I’ve never been one to keep a journal, and in recent years I have realized that, regardless of how interesting it may be or not be to others, this blog is quite valuable to myself. While we are accustomed to thinking of wealth in terms of money and property and material, I think that true wealth is experiences and memories. It is thus a tragedy that there is no safe investment for true wealth – our most valuable possessions, our memories, slowly fade and disappear. I have realized that writing these blog entries is an excellent way to try to preserve some of my experiences in the mountains, not only for others but also for myself. Typically upon returning from an alpine climbing trip, everything feels very busy back at home, catching up on all the aspects of normal life that I have neglected while I’ve been away. In the future I think I should try to hide myself away for a day or two and write about the trip while it is fresh, before getting swept up in the return to normal life. In this case, I am starting to write this report nearly a month since I departed Patagonia, and already the deep snow, the bitter cold, the tremendous toil of heavy loads, and the extreme isolation are starting to feel like distant memories.
Just slightly more than a decade ago, in late August 2013, I travelled to Chaltén for my first wintertime experience in the Chaltén Massif. For the last month of the 2013 winter I pursued solo climbing in the massif, making the first ascent of a sub-summit of Cerro Eléctrico, climbing Cerro Domo Blanco, and attempting a route on Marconi Central that would later become the “SuperWhillans.” However, the main event of my trip was a solo, winter attempt of Cerro Torre. Over 3 days with a very heavy backpack, I made the long journey through Paso Marconi to the Circo de las Altares, up the semi-technical Filo Rosso, to a bivouac in the small cirque below the Col de la Esperanza. The following day, Sept. 14, I started up the Ragni route, hoping to make it up and down in a single day. I planned to mostly free-solo, and use some rudimentary self-belay techniques only on the headwall and the last pitch of the route (which is by far the crux of the climb). Carrying only a lightweight daypack made it fairly quick and easy to climb up the initial slopes of 60-degree ice to the Col de la Esperanza, but I started to hesitate shortly above the col. A large portion of the climbing on the Ragni route is quite moderate for a seasoned ice climber, but things felt insecure due to an unforeseen complication: The frigid temperatures of winter had made the ice extremely brittle, and even though I was climbing slopes of a moderate angle, I had to kick and swing a huge amount to feel secure, knocking off tons of dinner-plates of the brittle ice. A couple rope-lengths above the Col de la Esperanza, I decided to bail. I realized that with the brittle ice conditions I could only free-solo safely at an extreme expense of time and energy, and that making it up and down the route in a day would not be realistic. During the descent and the long hike back to civilization, I had plenty of time to dwell on my failed attempt. I wrote about my winter 2013 trip to Chaltén here (https://colinhaley.com/domo-blanco-and-cerro-electrico/), but in my report at the time I didn’t mention either my attempt on Marconi Central nor my attempt on Cerro Torre. I thought they might both be projects that I would want to return to, and thus didn’t want to attract extra attention to them.
A couple years later, in the 2015 winter, Austrian uber-badass Markus Pucher also made a solo winter attempt on Cerro Torre, reaching the top of the Elmo. He returned the following winter (2016), and made a very strong attempt, reaching the base of the last pitch (which is, by far, the crux of the route). My second winter trip to Chaltén was in 2019, when I decided to focus instead on a winter solo of the Supercanaleta. It was a brief, very unproductive trip, however, as I realized that I didn’t have the psychological fortitude at that moment for hard solo climbing (report here: https://colinhaley.com/a-brief-visit-to-patagonia-and-reflections-on-hard-solo-climbing/). At the end of the following summer season in Chaltén, in late February 2020, I felt increasingly uninspired by the Chaltén Massif, and felt unsure about future visits. The start of the COVID pandemic at the same time sealed the deal, and I didn’t return to Patagonia for 2.5 years – my longest period away since before my first trip in 2003.
