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The School of Standhardt

It’s the morning after our return from getting schooled and I’ve eaten 3 dolce de leche buns, 2 slices of pizza, a half-loaf of bread and 3 cups of coffee. Besides the head cold that has rendered me a quivering ball of mucous I’m feeling halfway human once again.

Sunrise on the Approach

After our recent slow and heavy 5 day round trip ascent of Fitzroy we weren’t recovered and I was getting sick, but with an awesome window of high pressure we decided we could not simply ignore it. This window was supposed to come in cool, so we concocted a scheme to climb Exocet – perhaps the best ice climb in the world, a “5-pitch” ice chimney to the summit ridge of Cerro Standhardt – at night, and to continue on to climb Spigolo de Bimbi to Punta Heron’s summit thereafter. Generally its rather late in the season to consider this climb but Honnold and Haley had climbed it at night 4 days prior en route to their in-a-day traverse of the Torre’s. And hey, if the world’s best rock climber and the world’s best alpine climber could do it, why not us?

Turns out there are a number of answers to that question. After 48 hours of rest post-Fitz adventure, we started the hike to Noruegos, a camp on a small spine of steep moraine below one of the ridges at the base of Cerro Torre, its summit of glowing rime ice two kilometers overhead. After the heavy packs of our last mission we decided to go as light as possible, and so brought one sleeping bag to share (with the insert of my Mom’s creation that makes it a “two-man” bag), half a 3mm foam mat, and no tent; much better to carry, not so good for sleeping. And so, after the 9-hour, 22 km, 1000m-vertical march from town to Noruegos, we slept for a few hours and began the 800m-vertical “approach” to the Standhardt col, involving convoluted glacier travel, 400m of 60-70 degree ice and a final ice-couloir-cum-choss alley. This was our second trip to the Standhardt col, and we enjoyed perfect glacier travel and firm ice to the col instead of the post-holing misery and 70 degree slush of our first foray.

Exocet Approach

Our plan was to gain a good sheltered snow ledge several pitches above the col just before the entrance to Exocet, which we did by mid-morning, but it was rather apparent that we were both already deteriorating, as was the entire face in the heat of this “cool” weather window. My thermometer read 30 degrees in the sun! The thought of desiccating on the ledge for another 15 hours and then climbing an ice chimney that was likely to be a waterfall had me incensed over our amateur decisions in the project. We should have changed objectives when it was nine degrees at 3 am 1000m lower. We should have rested in town for another day and then gone rock climbing on a more accessible spire. Or stayed in town and recovered fully for that matter. While Quentin takes this lesson with circumspect composure, placated by learning, I vehemently curse my ineptitude to the void and embark on the first of our fifteen + rappels down the giant corner system to begin our escape. Many hours later I am finally able to collapse and sleep in the dirt, florid and snotty, dreaming of brownies and ice cream.

On our way back to Chalten

After slogging out the seven-hour interminable hike in the heat the next day, we’re inhaling two large pizzas when an archetypal Alaskan crusher wanders by with a bouldering pad strapped to his back. Prior to this moment I’ve seen him only with bloody hands fresh from the mountains or on them sending 5.12 at 3000m... Why is he in town in the middle of this beautiful weather window? It seems even hard-men have to rest, and besides, he says there’s a bouldering festival on. It seems not all problems are solved with dogged tenacity.


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