[Editor’s note: This was now written more than three weeks ago, on Dec. 31]
I’m beginning to write this blog post on an airplane from El Calafate to Buenos Aires, on my way back to the northern hemisphere, after three weeks in the Chaltén Massif of Patagonia. I had planned for a big and hopefully fruitful Patagonia climbing season, trying to keep the momentum from the very successful season I had one year ago. I lined up a good string of partners – Tony Krupicka in December, Roger Schäli in January, and Alex Honnold in February. Instead I am flying home a full two months earlier than planned, myself disappointed to have let go of my ambitions for this Patagonia season, and surely a let down for Roger and Alex as well, whom I’ve had to bail on completely.
My decision to leave Patagonia so early is based somewhat on the pessimistic long-range forecast that NOAA has put out for the remainder of the Patagonian summer, but mostly because of issues with my health/body. I am currently dealing with pain in my knee (IT band), a sore lower back (something I’ve dealt with for years), and issues with my neck and shoulders (a result of my near-death experience in Nepal during the April 2015 earthquake). In addition, my general energy levels seem to be low. To be clear, none of these are “serious” injuries, and in fact I can still climb pretty well, doing 2,600m+ days and tons of pitches in one day, no problem. However, I definitely can’t climb mountains as well as I normally can, and don’t feel like I can currently attempt the sort of objectives that would inspire me. With fourteen previous Patagonia trips under my belt, I have done a lot of the “normal” routes in “normal” style, and to be truly inspired I need to have loftier, more exciting goals – ones which I know are out of reach for me at the moment. So, rather than stick it out and get up some climbs while managing my aches and pains, I decided it is wiser to return to the northern hemisphere for rest and rehab, to make sure that a couple months from now I am back to full health.
[Editor’s note: I have of course continued to check the weather forecasts for Patagonia, despite departing almost one month ago. The weather has continued to be quite bad, which is unlucky for those currently there, but a huge relief from the FOMO I might’ve endured otherwise!]
I’ve spent the past three weeks partnered with Tony Krupicka, a famous ultra-runner who has been developing his climbing skills over the past couple years. We teamed up hoping to do some big “car-to-car” style climbs, that would take advantage of my climbing skills and his endurance skills. I would lead the technical climbing, and Tony would take more than his share of weight on the hiking/running. In the little climbing that we did, this collaboration seemed to work quite well. Ultimately, neither of us were really ready to do much running (Tony is currently battling IT band issues as well), and our climbing opportunities were quite limited by the weather, which was pretty bad. We went alpine climbing twice in our three-week period, once doing a town-to-town human-powered traverse of Aguja Guilaumet (traveling between the town of El Chaltén and Rio Electrico by bicycle), and once making an attempt on the direct variation of the Supercanaleta, on Chaltén’s west face. I won’t bother writing a detailed description of these outings, since Anton already did such a good job: http://www.sportiva.com/blog/cat/Climbing/post/anton-krupicka-supercanaleta/
Having spent so much time in Patagonia, I’m used to periods of extended bad weather, and periods of plentiful good weather windows. I know how valuable the good weather windows are, and thus how important it is to take advantage of them when they come. To be honest, in hindsight I’m rather relieved that Tony and I had mostly bad weather for our trip, because I know I wasn’t physically prepared to take full advantage of a lot of good weather windows, and I’d rather it be bad luck that leaves Tony with a relatively unsuccessful first trip to Patagonia, rather than just a bad partner!
When I say that this trip was a “dud,” I’m not depressed and wallowing in my failure, but merely honest – I’ve been around the block enough to know that many alpine climbing trips aren’t very successful, and I can calmly accept having a “dud” of a trip without getting upset about it. My priority now is to rest and rehabilitate my body. I’m concurrently coming to two conclusions:
1) I need to rest a bit sometimes. – For all of my life, available time and funding have been the limiting factors of how much climbing, and how many expeditions, I can do. In the past 16 months or so I have had a lot of time available, and thus have been pretty much going non-stop, with essentially zero rest between climbing trips. It worked for 16 months (with 3 “peaks” when I felt like I was performing extremely well), but it has become clear that schedule is not sustainable. So, for the first time in my life, I realize that I need to plan periods of rest for the sake of rest itself, not merely because other obligations require time.
2) It might finally be time to hit the gym. – For all of my life I have simply gone climbing and skiing, with no sort of regimented training. I’ve never had any sort of coach, except for rec soccer up to 14-years-old, which hardly counts. I feel that this method has generally worked pretty well for me, and in fact I think that I still have tons of room to improve my performance simply by going climbing and skiing. Where this method is starting to fail, no surprise in my early thirties, is in the longevity of my body. I’m coming to the depressing conclusion that to keep my body healthy I need to devote some time to the boring stuff: stretching and strength training. I have always argued against strength training, and I still think that it is vastly over-emphasized among alpine climbers, especially in the US, but I’m ready to give it a shot to see if I can make my body more robust and less prone to injury, hopefully without making myself heavier in the process. This is a completely new world to me (I have literally never done a single squat, or a single bench press), and will be a test of my patience and motivation – I will for sure need some good music!