Friday, February 27, 2015


Libby and me finishing up the Great Roof - Alan Riling photo
“You can’t wait until Thanksgiving ledge?”  Libby Sauter honestly inquired.  Her headlamp sliced the crisp black expanse above, illuminating a sea of granite dihedral's.  A series of sloping ledges splayed 20 feet below me, with Libby perched on one of them.  I had just finished tagging up gear, merely two pitches below the location in question.

“Nope.”  I said flatly. 

Been in the back of my brain since I started leading 2 hours ago.  This momentary pause of motion, my first re-rack since the start of my lead block/Pitch 10, pushed me over the threshold.  

Libby and I started this day of climbing approximately twenty hours earlier.  At 4:30 am she blasted off the first pitch of The Nose on El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park.  
Libby on the Glowering Spot, The Nose

Gracefully dispatching the first 6 pitches without a hitch. Our ropes snagged at a pendulum on pitch 7, stalling us up for a breath-holding 20 minutes.  I tensioned out the available rope with just enough slack to get around the corner.  The snag released and our spirits perked.  The movement continued upward once again.  We reached Dolt Tower, happy with our pace.  

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.  

We swapped leads at Dolt Tower, passing two parties along the way to Texas Flake.   I led a prominent feature called ‘The Boot Flake’ for the first time!  
COOL.  I monkey’ed us across the King Swing and through the Lynn Hill Traverse, once my least favorite pitch to lead.  Now, I freekin’ love it!!!  We swapped leads under the Great Roof, passing my good friends from Colorado, and again swapped for the last time at the base of the Changing Corners pitch.  

Reaching the tree atop El Capitan, I pulled in the rope as Libby finished the up the last overhanging moves of the Bolt ladder.  We casually snapped a selfie with a fancy phone, and I reported to my brother via text…”on the top of El Cap right now!!  Climbed the Nose in 8:20, one down so far!”  

Lunch on top of The Nose.  

Libby and I had mentioned to some photographer friends this particular endeavor, but interest wavered. 
"Coach" Tom Evans on the other side of the lens.

Oh well…for them.  

We were sending and psyched!!    

After snacks and a little water, we moseyed down the East ledges, reaching our stash of food in the bear bins of El Cap Meadow.  It was a little after 2pm.  Our friends, Joel and Neil Kauffman offered us some Mate and a candy bar.  Alex Honnold made fun of my shoe choice as we shoved our faces with a variety of food choices.  (I sport an old, loose pair of La Sportiva Barracudas on big wall days, instead of the ever popular TC Pro’s.)  Tom Evans continued proud encouragement as we sorted the gear for the next climb.  Rebecca Caldwell (and little Fitz) gave hugs as we walked past the meadow and a gaggle of other friends hollered monkey sounds as we disappeared into the tiny forest at the base El Capitan for the second time in 12 hours.  Refueling took just over an hour.  

The sunset during pitch 4.  Libby pushed upward, crack-jumaring and free climbing with efficiency.  

Lurking Fear was my first big wall in the Valley in 2009.  I returned this spring to free climb the first few pitches with Josh Lavigne, but hadn’t seen beyond pitch 6 in five years.  Three days prior to this adventure, Libby and I blasted up the whole route…Alzheimer on-sighting the upper pitches with a new female speed record of 7:47.  Although we were not moving as fast this go round, our pace didn't seem too far off.   

Climbing TOPO for Lurking Fear

After jugging the 9th pitch in darkness, conserving my headlamp batteries, I clicked the light on.  Our perch, a pedestal of granite, was like an iceberg in the Atlantic.  Dwarfed and isolated in the night.  

Libby handed me the rack, I was to take us to the top!

My stomach churned.  

Some tedious aid moves in the next few pitches loomed above in the void.  At times I felt crippled by the narrow beam of my headlamp, as the unfamiliarity of this route tossed minutes into the encompassing darkness.  Time and ground passes more quickly free climbing.  I narrow-mindedly missed tiny features, resorting to mostly aid climbing.  It is just slower and more tedious.  I could have smeared on little dime edges, crimped crystals with my hands, paddled upward more quickly.

