Ryan Nelson and Crystal Davis-Robbins’s new climb, The Art of War (V 5.12a A2, ca. 1000m), Aguja de la S (2335m), Cerro Torre Massif, Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Patagonia, Argentina. The route was established on February 11-12 and begins on the west face above Cerro Torre Glacier. It traverses into a south-facing direttissima up the mountain’s steepest face. This is the first ascent of the south face. [Photo] Ryan Nelson
Early this February in Patagonia, I ran across Crystal Davis-Robbins, who is quickly becoming the most influential female climber in the area. We were both looking for a climbing partner, so we teamed up to try a single-push ascent of the unclimbed south face of Aguja de la S (2335m), Fitz Roy Massif, Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Patagonia, Argentina. Although a seemingly insignificant peak at the south end of the range when viewed from the east side (four moderate pitches), its south face is the steepest wall in the range, and on the west it drops down to the Cerro Torre Glacier, exposing a huge swath of rock (where Leo Houlding, Kevin Thaw and Cedar Wright established a 1300-meter route, The Thaw’s Not Houlding Wright [5.10] in 2004).
Crystal and I woke at 3:30 a.m. on February 11 and charged for our objective from the Cerro Torre Glacier. The climbing begins on a west-facing, vertical, monolithic buttress where I free climbed up to 5.12a and then ran into a thin corner of A2. After a bit of 5.11 climbing, we joined The Thaw’s not Houlding Wright for two easier pitches that took us to a ledge. From there we gained the south face, which rises above like an overhanging wave. Crystal, one of the best crack climbers I’ve met, sent a burly and steep offwidth that goes at 12a. We resorted to aiding when darkness approached and we found the upper overhanging pitches dripping wet. Our situation was deteriorating, as we were not sure the line was going to go, a storm was approaching, we were soaking wet, and rapping the overhanging face would have proved difficult. We finally reached the summit in the early morning, in cold winds.
We waited for the conditions to calm, but they intensified to full force, forcing us to make the heinous descent. Crystal and I were being thrown about so badly that we were repeatedly lifted of our feet into the air and slammed onto our anchors. We tried rapping off the north ridge route but our ropes became stuck, so we down-led the face. We abandoned the rope on the last rappel after it became hopelessly stuck again (we retrieved it once the weather cleared), and eventually we stumbled into camp after a thirty-five hour push, hungry and happy.
This was my first climb in Patagonia. Crystal, who has spent most of the winter in the area, seemed to think that our new line was her burliest yet. After debate on the name of the route (I wanted to call it Air Bud after the golden retriever basketball player), we decided on The Art of War (V 5.12a A2, ca. 1000m)–a fittingly dramatic name for our combined visions on the epic.
Crystal Davis-Robbins leads out a splitter 5.11 to gain the west ridge en route to the South Face. Davis-Robbins has scaled a number of hard, new routes in Patagonia this season and is quickly becoming the area’s preeminent female climber. [Photo] Ryan Nelson
Since Crystal and I both live outside of Durango, we’ve climbed together at Indian Creek. Whether it’s single pitches in the desert or big walls in Patagonia, she climbs fast and clean on cracks, and has an exceptionally solid mental game. She was the first female to ascend the North Pillar of Fitz Roy, and she established two significant routes this year with Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau (see Issue 16‘s Climbing Note about Davis-Robbins’s first female ascent of Fitz Roy’s Casarotto Pillar last year, and Issue 19‘s In a Push for Walsh and Brazeau’s alpine-style push on Mt. Alberta)–the northeast arete of Aguja Quatro Dedos (5.11, 1,600′) on January 15 and Domo Blanco (5.11 A1, 2,000′) on January 19-20. She’s still in Argentina, so I expect to hear more good news as she caps off the season.