Finally, a year ago, frustrated with other summer ambitions not going well, I made a last-minute decision to return to wintertime Patagonia at the end of August 2022, and I focused again on a winter solo of the Supercanaleta. Despite having only a minimal amount of time available before the end of official winter, the trip was very successful (report here: https://colinhaley.com/fitz-roy-winter-solo/). The brief trip reignited my passion for climbing in the Chaltén Massif, and I returned for most of the following summer season. I had a quite successful summer climbing season (report here: https://colinhaley.com/chalten-2022-2023-pilar-goretta-solo-el-corazon-attempt-and-respect-to-sean/), and when I departed Chaltén in mid February I already planned to return six months later: It was time to return to my project from 10 years prior, and try again to solo Cerro Torre in winter.
So, I had six months to plan my attempt, and I made it my focus of 2023. In fact, my trip to the Kahiltna Glacier, this past spring in Alaska, was mostly to train for my winter solo ambitions on Cerro Torre. I knew that last year, in 2022, I was lucky to get a good weather window during a trip only 3 weeks long. This year I stacked the odds more in my favor by arriving in Chaltén much earlier, on August 11 – this gave me 5.5 weeks before the end of official winter.
The Ragni route nearly, nearly, nearly saw its first winter ascent by a strong Swiss-American team in 1999, who climbed all but the final 6m summit mushroom. One of the members of that team, Stephan Siegrist, returned in August 2013 (a few weeks before I arrived in El Chaltén), with 3 partners to seal the deal and make a winter ascent to the true summit. Despite the fact that the Ragni route has still only seen 1 complete winter ascent, it has become one of the more obvious and sought-after objectives among climbers visiting Chaltén in the winter season. In recent years there have been at least one or two parties per winter trying it. I think that a solo ascent always feels much more legitimate if there are no other parties on the mountain, so I was really hoping to have the route to myself during my recent trip. Trying to maximize that chance, I was really secretive about my ambitions leading up to my trip, and told almost no one my goal, or even that I was going to Patagonia. Despite that, Chaltén is a small town with small town gossip, and within a couple weeks of arriving, I think that most local climbers knew what my ambition was.
Based upon my previous attempt in 2013, I knew that it would be foolish to again plan to free-solo most of the route – I couldn’t plan my entire year around an objective and simply hope to get lucky with easier, more secure climbing conditions than I had encountered in 2013. So, I prepared for rope-soloing with a Grigri. I had to bring the same rack as would a normal party: a bunch of ice screws, a few pickets, and a small selection of rock gear. I had to bring some hardware that a normal party doesn’t require: Grigri, jumars, special carabiners for rope-soloing. Since the transitions between climbing, rappelling, and jumaring eat up a lot of time, I brought a 90m 8.2mm rope to be able to make exceptionally long pitches. However, since losing some or all of one’s rope is always a possibility in Patagonia, and since one is much more exposed to things going wrong when solo climbing, I also had a 65m rappel cord. Since rope-soloing is so much drastically slower than free-soloing, or climbing with a partner, I knew that getting up and down the route in one day would be completely unrealistic, and thus that I would have to make at least one bivouac above the Col de la Esperanza. Climbing with all of the equipment for frigid winter bivouacs would make for such a big, heavy pack that free-soloing would become out of the question, even on the relatively easy slopes that I had free-soloed up in 2013. Thus, my plan was to rope-solo all of the route – it would be an extremely taxing and slow affair.
I arrived in El Chaltén the night of August 11, and spent the next 3 days getting organized. Some decent weather arrived for August 15-16-17, and I made my first foray into the mountains. My plans to rope-solo the route required a huge mass of equipment, and my first priority was to start carrying some of it towards my objective. Even though on this first foray I wasn’t carrying nearly all of my equipment, departing town my pack weighed a ridiculous 33 kg. On August 15 I struggled under the massive backpack, and made it only a little ways past “La Playita.” On the 16th I had another session of intense labor, getting myself and my massive backpack up to the hut near Paso Marconi that is officially called “Refugio Eduardo Garcia Soto,” but is more commonly referred to as “Refugio Gorra Blanca” (and which is located in Chile, not Argentina). This hut is a few kilometers out of the way, but sleeping in a rigid structure, completely protected from the wind, is so beneficial that it seemed worth the extra distance. I was exhausted from two long days of labor with one of the heaviest backpacks I’ve ever carried, and the following day, August 17, I returned to town, after caching as much equipment as possible at the hut.
