A little less than one month after soloing the Moonwalk Traverse of Patagonia’s Fitz Roy massif, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll returned to the big peak on March 3, this time with partner Jon Griffin, and the two completed the first ascent of a 350-meter offwidth that splits Fitz Roy’s south face. They topped out at 3:40 a.m. on March 4 and shiver-bivied on the summit for a few hours before heading down. Both suffered frost-nipped toes.
The crack–which they named La Chaltenense (5.11+, 500m) in homage to El Chalten where the Belgian and American have been living for more than a year–has loomed as an obvious objective for many years, but apparently it attracted no real interest until now.
“People had seen it, talked about it….,” Patagonia guidebook author Rolando Garibotti told Alpinist in an email. “As impressive as it is, it is not a line to climb; it is a line to have climbed.”
O’Driscoll said he’d been eyeing the line for a few years. “It’s such an obvious line, a king line, a clean crack that splits a smooth face,” he told Alpinist. “From the summit of Poincenot it hits you in the face!”
In a report posted on his Patagonia Vertical Facebook page, Garibotti wrote:
[The crack] is 5 to 6 inches wide, with a few short chimney sections.
It was a cold day, with the freezing line at 2500 meters, and because [they were] on the south face they only got about an hour of sun on the first two pitches, and 15 minutes in the evening before it disappeared behind Cerro Torre. Both suffered mild [frostnip], with Sean’s toes requiring treatment. Their gear suffered a lot too, rock shoes, pants and jackets got torn by the crocodile like teeth the crack has.
Sean recounts that there were “some desperate moments! Where I would slip down a few [centimeters], get completely out of breath, try to find some way of jamming some part of my body, either a foot, a knee, a leg, an arm, chest, get a really bad lactic acid build up in some muscle I had never felt before, try and catch my breath back, stop my mind from wanting to give up, recover and then get back at it!!! And [then] try and recover those few [centimeters] I had lost!!!!…”
Because the crack would mostly take #6 Camalots, and since they only had two, Sean would shuffle them, at times leaving no protection between one belay and the next….
They carried a single sleeping bag, but had no stove or tent.
Jon took speakers en-route, so music played for much of the climb. On the topo you can find the playlist. Sean’s tin-whistle made another trip up Cerro Chalten, but at the summit it was too cold for playing.
The name honors their long stay in Chalten…and is intended as a thank-you to the local community. In a face that had lines honoring California, Washington, Colorado, Canada and Britain, now there is a real “king line” honoring Chalten, a route that is one of the longest and most sustained offwidths in the world.
La Chaltenense begins on the first two pitches of the Colorado Route before diving into the offwidth for eight pitches. “The line to climb on that face is the Colorado Route, which is bound to become a mega classic,” Garibotti said. The La Chaltenese offwidth might be a feature that is more enjoyable to “have climbed,” he added, rather than to climb in the moment itself.
“It sure was a fantastic route, yet a bit chilly for the toes,” Griffin told Alpinist. “We started out swapping leads, with the second following [and the] leader hauling and belaying. After the first four pitches, it made sense for Sean to do his thing, haha. I followed [free climbing] until it got dark [then] jumared with one Micro Traxion on the last two difficult pitches. Then I led a few more pitches up to [5.10b] and we scrambled to the summit.”
Villanueva noted that Griffin led all the rappels during their descent and was very instrumental in their success even though he didn’t lead as many hard pitches.
“Jon was a solid climbing partner for this climb, always happy to be up there, always positive,” Villanueva said. “Some of the pitches took me more that an hour to climb–he must have been freezing his ass off while belaying me, he never complained even in the slightest.”
Regarding his frost-nipped feet, Villanueva said: “It’s really not that bad. I think I might lose a toenail.”
As for their decision to climb a shady crack on a shady aspect on a cold day, he said: “I guess it’s not like you get an abundant array of weather windows to choose from down here! It’s also not easy to estimate how cold a cold forecast will be. Maybe this window wasn’t particularly cold; maybe it was just normal Patagonia weather. There was a good weather window on the forecast; this was a king line that was on my mind and it was in condition.”
In other news from Patagonia, Garibotti posted a report on Facebook on March 11 that there was a “massive rockfall event” and that the east faces of the Central and North Torres del Paine were affected. “Hard to tell exactly which routes are concerned, likely the Riders on the Storm and Magico Este on Central, and Kawesqars on Norte,” he wrote.