Red Fox Ambassador Quinn Brett and her partner and Red Fox Blogger Max Barlerin recently climbed “Mate, Porro y Todo lo Demas” on the Goretta Pillar of Cerro Fitz Roy. They had, “excellent climbing and stunning scenery,” said Quinn in a recent Facebook post. “The journey continues. Amazed at our ability as individuals and as partners to overcome fears, push beyond personal comforts, communicate effectively in high stress situations, and laugh (a lot) along the way.” Here is Part I of their story. Stay tuned for Part II.
Like many great stories, this one starts at Ed’s Cantina in Estes Park, Colo., one sunny December afternoon. Not more than two days from the end of my field season, I sat in the passenger seat of “Randy,” Quinn Brett’s Subaru, as we drove up from Boulder to celebrate her good friend Karla Mosier’s birthday. Karla and her husband, Justin DuBois, played a key role in what would soon be Quinn and my plans for the next month and a half.
With work behind me, I was writhing in my seat eager to hit the road and begin another climbing adventure. Quinn was in a very similar position and while we had spent plenty of time toying with different ideas of how to spend the next three months, we had not arrived at a finite decision. It wasn’t until we sat around realigned tables covered in food and drink of a delicious variety, surrounded by friendly faces there to celebrate Karla’s birthday that our plan began to unfold. A few beers deep, with a stomach full of chips and salsa, Patagonia was, once again, brought up in the conversation. Our friend Phil had just purchased his tickets down south and was glowing with excitement and relaying his goals to us. ‘The North Pillar of Fitz Roy!’ These words carried little meaning to me while perched on a bar stool in the comfortable ambiance of Ed’s Cantina.
A few weeks later, Quinn and I lugged our 50 pound bags through the airport of Calafate, where our friend Marcos waited patiently in the parking lot to load our packs into the infamous ‘Red Box’ to drive us to El Chalten. Upon arrival, we barely had enough time to unpack our bags before we were gearing up for an upcoming window of fair weather with a little bit of precipitation to be expected on the lee end of a five day stint of sunshine and low winds.
Quinn and I looked at the oncoming meteogram forecasts as an opportunity to go for one of the larger objectives that we had previously talked about. We discussed climbing a route on Mermoz (the ‘Red Pillar’) and then traversing a ridge south towards Fitz Roy (the ‘North Pillar’) effectively completing what Quinn had conjured and dubbed the ‘Pillar to Pillar’route. I ignorantly and excitedly agreed, and we recruited our friend Phil to create a team of three; a number we deemed more reliable considering our objective. Within two days we humped our huge packs not without dulce de leche up towards Piedra Negra, a small cirque that serves as one of many approaches to Fitz Roy and its neighboring peaks. We had gear to climb both ice and rock, and enough food for six days.
Having participated in an asado earlier in the day, we did not arrive at the cirque until late that afternoon with full stomachs and excited smiles, immediately setting up a base camp and cooking dinner, pulling water directly from a receding glacier. We then hunkered into her burly Red Fox tent for a few hours, took a few nips from a flask of Old Smugglers, and soon lay in the dark in anticipation of tomorrow’s adventure.
My eyes closed for a moment as a cool wind silked over my face and inflated our open tent like dormant sails and I became a little blip in a sea of stars and space. No sooner did I drift off than Phil’s alarm chirped off. Within minutes we were in the dark heading up towards Paso Guillaumet, a saddle that ultimately serves as the nearest access point to reach the east face of the Fitz Roy massif from where we had camped.
We came over the pass still in darkness and soon we were roped up on Glacier Piedros Blancas Superior as the morning sun split the Patagonian star light sky with brilliant rays of yellow, orange, and red. The air and snow met with crisp, illuminating the line that attached me to Quinn and on to Phil. We stomped our way up crunchy frozen snow and wound our way towards Mermoz, an almost cylindrical formation that rises 2730m above sea level. As the snow steepened, we kicked steps over a bergshrund and 60° snow to approach the base with Phil leading the way. As the snow softened, Phil found rock and built a belay, bringing Quinn and I up as our footprints deepened and the night became the day.
Upon reaching the base it was my turn to lead, having agreed with Quinn to split the steep 450m east face into two lead blocks. I took off my mountain boots and replaced them with rock shoes without hesitation, hoping to fire off into familiar ground. It was then that the range shuddered awake like some primordial beast and noticed me pulling on its scales like a gnat navigating the hairs on my arm. That was when I began to get a vague idea of what climbing in a place like this was like.
I set off on an arête and immediately traversed out of sight into an ice choked eight-inch wide crack, desperately jamming its frozen walls as it shattered and fell into my lap. We had no wide gear and I tinkered in tiny wires out of desperation, inching my way upward. Finally, upon reaching a perch, runout and isolated among steep snow, I kicked steps with my rock shoes, pulled my axe from my pack and pawed away with bare hands till I finally reached a belay, rattled but impressed by the dynamic terrain below me. It began to snow. By the time Quinn and Phil arrived, I was soaked, and the sky turned a pale white as horizon and snow met, huge flakes of snow falling all around us.
Quinn took a look at me, then up at the sky, noting how quickly the weather had changed. With hardly enough layers between us to shelter our intended bivy on the exposed ridge, we made the decision to go down and endure the oncoming weather from the safety of our tent. We rapped down, retreated to our capsule three post-holing hours away, where we remained in a sloppy downpour until the next day.
While more than we bargained for, this precipitation was somewhat expected, and we knew we still had several good days to climb in the mountains. So the next morning as we dried out in the returning sun and other climbing parties funneled into the talus, we readjusted our objective and the North Pillar of Fitz Roy came into conversation once again.
To be continued….