It is worth mentioning that a huge part of the challenge of attempting a solo, winter ascent of Cerro Torre was in portering all of my equipment myself. I may change my mind some day, but so far I have never hired a porter in the Chaltén Massif, feeling that carrying all of my own equipment is a prerequisite for truly meeting the challenges of the mountain. I do not make any negative judgement towards those that hire porters in the Chaltén Massif, but I think that, just like any aspect of climbing style, it is an important detail to disclose, because it can make such a humongous difference in the total difficulty of the undertaking.
On August 21 I got out for a nice day of ski touring with some local Chaltén climbers/skiers, and on August 23 went ice cragging with some friends on icebergs at the back of Laguna Torre – this was a nice opportunity to fine-tune some of my equipment choices, and it was also a lovely novelty to walk across a frozen Laguna Torre for once!
There was a brief spell of decent weather on August 25, and I made a long daytrip foray up to the Gorra Blanca hut and back. I managed to cache some more equipment, food, and fuel, and I also feel that these long days in the mountains are an important aspect of training for hard alpine climbing objectives. On August 28 another brief spell of nice weather allowed for a fun little ski outing up Loma del Pliegue Tumbado.
Finally, at the start of September, a real weather window finally arrived. It didn’t seem like a very good window, but it definitely seemed good enough that I ought to make an attempt on my main objective. Between the fact that the weather window wasn’t that great, and the fact that I had only managed to get my equipment to Paso Marconi (about half of the total approach), I didn’t think that I had a high chance of success, but I figured that any attempt would result in getting my gear to the base of the route, and even getting just a small ways up the route would be good training, physically and psychologically.
I left town early on September 2, and had a fairly big day, going all the way up to the Gorra Blanca hut. Despite my two earlier portering forays, I still had some more equipment to bring, including a plastic sled that my friend Juan Aguada had lent me. On September 3 I departed the Gorra Blanca hut with a massive load, and started the very long, flat, monotonous ski southward to the Circo de las Altares. I only finally arrived at the Circo at sunset, and although I was already very tired I continued in the darkness, skinning 350 meters higher on the lower slopes of Filo Rosso before bivouacking – the nights were very cold, so choosing bivouac spots that receive sun earlier in the day was always advantageous.
Despite a long, tiring day on Sept. 3, I slept rather poorly due to the cold. On Sept. 4 I climbed up to the top of Filo Rosso, made an equipment cache there, and descended back down to the same bivouac below the technical sections of Filo Rosso. I didn’t feel that it would be realistic to climb up the technical sections of Filo Rosso with all of the weight that I was carrying. There is a fair amount of 45-60 degree terrain, plus two pitches of 5th-class climbing. One of those pitches involved a challenging section of vertical ice and mixed climbing, and I only barely felt comfortable climbing it free-solo (even though I had hung my pack down below).
On September 5 I packed up my bivouac below the technical sections of Filo Rosso, and climbed to the top of Filo Rosso with the rest of my equipment, arriving there by 15:15. Based on the weather forecast updates that I had received by Inreach, it was no longer looking likely that I would actually get to attempt the Ragni route during this weather window, but I figured I could at least try to set myself up well for a future attempt. The main way in which I would set myself up well for a future attempt would be to leave a big cache of equipment there at the top of Filo Rosso, but I decided to dig a snow cave as well. I figured that a snow cave would provide me with a convenient place to cache my equipment, as well as leave me with a comfortable, already-made bivouac to return to.
Digging a snow cave turned out to be a terrible idea in hindsight, and that was already starting to become apparent well before I had finished making it. Due to a poor first choice of location, I spent a whopping 6 hours working on one cave before abandoning it and started all over in a new location. By the time I finally finished my snow cave I had spent an insane 13.5 hours in the process, and didn’t get to sleep until 8:00 am on Sept. 6.
