The 2013-2014 season in El Chalten continues to be a cold and stormy one. Since my arrival in mid November there hasn’t been a single weather window that I would call “a good one,” and the gnarliest summits, Cerro Torre and Torre Egger, have both yet to see a single ascent this season. However, at least small, mediocre windows have been relatively frequent for those motivated to climb smaller objectives in icy conditions.
On New Years Eve there was a half-day window, and I headed out for a big day trip with Joel Kauffman, to attempt the east chimney on Aguja Val Biois. After post-holing across the Glaciar Piedras Blancas, Joel headed up the first pitch of the chimney. Unfortunately, the chimney was full of nevé rather than ice, and even though the air temperature was quite low that day, as soon as the sun hit the nevé it started turning to slush, and falling all around us. We rapped off, but with plenty of daylight left decided to climb Cerro Madsen as a consolation prize. Cerro Madsen is a lower peak, but a summit I’ve always wanted to visit. Although Madsen is mostly a scramble, the final 4th-class rock ridge, covered in snow, required some time and care. By this time the half-day “window” was over, and tagging the summit block of Cerro Madsen was I think the windiest summit I’ve ever visited.
On January 1st, Rolo and I hiked into Niponino to see what we might be able to do with a cold, snowy day. On both January 2nd and January 3rd we woke up early at Niponino, hiked up the rest of the Glaciar Torre, climbed the icefall up to the Boquete Piergiorgio, and then promptly decided that it was too cold and snowy to go climbing up there. Oh well, it was some nice glacier trekking!
On the afternoon of January 4th, Sarah and I hiked in to a bivouac near Laguna Sucia. We woke up early on the 5th, and scrambled up to the Glaciar Rio Blanco to have a go at Aguja de l’S. We climbed Aguja de l’S via the Amy Route, which was Sarah’s idea and turned out to be a perfect one. This was a pretty marginal day, and we could hear the wind roaring through the col with Cerro Mojon Rojo, but the southeast aspect that we were climbing on was amazingly well protected. The last pitch to the summit was pretty windy, the summit itself was amazingly windy, and the first rappel was a battle with the wind, but all the climbing and rappelling lower down on the southeast face was shockingly calm.
During the window on January 2nd, my friends Mikey Shaefer, Joel Kauffman and Neil Kauffman had snagged the first ascent of an ice line on Cerro Domo Blanco that I had often thought of trying. I was both a tad bit jealous and happy for my friends. In any event, the route looked phenomenal in their photos, so on January 9th Rolo and I hiked in to Niponino, and on the 10th made the second ascent of “Super Domo.” Anticipating that other teams likely had the same plan, we left Niponino quite early and got to be first on the route. In the end four teams climbed the route that day – an instant classic! Although it is neither particularly difficult nor long, I can confirm that “Super Domo” is a very good route, with exceptionally good alpine ice and mixed climbing. It reminded me a lot of classic ice routes in Chamonix, and I imagine it will remain a popular choice for cold and stormy seasons like this one.