Part of our gear.  

My stomach still churned.  

I sighed with relief as I completed the last difficult pitch, a 5.12 corner with fiddly gear.  During our record breaking ascent, I took a whipper up-side down while self belaying.  
It rattled me a little bit.  

The terrain finally eased to a 5.7 slab.  At the top a party was bivied in a portaledge.  They woke with my passing, and almost necessary mantling over their hanging bed.  

“Sorry, just a minute, sorry.”  I climbed 10 more feet, fixed the rope for Libby and headed up a series of ledges until I ran out of rope.  

After wall hands, tingly and swollen.  

My stomach flopped again, this time with a loud thud.  

Libby arrived.  

“Can you lower me?!”

“You can’t wait until Thanksgiving ledge?”  Libby Sauter honestly inquired.

“Nope.”  I said flatly. 

I had to poop. Yup.  Poop.  

I didn’t have a proper disposal bag.  I certainly wasn’t leaving it on a ledge for those poor guys to climb into it on their breakfast pitch.  I was scared to Anasazi Shot-put it (shit on a rock and throw it) because they were below me.  
I had to take it with me.  


Well, I removed my last snack (a peanut butter/nutella sandwich) from the flimsy produce bag that contained it.  While I made my hurried deposit, Libby cut her small gatorade bottle up for me to stuff the poop bag into.  

If thats not fu&8ing teamwork!!!!!!

I then circumferentially wrapped the bottle with athletic tape, clipped it to my harness and finished two pitches to Thanksgiving ledge.

Lingering wafts with the occasional chimney move reminded me of the extra package clipped to the back of my harness.  I traversed across the Thanksgiving Ledge, jammed my way up the last 5.10 crack, fixed the line for the amazing lady I had been tied to for nearly a day and scurried up the final slabs.  
First female team to drink two King Cobras on the bridge--- yea, right!

Libby followed suit, unfixed the line and scrambled to meet me at the top of El Capitan for the second time in one day.  

Both of us weary but happy in the cool stillness of the night.

We had just become the first females to climb two routes on El Capitan in under 24 hours. (21:17)

The poop definitely cost us a little time.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Gneiss Abyss

My passion for climbing elevated gradually.  There is no focal point for the shift.  Just an increasing trend from childhood John Long books to quick draw stocking stuffers hanging adjacent to the smoldering chimney of my frozen flatland childhood home.

In college I found someone with a car and enough trust in me to test out the How to Rock Climb techniques.  

My parents moved.  So did I—-Estes Park, Colorado.  I was around real rock.  Real climbers.  Legends!  Lumpy Ridge, the Diamond, Boulder Canyon, Tommy Caldwell, Kelly Cordes, Josh Wharton, Tom Hornbein, Lynn Hill and Douglas Snively.

An enumerable amount of rad people.  They had climbed all over the world.  They had put up first ascents.  They tried HARD! 
Crystal---dropping in!
They inspired me.  
They inspire me even now.  

Crystal Davis-Robbins is one of these people.  I read about her Patagonian adventures in the American Alpine Journal.  I caught wind from friends who climbed with her in Durango.  My Canadian friends adore her.  Crystal was crushing it, Crystal IS crushing it!  

We attempted to meet up in Bariloche this spring while I was in Patagonia.  
While bivying up near the Diamond this July we finally met.  I grunted up Ariana.  She chuckled up D7.  As I rappelled, we exchanged desire to seriously connect and climb.  

Black Canyon September 3-5?” my text message inquired.
I think I can take the time off” she replied quickly.


Wednesday at noon my Subaru wheeled in—-a little late.  Whipping through the campgrounds, my eyes peeled for the green Ranger.  
Not there.

Out climbing? I would be. 

I drove the rim, spot the truck.  Peer over.  


Having never been to the South Rim I thought I would explore the Astro Slog rappels.  

As I was driving away, a truck passed.  Crystal was in the back waving.  She had hitchhiked (after running for awhile barefoot) from the campground I had just blazed through.  The nice folks drove her around the rim drive to find me.  