On Sept. 6 I badly need some rest, which fortunately coincided with a day of worse weather, when navigation on the ice cap would have been difficult. During my half rest day I buffed out my snow cave a bit more, got weather forecast updates and pondered my options. The big decision was whether or not to leave my equipment cached there at the top of Filo Rosso. If I did get another chance to attempt my project, having my equipment cached at the base of the route would be a huge help. On the other hand, if I didn’t get a good enough weather window to attempt my project, having to come all the way back to the top of Filo Rosso just to retrieve my gear would’ve been the most heinous gear retrieval mission imaginable. As of the evening of Sept. 6, I had exactly 14 days left of calendar winter, which is not a lot, and getting another weather window was not exactly something to feel confident about. After much hemming and hawing I decided to put in all my chips and cache as much gear as possible. On Sept. 7 I departed my snow cave at 9:30am and had a long day of non-stop movement, all the way back to the Rio Electrico bridge and the town of El Chaltén. I had spent 7 days completely alone in the Patagonian wilderness in winter (7 days of solitude was a new record for me), and all but 1 of the 7 days had been physically exhausting. Even though I had only reached the base of my actual objective, it had felt like a big adventure.
I had exactly one week of rest back in town, and during that time another window of good weather did indeed materialize in the forecasts. Just like during my Chaltén trip one winter prior, I felt lucky to get another chance. Not so lucky, however, was the weather leading up to the window: It snowed a lot, and was still dumping snow in town the whole afternoon and evening before I departed.
I left town yet again on the morning of Sept. 15, and again made the long approach in one day from the Rio Electrico bridge to the hut at Paso Marconi. Fortunately this time I was finally carrying a pretty light load of equipment, but nonetheless my pack wasn’t nearly as light as I would’ve liked – since my previous trip had been a full 7 days, I had a lot of food and fuel to carry in again this time. In addition there was quite a bit of trail breaking to do through the new snow, and I arrived at the hut at 6pm, fairly tired.
The following day, Sept. 16, I planned to go from the Paso Marconi hut all the way to my snow cave at the top of Filo Rosso. I knew it would be a big day, and tried to get an early start, but nonetheless didn’t manage to leave the hut until around 9:30am. The cold temperatures of winter make every task much more time-consuming, from melting snow, to carefully insulting your water bottles, to putting on vapor-barrier socks, to warming up your skins, etc.
I once again covered the monotonous 18.6km of mostly-flat skiing to the base of Filo Rosso, and then skinned up the initial 350m of elevation gain to the bergshrund below the technical climbing, caching my skis and switching to crampons and axes at around 4:30pm. The forecast had indicated that it might start to lightly snow in the afternoon and evening, and indeed it had started lightly snowing around 4:00pm. Unfortunately, it pretty quickly changed to very heavy snowfall, and stayed that way for 2.5 hours. Not only did heavy spindrift make the section of technical climbing more difficult, but the heavy snowfall added to the already heavily-loaded slopes above.
From the top of the technical band to the top of Filo Rosso was the most dangerous portion of my entire expedition, and I very, very nearly decided to abort my attempt completely, as the slopes were loaded with a fairly incredible amount of new snow. In addition to the risk of avalanche danger, it was extremely tiring, as I was breaking trail up to mid-thigh, and sometimes even up to my waist. I finally reached the top of Filo Rosso at around 7:45pm, after more than 10 hours of hard exercise.
In the week that I had been away, the total accumulation of new snow at the top of Filo Rosso was really significant, and the entrance of my snow cave was long gone. Anticipating this possibility, I had taken a photo before departing, to accurately locate the entrance based on the nearby rocks. However, even with my photo it took me a full 40 minutes of digging to finally find my snow cave, again confirming that digging a snow cave in the first place was not a good choice. To make that conclusion even more clear, I discovered that the roof of the snow cave had partially collapsed, and it took me another hour to re-build it. To add insult to injury, I had left my bivy tent set up inside the cave, and the partially collapsed roof had snapped one of my tent poles. I was able to repair it to a working state with materials that I had, but the pole could no longer be completely collapsed, and for the next days I had it awkwardly sticking out of my backpack, despite the fact that I was using a massive, 90L backpack.
