing.



Check out Jens’ take on our climb here:

And Joel’s blog here:



The Details

Dates of ascent: 12/13-15/2011
900m (650new) 5.11 A2+
Doubles of Cams to 3″ with triples from .5 to 3″ plus one #4
Handfull of pins

follow the red line to the top

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