Crystal spied a route we could warm up on, so we dove right in.  Climbing a dirty ass splitter.  We thought it might be new, but the fat ledge at the end of my pitch had a cairn.  Super dirty.  Super splitter.  We trundled many rocks.  Crystal led us to the top via another perfect corner ending with a typical Black Canyon thorn wrestle.

Dinner.  Our plans were open.  Astrodog?  Crystal had done it.  
New routes established by friend Jonathan Schaffer?  Por que no?  
He easily convinced us over the fire Wednesday evening. 

Cheezin’ together!!  Jonathan would be climbing nearby.  Juan (Crystal’s husband) and our mutual friend Cole would also be climbing another route nearby.  

Thursday 8:30 am meet-up.  We descended.  Then descended some more. 
Not sooooooper early for a river to rim kinda-day.  Didn’t quite know we were dropping down so low.  
Oh well.

There is no cheezin’ in the Black Canyon.  There is only crawling your way out.   

Crystal and I had a topo for the first tower.  Good climbing, 5.11, with the typical Black Canyon run-outs.   

I had a topo for the second tower on my camera and we had the beta for the descent from the first tower in our heads.  

Cole and Juan were not too far ahead.  We trailed them on the last few pitches of Tower one and upon summiting spotted their position on the second tower. 

Making a mental note of where to aim.  

We descended tower one no problem.  A chimney down climb, a short rappel and a quick gully jaunt to the base of the next tower.  We bush-wacked around.  Looking back, we think we were deceived due to the boys positioning.  A 5.8 hand crack did not present itself….or at least I didn’t think so.  
Juan morning glow.  Testing my new Hyperlight Summit Pack!

Crystal was patient.  

I ascended a sort of hand crack, then climbed right into a broken and blocky dihedral.  

I belayed at the start of a bushy mess.  Crystal played through the jumble and started up the splitter we had seen the boys at the top of.  

Topo says, “splitter hands.”  

She belayed mid-pitch.  As the crack jogged right it turned “wide,” Crystal observed.  
I had the number 4.  
Earlier in the day I humped the shit out of an exfoliating rounded corner splitter tipping out a number three.  Ops, we gotta remember to pass along the 4!!

I climbed up, geared up and went up. 

The sun.  It flirted the skyline.  

I went up a number 5 sized crack 20-25 feet with our one tipped out number 4.  A stance provided itself on the left.  I placed a blue alien and a .4 to bring Crystal up.  One pitch, now becoming 3!
The wide crack continued up 20 more feet and then jogged left finally diminishing in size.  

Crystal crushed it.  That is what she does. 

The sun had set.  That is what it does.  

I led another pitch with a spicy face traverse.  I brought Crystal up and we simul-climbed the last little bit of Tower 2.  

My camera display smashed in the off-width.  Didn’t matter really.  We didn’t have a description for a descent of Tower 2.  We had our vague recall from the evening before mixed with the ten other routes we were deliberating between. 

A rappel.  A chockstone bridge.  A tower.  A third tower.  
Crystal following up the first tower.

Fuck?  Really, I vaguely remember a discussion of having to climb 3 towers.  Well……

So I climbed up an adjacent tower.  It was rad.  The moon glimmered.  

No rappel anchors.  

I reversed the 100 feet of climbing.  

Crystal’s turn to scout.  She descended a bushy chimney.  A ledge appeared but below her a vast gully continued to drop and wrap back around to our original descent from the morning.  Who knows how steep or how much gear would be left.  

The third tower was the summit, we could see the top.  The look-out.  The tourist spit-off point, with carved logs and trashcans.  So close.  SO CLOSE!  Just gaining access it to it seemed impossible in the dark.  

Juan, Crystal, Cole, myself---Schaffers leg :)

I joked with Crystal that I had been hoping to spoon, I get benighted once a year—-it was time. 

We were snuggled in for 10 minutes when headlamps and a ‘Caw Caw’ came echoing from the rim.  

With a little bit of moonlight left, Cole and Juan hollered vague directions of descent, traversing, ascending, rappelling and ascending one last time.  

We botched a little bit more of the their directions but perfected the art of laughing and climbing via a fading headlamp and no more moonlight.   