The following morning, Sept. 17, it again took me quite a while to get organized and packed up, and it wasn’t until 10:50am that I finally had my harness on, my crampons on, and started up above my snow cave. The distance from my snow cave to the small bergschrund where the route properly starts is really not far at all, but it took a full hour to cover, for 2 reasons: The snow was still incredibly deep, with a lot more waist-deep trail breaking, and my pack was the heaviest I have ever started up any climb with.
Around 11:50am I finally crossed the little bergschrund and started up the Ragni route. I did a couple rope-lengths of free-soloing, but then switched to rope-soloing about 60m below the Col de la Esperanza. The terrain here was easy enough that I would’ve happily continued free-soloing with a light daypack, but not with the 90L pack I was carrying. Because the terrain was quite easy, I didn’t bother with my typical rope-soloing setup, which involves a Grigri, and keeping the rope in a small backpack while climbing. Instead, I just made some simple clove hitches along the length of the rope, and unclipped them as I climbed. This worked fine for the easy terrain, and I made fast progress considering that I was rope-soloing.
Around 2pm I passed my previous high-point from 2013, and made a long, rising traverse to the right. Here I started to have problems with my improvised system of clove-hitches, as the long loops of rope hanging below me started to get terribly caught on all the fins of rime ice (the lower pitches were mostly just smooth, blue, ice). Above me was the first section of vertical climbing on the route. It didn’t look that difficult, so rather than deal with the hassle of changing belay systems at a hanging belay, I opted to just continue with my improvised clove-hitch system. This was a dumb mistake, as the time I lost due to the loops of rope getting caught on the rime ice was much greater than the time it would have taken me to switch systems at a hanging belay. Of course all the rappelling and jumaring was time-consuming as well, and it was nearly 6pm when I re-arrived with my huge backpack at a low-angle area below the Elmo.
Below the Elmo I was able to make a very comfortable bivouac, with space to walk around unroped, and I was briefly able to enjoy a beautiful sunset before the hardship of the night. Although I was benefitting from an otherwise excellent weather window, the temperatures were very cold, even by winter standards. The cold would prove to be the biggest difficulty I faced during my attempt, and indeed a strong French expedition at San Lorenzo were defeated by the cold during the same window. My first bivouac had been in the Paso Marconi hut, and my second bivouac had been in the snow cave, so I didn’t fully experience the cold until this third bivouac. High on the mountain, under a clear sky, it was bitterly cold. Despite having more total insulation than I’ve ever brought on any climb before in my life, I slept poorly. I spent significant portions of the night doing calisthenics in my sleeping bag to warm up enough to sleep again, only to wake up again from the cold a while later.
My poor rest during the night, combined with the bitterly cold temperatures, made for a slow start on Sept. 18, and it again wasn’t until about 10:50am that I was finally all packed up, with my harness on, crampons on, and ready to begin climbing again. In some years the Elmo has been a relatively quick, easy pitch, but this time it was challenging and time consuming, taking me about 80 minutes just to lead the main 50m pitch. For most of this pitch I was doing a lot of tiring clearing away of the rime, to gain access to the solid ice underneath. Near the top of the pitch the rime was way too thick to clear away, so I had to make an airy traverse on the rime itself, and even made a couple of aid moves off of pickets. One of those pickets ripped out while I was jumaring back up the pitch, sending me for an exciting swing. Above I had another short pitch of 5th-class climbing to gain the lower-angled slopes on top of the Elmo.
By the time that both I and my massive backpack were above the Elmo, it was around 2:30pm. Despite the early hour, I decided to bivouac there. For one, 4.5 days of very hard exercise, combined with a poor night of sleep, had left me really exhausted, and a half rest day felt needed. Also, the idea of having my tent set up for a few hours before the sun went down was appealing – my sleeping bag had been turning into more of a block of ice with every night out, and a chance to dry it out a little bit was tempting. Lastly, I knew that there wouldn’t be another good opportunity for a bivouac until above the headwall, and at the pace I was moving it seemed very unlikely that I would make it there before dark, let alone before 10pm.
