“Patagónicos Desesperados” – Siebe Vanhee and Max Didier Nab a First Free Ascent in Patagonia
Siebe Vanhee shares the story of his and Max Didier's new free climb down in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Patagonian climbing season had started properly one month before we climbed Patagónic
os Desesperados. It definitely wasn’t the best season until then, but a few 24 hour weather windows allowed us to get into the mountains on a regular basis.
We had been able to climb three summits before, but this wasn’t thanks to the good conditions. On the contrary, we never had a great window of more than 36 hours and the mountains had been in difficult conditions. Because of the warm temps in November and mid-December, not many climbs were in good mixed-climbing conditions; many ice couloirs were empty (Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy and Exocet on Aguja Standhardt, for example).
But pure rock climbing was also difficult at times! Because of the cold temperatures and lots of precipitation, the rock was covered in snow, cracks were often icy and the temps were often too low to properly climb with bare hands and rock shoes. For rock climbing this season, we needed a long window that cleared the ice out of the cracks, dried the rock and still offered at least 12 hours to climb in warmer conditions.
More than other years, it was all about choosing your objective carefully, analyzing the weather forecast over and over again and being flexible with your objectives.
The main objective that Max Didier and I had our eye on was was Fitz Roy. We had been doing classic, moderate lines because of the short weather windows and the poor conditions. We wanted to continue that trend by attempting the Goretta Pilar and continuing on the Casarotto Route continuing to the summit of Fitz Roy. But again, when we arrived on Paso Superior one day in advance, a snowstorm hit the east face the whole night. The next day we debated our objective and strategy. Despite the fact that a two-day window was predicted, high winds where still present and one big high cloud prevented the sun from cleaning and drying the rock.
After lots of waffling, we managed to forget about our goal and shifted our minds toward a different goal: attempting a free ascent of Patagónicos on Aguja Poincenot. This was something I had had in the back of my mind for a while.
We decided to take a shot at it in a single day, and on the day we awoke to try it, temperatures were very low. With bare feet in our rock shoes, bare hands and lots of extra layers, we started the first pitch at sunrise.
Passing snowy ledges and beautiful slab climbing we arrived at the first crux pitch. The pitch, graded 6b A2 in the guidebook, followed a left-facing dihedral on the right of the previous anchor. It was Max’s turn to climb and he went for it without hesitation. Realizing the dihedral would be very difficult to free onsight, he started aiding his way up the dihedral and had a closer look to see if it would go.
All of a sudden, while aiding his way up on small stoppers, one of his pieces blew and he was falling. And he didn’t stop at the next piece–he kept on falling, blowing one piece of protection after the other until he landed next to me on a ledge. Luckily, the last piece stopped him from hitting the ledge too hard, and a layer of snow cushioned his landing.
His fall was at least 18 meters! A little in shock and pale as a Belgian, Max returned to the anchor. We switched the sharp end and I went up to try out a different way. I started slightly right of where he did. First I encountered some steep climbing on solid flakes, up to a boulder move on the lip, where the angle reared back. Out of nowhere, I broke a hold, fell and ripped a piton out.
Shaken, I lowered to the anchor. I still wanted to try again though. This time I linked it together, freeing the 6b A2 crux pitch at 7a+ (5.12a). This pitch turned out to be by far the more interesting one on the whole climb.
Although we each had logged a good amount of airtime, we expected more falls ahead of us: the 6c A3 crux pitch was yet to come. The difficulty lies in traversing out of one dihedral, over an aretee onto a slab, and then finally into another weakness. The traverse is protected by two pitons and isn’t that difficult. Aside from all the snow I encountered on the horizontal holds, the only difficulty was avoiding a loose pillar on the traverse. This 6c A3 pitch ended up being mellower than the 6b A2—now 7a+—pitch.
With these pitches behind us, the climbing became more peaceful. We enjoyed two pitches of immaculate fist crack, followed by some technical climbing. And then, just like that, we were on the summit.
The whole day we had no sun and could hear the threatening wind blowing from the west around Poincenot. Despite the cold free-climbing conditions, we were happy that the icy cracks on the last pitches stayed frozen. We managed to protect and climb around the ice, and if the temperatures had been warmer the last pitches would have been a series of waterfalls.
Patagonian climbs are fully weather dependent, and on Patagónicos Desesperados we were lucky. also took us some courage to set off to free an A3 aid climb with just a double rack, but it was worth it. Another beautiful free climb in Patagonia awaits
Patagónicos Desesperados, Poincenot East face, 550 meters, 6c A3 or 7a+ (5.12a)
First Ascent: Daniel Anker & Michel Piola (1989)
First Continuous Ascent: Oriol Baró & Ramiro Calvo (2010)
First Free Ascent: Siebe Vanhee & Max Didier (01/13/2019)