First pitches.  First tower.

Somewhere along the way I put Crystal on belay and heard, “Shit….I lost my shoes!

Your rock shoes or your approach shoes?  

Approach shoes!

Thank GOD, I secretly thought.  We were ‘two easy pitches’ from the top and all I wanted to do was share the burden.  I didn't want to HAVE to lead.  What a selfish sissy!

I climbed the wide chimney the boys — now long gone to bed—- had landmarked for us via headlamp.  Pulled up to a bushy block with a starry sky filling 90 percent of my vision.  

RIM!!!!!  We had crawled out.  Tempted to holler, I abstained.  Just in case.  

Crystal arrived.  

We untied.  We scrambled the 50 feet more over boulders and thorns.  

A dirt path meandered to pavement.  To things.  To sure comforts.  

It was 5:00 am when we reached the car and slammed a beer that was left on the windshield.  


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Clean teeth-- Clean climbing!

Ariana winks.  

Precisely etched corners refract the dawns early rays.  The orange, no, the pinkish-red glow of triangular granite looms overhead.  An evolving electric blue sky hugs from behind.  A gurgling pitter patter of fresh snow melt slips its way through lime green tufts.  
Color and energy abound.  

The Diamond lives up to its namesake this July morning.  


We approach quietly, soaking in the scene.  Long's Peak and its East Face stand proudly at 14,000 feet. 

14k Diamond.  

Two parties are tucked in a boulder bivy on the west side of Chasm Lake. They are friends of ours from Durango.  Just six of us hoping to claw upward through dreamy granite splitters.  Lucky to be with friends, lucky there wasn't more.    


The North Chimney is no joke.  The Diamond's proximity to the Front Range, a handful of 'moderate' climbs such as Pervertical and the Casual Route, combined with the proliferation of climbing in Colorado---eh, the world -- makes it a crowded alpine 'crag' some days. The Diamond has become a popular first alpine climb.  Sadly, delicate grace and mountain humbleness has not yet been cultivated. 


Loose blocks tumble, grazing by heads and ropes---if your lucky!  Death and serious injury do occur.    

Stomping our way up steep snow, a wet cross over onto a rock apron finds us shoed-up and tied-in.  Jens sets sail up the North Chimney in one long pitch.  We dance the fine line of casual-moderate-terrain-effortless-cruising and wheels-off-the-wagon-loose-rocks-shit-could-hit-the-fan.

Unscathed, we sashay across the massive Broadway ledge.  
Jens following the golden crux pitch

Ariana teases.   

I begin to ascend the perfect dihedral's-- stretching to the ropes end.  My lead felt fluid, but my head was already spinning in anticipation.  

Thoughts refract.  

On-sight? Failure? Motivation? Ability? 

Jens arrival to the ledge snaps me from the day dream.  Gear is exchanged and he dances upward. 

Another moderate pitch sets us at the base of Ariana's goods.  A golden pillar sliced with a shallow finger crack.  I didn't pause, I am not even sure I made eye-contact with Jens. 

I played through.    

Timid at first, cautious of rejection.  Ariana's finicky nature precedes her.  

My breathing is labored.  Chasm lake glimmers and tiny boulders 2000 feet below edge my peripheral.  I place a wire, with a firm yank it holds fast.  

I shrug, still uncertain.  

Feet--feet-- stay on your feet.  

I step left precariously than upward, placing a small cam.  


A grunt escapes as I delicately jam upwards.  Blood pulses into my forearms.  Ariana holds steady, providing thin finger locks and meek shallow hand jams  These provide temporary relief, calming my breath while balancing on tiny edges.  I miraculously find tiny stances and continue ascending.    


Many more loud grunts echo through the Chasm cirque.  Exhausted, I throw myself through the final moves to the anchor.  

HOLY SHIT!!!  I exclaimed or thought or whispered.  

Jens follows gracefully, with a toothy smile and a giant exhale he arrives ready to tackle the final pitch.  Another full value brilliant hand and finger crack with a slabby crimp finish. 