So, I had my bivy set up on top of the Elmo by 3:40pm, and having direct sun on the tent walls for a few hours did indeed help dry out my sleeping bag. The restful afternoon was helpful, but nonetheless I went to sleep not feeling terribly optimistic – the physical exhaustion was wearing on me, and of course so was the psychological exhaustion of dealing with difficult, stressful situations, day after day, by myself.
During the night the wind started to pick up, and by 7am on Sept. 19 my tent was shaking quite a lot. By Patagonian standards the wind was not very strong, but combined with a temperature somewhere around -25C, it was too much. I made the decision to bail, and by around 9:30am I had finished packing up my bivouac, and started rappelling. While rope-soloing is drastically more time-consuming than climbing with a partner, solo rappelling is usually a bit faster than rappelling with a partner. In addition, rappelling on ice is usually relatively easy, the descent went smoothly, and by early afternoon I was back in the little basin at the top of the Filo Rosso. Having finally given up on my objective, I relaxed psychologically, and again set up an early bivouac to enjoy some sun on the walls of the tent.
Spending the evening at the top of Filo Rosso, I of course felt a bit bummed about having turned around on the objective that I had put so much time and effort into attempting. I also hadn’t climbed a single mountain during the trip other than Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, and I decided that on the way back to civilization I might try a bit of easy peak bagging, on Cerro Rincon, Aguja Dumbo, or Cerro Marconi Norte.
That night was a bit warmer, and I had successfully gotten my sleeping bag a bit drier, so I had a decent night of sleep. The morning of September 20 I left the top of Filo Rosso at around 8:30am, first downclimbing the upper slopes, making a couple rappels through the technical band, and then downclimbing again to reach my skis at the bergschrund. A short ways below the bergschrund I came across a Chilean group who were just getting up from their bivouac. With the help of some porters, they had approached by the Standhardt Col, and were headed up for their own attempt on the Ragni route. After the previous five days of solitude and intense experiences, it felt both joyful and strange to talk to people again. After some minutes of chatting I wished them luck on their attempt, and continued skiing down the lower slopes of Filo Rosso.
At the base of the Filo Rosso I recovered the plastic sled that Juan had lent me, and started the flat skiing back towards Paso Marconi. I stopped already at noon, and set up my tent on the edge of the icecap, below Cerro Rincon’s west face. I packed a light backpack with some food, water, clothing, crampons, axes, helmet, harness, a couple ice screws, my 65m rappel line, and left most of my equipment in my tent. I first gained about 600m skiing up a glacier, then switched to axes and crampons, climbing up a line that looked feasible for easy free-soloing. After the hardship on the Ragni route of difficult climbing, the hassle of rope-soloing, and the toil of a massive backpack, moving quickly and freely on moderate terrain with a light pack felt like a joy. Unfortunately, that joy began to be replaced by doubt, as the couloir I was climbing up became progressively more loaded with deep snow. Only a couple hundred meters above my skis, I bailed once again, this time because I was concerned about avalanche risk. After another aborted climb, I really felt like the wind had been taken out of my sails, but at least the skiing back down to my tent was quite nice.
On September 21 I woke up below the west face of Cerro Rincon, packed up my camp, and started skiing northward again, towards Paso Marconi. After not such a long ways, I stopped below the southwest side of Aguja Dumbo, desperate to climb at least one mountain on the trip. I left my laden sled down on the flat ice cap around 11am, and continued up towards Aguja Dumbo with just skis, poles, axes, and crampons (and some food, water, clothes, obviously). The ascent was technically very easy, but nonetheless felt challenging purely from an energy perspective, due to the cumulative fatigue of the previous 6 days. I reached the summit just before 1pm, about 900m above my sled down on the ice cap. While it was a very far cry from the summit of Cerro Torre, it still felt good to climb a mountain, and I enjoyed seeing new views, from a summit I had never reached before (which I don’t get very often anymore in the Chaltén Massif). The descent went quickly and easily, with some really nice skiing along the way, and at 1:40pm I was back at my sled.
