Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Playing it by ear.

Obviously the main objective for the trip is Cerro torre. But like most climbing trips around the world you have to play it by ear and go with what the weather dictates. Patagonia especially! Since my last post there hasn’t been much action in the mountains due to a lot of cold & snowy weather. Most locals are saying that this is a pretty poor season. So this hindered our thoughts of doing any free climbing on rock routes. We thought it’d make more sense to go mixed climbing instead. Seeing that there was going to be a days weather window on Friday, we headed up on Thursday morning to bivvy on Piedra Negra.

'Woody' woodpecker having a good old peck.

The plan was to head up on Thursday morning to Piedra Negra, dump the bivvy kit there, then carry on up to the col and have a look at how conditions were on the faces and stash our climbing gear at the col, then head back down to the bivvy for some food and sleep. However, like I said earlier you have to play it by ear in the mountains. On the walk in, the weather was pretty grim.  Huge gusts kept trying to push us over, whilst the sleet and rain was nipping away at our faces. The snow line was down below the actual Piedra Negra bivvy site, and as we weren’t using tents, we weren’t stuck on the idea of spending the night in the snow whilst it’s still falling and getting blown in our teacups. So instead we stayed in some boulders about 300m below the actual Piedra Negra site. We were still getting a lot of wind, sleet and snow blowing around us. But all was about to change after Ben and I made our bivvy spot. Anyone who has been up to the bivvy site at the bottom of the north face of the Dru will be able to imagine what we built. It’s a huge bolder that had this deep but low overhang on it. We dug out a lot of the dirt from inside and then built a wall around the edges. The thing was mint. Dave and Calum tried to improve their very basic open bivvy spot, but it was no match to ours. We did invite them over for a cuppa at least but only if they wiped their feet before entering!

Ben, Dave and me chilling in the Swinston Bivvy.

The morning alarms went off at 4am, and we were off by 5am after a few snoozes. The morning greeted us with these spectacular views (see the top picture), which was quite nice after walking in without any views to look at. It took us about 2hours to get up to Paso Guillaumet (col).  We geared up there and ditched some of the extra gear we wouldn’t be needing.

Dave & I checking the guide to see whats not been done. Our line took the
middle white chimneyon the Lh buttress. Dave and Calum's line is the
ice streaks in the middle of the Rh buttress.

Photo - Calum Muskett.

Originally we thought about heading around to the South side of the Mermoz, but Calum and Dave were ahead and felt the slopes to get to the face were a bit suspect due to the load of fresh snow that was blown in the night before. So we decided to turn our attentions to the south-east face of Guillaumet. After a quick swatch at the guide to see what was what, we looked at a few possible new lines we could go for. Dave and Calum decided to go for something on the right hand buttress. So to get, what we thought, the best views of they boys to film something we went on a buttress over to the left. The most obvious line on the buttress was this deep cut chimney that continuously went straight up the crag. Unfortunately the line that Dave and Calum took was just out of sight from us, so we didn’t get any great footage. There wasn’t much more we could do apart from continue with our route and enjoy the thing.

Ben & I on the approach to Guillaumet.

Photo - Calum Muskett.

We were pretty sure what we climbed was a new route, but did find a small piece of tat that we are pretty sure is abb tat. Never the less it was a great route. Felt like a proper Scottish winter route. Something in the cairngorms. Scratching around to find placements, chipping out iced up cracks to place protection and getting a load of spindrift dumped on you every so often. It was four pitches long and I would say it was about Scottish VI, 6 over all. The gear was pretty good, but some awkward and thuggy moves. Especially in the final pitch which finished with a full on chimney section. 

Me starting out on the 1st pitch  V, 5.

Photo - Ben Winston.

Ben on the 2nd pitch V, 6.

Ben and me on our route. Me just through the crux
on the 3rd pitch IV, 5.

Photo - Calum Muskett

Ben on the last pitch. The crux of the route is
the chimney above V, 6.

Dave and Calum’s route looked amazing. We’re pretty sure it was a first ascent as well, or first winter ascent of a summer line. Either way they said they still had an epic time and really enjoyed it. They reckon what they did was about Scottish VIII, 8. You can read their accounts here;

Fingers crossed for some finer weather weather soon. Hopefully we can get on some rock next time.


  1. Looks like stellar climbing mate! Jealous!

  2. Wicked climbing, but really big walk ins. My wee Chamonix legs ain't used to it. :)