Soon I am moving upwards.  While not as pumpy as the crux pitch, there is no backseat during this 140 foot pitch.   

With a glance at the time and a quick conversation of up or down...we couldn't resist.  
UP, one more at least!! 

I jetted up the last 5.9 pitch to Table Ledge.  With an ever important dentist appointment at 3pm--we thread the ropes and worked our way back to Broadway and the once far far away scree field.  Chasm lake still shimmering but the Diamond much darker.  
Her brilliance exhausted for the day-- Ariana let two cruise by first try!!   

What a day!!!            What a dream!!!!              What a dentist appointment????
Table Ledge Success, Ops --11:45--Time to Jet!  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spring Forward--

Josh heading up Pitch 5 or 6 of Lurking Fear

"Dude, this is WAY above my head."  I stated flatly to my climbing partner Josh Lavigne as we scrambled the last bit of 4th class terrain in Yosemite Valley.
Pitch 4 Lurking Fear
"It is over mine too." Josh returned.

Yeah right, I thought.  You climb the shit out of El Capitan! --with grace and good attitude to boot.

This was Monday.  My first full day back in the valley--of only 5.


A ridiculously squeezed in trip...dropping objectives, but sharing wonderful company and the prospect of a killer new job at home waiting.

Josh and I hiked along side a favorite Yosemite cliff.  Moseying past the prow with Haul bags waiting, brushing our shoulders against the fixed lines of the Salathe Wall, finally dropping our packs at the base of Lurking Fear.
Our plan was to free climb with no dire need to push for a summit.

Just free climb, try hard, and have a good time.

We did!

Josh and I cheezin' after sending some El Cap free climbing!  

Josh led the first 2 pitches of the morning.  Both of us stymied by the boulder problem finish of the first pitch.  A wild sloping-pinch- mantle- over type move.  Hard, but doable.
The second pitch, 5.13c, was an intentional aid-fest.  I checked out the sideways dyno half-hearted.

Jens on the first pitch of Romulan Warburg, FiFi Buttress
What?  Beth Rodden, nice work!!!!!

I led the next two pitches.  The first being a funky mix of crack climbing with slippery face climbing.  I combo-packaged this 12c pitch.  Not ready to commit to trying hard.
Pitch 4, slab climbing to the base of a slippery water runnel.  A thin RP seam slowly widens to a hand crack finish.
I free climbed the SHIT out of that pitch!!

WOW!!  I just on-sighted a 5.12 on El Capitan!!  I quit climbing.  That's it, reached my pinnacle.  Done!!!!!!

We proceeded in climbing 2 more amazing pitches of 5.12, then decided we were happy with our achievements!

What a Monday!

I arrived to the Big Ditch at 5pm Sunday.  A decent amount of daylight tempted me

Time for Royal Arches?

First stop, Camp 4.  Jens Holsten, my other climbing partner, waited patiently.  After chatting with some folks, we finally made our way to the Pines to meet up with Josh.  The golden hour had settled in, Royal Arches was out.  Beer and conversation in the Meadow with a magical sunset ended our day.

Monday arrived.  Jens feeling mellow opted out.  So, Josh and I rallied for the Lurking Fear adventure.

Me, leading us up the first 7 Pitches on Watkins
Tuesday, the three of us fueled with coffee and hilarious motivation over Monday's dinner, headed to Fifi Buttress.  Romulan Warburg, a highly recommended rock climb-- beautiful steep corner system stacked with 5.11 and 5.12 climbing, was our objective of the day.

We rotated leads.  Jens volunteering for the sharp end first.
This pitch climbs a stellar dihedral---thin-- with awesome finishing moves.

Note to self:  Stretch before this pitch

Pitch 2, continues up a corner system-- a little run out.  Some sections required thoughtful climbing, I had trouble with this one.

I might have teared up.

Pitch 3 consisted of some off-the-hook steep blocky 5.11 climbing.  Really fun and airy.

The 4th pitch combo-meal consisted of a  bouldery dihedral switch with a bolt to a ridiculously pumpy finger/small hand crack.


Josh danced up was awesome to watch!