The rest of the monotonous skiing back to Paso Marconi passed uneventfully, and soon I was skiing down the lower glacier, into the Electrico Valley. That evening at the “Playita,” I met up with a big group of Chaltén locals who had spent the last several days skiing around the Gorra Blanca hut. After so much time and hardship all by myself, the camaraderie of a big group of cheerful mountain people was a shock and a joy. The following day, Sept. 22, I hiked out to the Rio Electrico bridge along with the rest of the big group, and got a ride back to town, after 8 big days in the mountains.
The Ragni route is one that can be quite challenging in virgin conditions, but gets much easier if it has been climbed by another party recently. During the past 15 years, those “trafficked” conditions have occurred during several different summers, making the route drastically easier, and during some of those periods I have climbed it with a partner in a handful of hours. Thus, reaching only the top of the Elmo during my recent attempt seems like a meager attempt in comparison, but it felt like a huge challenge. There is a huge difference between climbing the route in virgin conditions or in “trafficked” conditions, there is a huge difference between climbing the route solo or with a partner, and there is a huge difference between climbing the route in winter or in summer. Solo, in winter, and in virgin conditions, the route is a major challenge. This attempt was the coldest climbing experience in my life. Although I have surely experienced lower thermometer readings on other occasions, I have never experienced such sustained difficulty with the cold before, despite climbing Denali many times, by a variety of routes. Surely I would have also fared better with less deep snow. With the scenario I was given, even just reaching the top of the Elmo felt like one of the biggest efforts I have put into any climb in my life.
I hesitated a lot about writing this blog post, and nearly didn’t. I generally prefer to keep quiet about my climbing projects, because it really is nearly never helpful to attract more attention to them. However, in this case I don’t think that I’ll attempt this project again, for a number of reasons. One is that the approach to the Ragni route is exceptionally long, and doing such a long approach by oneself, in winter conditions and with so much weight, is a huge amount of hard labor. Another reason is that the Ragni route gets extremely little sunlight in the wintertime, so it is a particularly cold route to climb in the winter. Another reason is that with every passing year it becomes less likely that one will be able to have the route to oneself, and find the route in virgin condition, for the true, full-value solo experience. But, by far the biggest reason is that I am [once again!] swearing off rope-soloing.
Rope-soloing is an interesting game, and I don’t regret learning to do it. Learning these techniques allowed me to make a couple of my proudest climbing accomplishments, specifically the first solo ascent of Torre Egger, and the first alpine-style solo of Cerro Chaltén by the Goretta Pillar. However, to a large degree I think that rope-soloing has been a wrong turn in my path as a climber, and it is time to get back on track. To some degree it is ironic that I ever got into rope-soloing in the first place, as it is the antithesis of all the ways I normally like to climb. Generally I like to climb light and fast, and even hauling a leader’s pack I usually disdain for the slow pace that it causes. Rope-soloing is the opposite of light and fast – it is slow, laborious, and heavy. It is funny to quit rope-soloing right now, as it currently seems to be experiencing somewhat of a renaissance and rise in popularity.
I definitely don’t mean to diss rope-soloing. In fact, having done a fair amount of rope-soloing by now, it gives me a deeper understanding and respect for impressive rope-solo ascents, such as those done in Yosemite by people like Pete Whittaker and Keita Kurakami, and the rare rope-solo ascents done in alpine style in the mountains, like Sean Villanueva’s incredible solo Fitz traverse. It’s not that I’ve lost respect for rope-soloing, simply that I’ve realized it is not the kind of climbing that gives me the most joy and motivation. I would rather climb with a partner when climbing on a rope, and keep my solo climbing limited to objectives that I can comfortably free-solo all of, or at least almost all of.
Much thanks to Patagonia, Petzl, Scarpa, and Samaya, who, in addition to supporting my climbing in general, each provided me with some custom gear for this trip. In addition, I owe thanks to a number of people for helping me in various ways during my recent quest: Alisa Owens, Rolando Garibotti, Seba Perrone, Max Odell, Juan Aguada, Kiff Alcocer, and Jenni Lumovich.