Next, pitch 5, was unique-- face climbing knobs with a few bolts and the ability to stem right.  Fun and short.
Pitch 6--  the glory crux.  A thin tips layback to an awkward mantle finish. Super strenuous and tiny pro.  I pinky jammed and layed-back, while Jens opted for some stemming.

A fabulous climb and company to celebrate Andrew's birthday!!
Jens heading up the middle of Watkins on his block.  
Wednesday greeted us with more sunshine but achy shoulders.  The Merced river gently lapped at my toes for most of the morning.  Yoga beneath El Cap soothed my brain in the afternoon and a beer with Jens firmed up our plans for the following day.

Thursday -- 4am came like Christmas.  I was ready to get up well before Jens actually hollered at me to get up!

Mt. Watkins day!


Jens and I hiked in while Josh dropped us off at Mirror lake, returned the car and biked back up to meet us.  All of our first time on Watkins --I love the family adventures!!

Josh (left side behind flake) taking us to the top...with the rad tree on the ledge to the right!
We speechlessly took turns on the approach, re-directing one another if a hiking error occurred.

Sunlight emerged as did the mosquitos as we made our way up the fixed lines.

I led the first 7, Jens the next 6 and Josh the last 6.  Our pasts melding into the present, everything clicking.  Roughly 8 hours or so after tying in, we reached the summit!

An evening in Tuolumne and a quick solo of Cathedral Peak closed the week out.  I piled in Randy the Subaru and headed East.

How perfect that I climb in Yosemite with two friends Josh Lavigne and Jens Holsten.  All three of us having similar experiences and attitudes towards the loss of loves, friends, and family.
RaDicaL tree on the hike out from Watkins

Cumulative a lot of loss amongst us but so much growth.

A lot of learning.
A lot of reflection.
A lot of conversation.
A lot of adventure.

One of the best trips I have ever had in the valley.  A seamless integration of decades of climbing experience with life changing lessons.  We fit together so well in this crazy puzzle of life.

This only emphasizing the importance of letting the world show me, not me showing the world.

I must be open and gracious.

Adapt and laugh.

Most important, love and spend time with those who cultivate a similar path.

Tuolumne and the boys!  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fitz Roy

Approaching Fitz Roy's west side
“Is that you Clay?”  Sam piped up, poking fun in the full moon from our tightly packed perch. 

We had all just settled uncomfortably into our sleeping bags, tethered by cordelette and were already greeted by the loud rhythmic sound of air squeezing through a nasal passage.  Chad was out, snoring, and clearly comfortable with his legs dangling over the lip of granite.  Dreaming of rainbows and Alfahores (the most delicious cookie/carmel/chocolate treat EVER), I am sure. 

The final push to begin the route.  


Jens silently stirred snuggled next to Chad in their dual sleeping sack.  

Two peas in a pod.

Luke lay to my right, stiff and quite.  I think he snuck a sleeping pill.  

Clay laughed on my left side. “Ha, nope, not me tonight Sam!”

Sam, somewhere near my feet...hugging the edge...rubbed his arms methodically in attempts to stay warm, complaining of cold triceps!!! 

I slept with my face buried into my sleeping bag, hugging a rock with my cheek, chest down all twisted up.   The climbing rope under my ass leveled me just enough from slipping too far down the ledge.

Six of us sleeping on one 8 by 5 ledge, strewn with boulders and patches of ice.  
Snow was not easily accessed for melting and we were all too lazy to seek it out.

This was our second bivy on Fitz Roy. 

Stoked to be on Fitz Roy!!!

Earlier that morning Luke, Sam, Clay and myself had been awoken at our first bivy (a plush platform hanging over the northern side of Fitz Roy.

Chad and Jens had gotten an early start from their bivy lower down on the route and were climbing over our sleeping bags with smiles.  

“Morning guys,” Chad greeted us with a smile through the early dawn light.  The 4 of us started packing our kits as Jens and Chad set-up to blast up our first headwall.

Jens handed me back the #4 we had left for him on the snow pitches the day prior.  He gathered it out of the ice lined crack, but said he couldn't bring himself to clip it.  Nice work!!!!

Adam and Mike also began packing their kits, sleeping in a not-as-sweet- alcove 15 feet below us.  

100m of simul-climbing came to a halt!
Clay and I had started the approach and climbing with them Wednesday, February 12.  

Leading away from the snowy mess.  Glory ridge climbing once again

This was February 13th.  The ‘Breakfast pitch’ this Thursday morning leered at us all.  A shaded wall smeared with ice and snow.  

Adam and Mike were hesitant.  

Jens was the first to give it a rip, successfully hand traversing left into a short off-width section.  He mantled his ice axe, stemmed trepidasiously, and finally chicken-winged his way to a good stance with descent gear.  

Alright, it goes!!

The boys all looked at each other with uncertainty.  

Myself and Sam leading up the stella rib to our first Bivy
“Never climbed an icy crack with my rock shoes on,” Sam admitted to Clay as he prepped for his go on the ‘breakfast pitch.’

He nailed it with Clay following suit shortly after!  

Bivy ledge on night 1--cushy and amazing!

Adam and Mike were not feeling it, opting to descend. 

 “I think it would be safer just to go up,” I commented in an attempt to rally them along.
It didn’t work.

We were down to 3 teams. 

Wishing them safe travels as they figured out how to rappel off this crazy mountain, the 6 of us pushed further up the 5000 foot feature.  
Inching our way up the wall in a perfectly choreographed pattern of climbing and belaying, laughing and trying hard.    

Half-way up the headwall, I took over the leading.  Cracks were still a little snowy, but now with the sun's warmth a lot of wet.    

Eventually the 3 teams breached the headwall, belly flopping onto a flat sunny ledge.  The route continued around the south side of a western rib...more shade and ice.  

Sam Piper, Luke Holloway, and Mermoz and the moon glowing in behind.

Chatter filled the crisp air as we took a moment of pause.  All 3 parties able to mingle.  Gazing west at the vast icecap, conversations of previous weeks adventures and empanada parties.  We all smeared more zinc sunscreen on our faces.  Clay and Chad both accentuated their white face paint with a tan zinc lip goo.  

Comical to look at them both!  

“What were you dreaming about last night, Chad?”  I inquired, rousing him for his snoring.  

“Not sure? Man best night of sleep I have had in while, though!”  he replied with a grin.   


I continued the leading, but was super happy to have another team clearing the path today.  I could mindlessly wan....ops foot slipped on some black ice.  Mindless wandering wasn’t going to happen.

We all pushed on, now over 14 hours into our day.  The sun creeping closer to Cerro Torre and the western skyline.  

Short steep headwalls sections, wandering pitches with loose death blocks, black ice, snow and water.  This climb was not a gimme.

Worry swept across Clay’s face as the temps began to drop and it seemed we were no where near a comfortable stopping point.  

“Hey guys,” Jens hollered down to the four of us spread out working diligently on our individual pitches, “I think this ledge will fit all 6 of us!”  

I saw the relief in Luke’s eyes as he followed his line up the ledge with Sam, Chad and Jens already on it.  Clay had almost resigned to sleeping in a snowy flat patch a pitch lower, until this news broke.  

Phew, we were exhausted and ready to get settled in.  

Oh the Breakfast Pitch and the gang!

Chad commented on having never shared such a small ledge with so many people, he thought it was a riot!  

The snoring subsided or maybe I got a few minutes of sleep too.  

Either way Jens’ alarm at 5 am was dreadful.  
I convulsed with shivers.  Sam and Luke too.  All of us fairly dehydrated, exhausted and cold. 

Clay, thankfully, offered to lead the breakfast pitches again!  Luke and Sam started us off the third day.  More steep sections with iced blocks and another looming headwall.  

Sam and I looked at each other at one point, “Where are we???”  

The mountain stretched like Jack’s bean stalk....into the endless blue sky.  

Endless, it seemed that morning.  
My turn to head up the Breakfast Pitch, at last.  Headwall just got better!

We blasted off our bunk bed ledge without breakfast, without melting water.  

Three or four pitches had us at an angling scree and snow filled tennis field sized expanse.  Luke aimed right towards the steep red rock, a finger crack calling his name.  Jens aimed left, near the prow towards a fully rimmed-up crack he was convinced would fall out with a gentle tap.  Clay strayed straight up, towards an off-width filled with snow at its base.  

Ha, cragging 4200 feet off the deck, looking for the right path.  

Luke and Sam down-climbed.  

Not right.

Clay paused under the off-width without the correct sized gear to make a reasonably safe ascent.

Jens doubted his rimy hand-crack.  
Cheezin' at the bellyflop spot.  

Stumped.  All of us.
Jens gazed left.  A hand traverse led directly left around the prow back onto the north face of Fitz Roy and presumably the easier terrain we were looking for.

“HAND TRAVERSE!” I shouted up, “That’s the beta!!”  Chris Trimble had written me a little message right before we left for this mission, as I knew he had climbed Afanasieff last year.  
‘Sick hand-traverse leads to more wandering terrain to the top.’ 

Jens took it.  

Sure enough, the sick hand-traverse bopped us around a prow and onto a few feet more of 5.10 terrain before eventually mellowing to easier 5.8 blocky climbing.  
Jens scoping out the sick hand traverse!
Chad Heading up for the hand traverse
The terrain was not too difficult, but as we climbed up higher the snow was more prominent as was the rime covering the rocks.

Capes of never-never land rime flew westward, waving up to 5 feet sideways off the granite.  Clinging like a sea urchin in the waves.  
With the developing day, the sun’s warmth melted chunks and doused us with the little ice daggers and water droplets.  

The blue sky became a more prominent visual, as 5000 feet of granite was almost entirely under our feet.  A final snow field blanketed the path to the summit ridge. 

The 6 of us high-fived, took photos, danced a little, and marveled at our birds-eye view of the Southern tip around us.  
so close

Three exhausting days of work, two cold nights of sleeping on rocks, all to summit one amazing mountain.  

We were on the top of Cerro Fitz Roy!!!!!!

Summit time is exponentially shorter than ascending time.  With many rappels and tricks still to fill the day, Luke and Sam headed down first.  Chad and Jens lingered at the top with Clay and I.  I spread some of Andrew’s ashes and took a few photos for Chad and Jens with their Hostel business card.  

We all strapped on our crampons and Jens and I led our teams down the southern snow slope.  Luke and Sam had just anchored into the first rappel, Chad and Jens had just completed a 15 foot down climb section.

Cumbre dancin' on Fitz Roy!
“Hey Quinn, you might want to give Clay a belay on that section.” Chad hollered to me.  I nodded and followed suit.  

I finished the down climb after Clay, and led across a short icy bit to the first rappel station.  Luke and Sam’s ropes still through the rings.  

“Be safe guys.” Chad hollered back at us one last time.  We were not all descending the same way.  The four of us choosing the Franco-Argetintine while Chad and Jens opting for the Super Caneleta.  

We caw-cawed with joy one last time and sent one last well wish to one another.  

The six of us summited Fitz Roy on Valentines day 2014 as an unplanned team.  Psyched to spend time together, share the loads of route finding and cleaning up the icy splitters.  Snuggling and shivering on uncomfortable platforms suspended over seas of glaciers and scree.  What a treat!    

Andrew Barnes atop Fitz Roy.  Cerro Torre in the background!
The four of us completed our rappels and separated ways, as Clay and I had gear to retrieve at another camp.  Upon arriving haggard back to El Chalten on Saturday morning, our glee was quickly overthrown with news of only five successfully descending the mountain that day.  

Fitz Roy was Chad Kellogg's 5th Patagonian summit (or so he mentioned on the top).  Sadly, it was his last.  

A legend in the climbing community, it was an amazing treat to summit this prized mountain with such a pleasant and skilled alpinist.  Thank you Chad.  My heart extends to your family and close friends and to Jens for loosing his partner en route.  

Love to my dear friends Jens, Luke, Sam, Adam, Mike and my rock star partner Clay and to the whole community of climbers in Chalten who made it down safe from their adventures.  
Cerro Torre and others.  Looking west.