For Dale's take on this adventure, check out his blog:
Challenging weather and conditions continued into our second week in Chalten. Exocet, a classic ice route on Aguja Standhardt had been on our list before flying down and we were able to chat with a pair of hard-charging Austrians at our hostel about their recent send of the route to soak up as much beta as we could.
This weather window promised higher pressure and lower winds, but very cold temperatures, so we made the call to give it a shot. Our approach was fast to Lago Torre and then slowed considerably as we mistakenly took the East side of the lake rather than the West. Our scree surfing and boulder hopping were pretty exhausting, but eventually brought us back to Niponino on a cold evening with snow beginning to fall.
Given the snow, we decided to take the next day as a beta-gathering session. We woke up later than usual and headed up the glacier, figuring out how to skirt Nunatak and how to avoid the seracs and crevasses of the glacier above on our way to Col Standhardt. The weather was marginal and we were glad that we weren't up there climbing on the route.
That evening, we got to meet Colin Haley and guidebook author Rolando Garibotti at Niponino. Apparently Mikey Schaefer was also in camp with Dale's friend from the Sierra, Josh Huckabee. We got the updated weather forecast from Colin's satellite phone and then hunkered down for the night.
It snowed over night again and we woke at 1am to a bunch of fresh powder outside the tent. It was going to be an interesting day. Things went smoothly up past Nunatak, but the white-out from snow falling, lack of a moon, and set of boot prints headed up the glacier led us astray for nearly two hours. Shining headlamps in the distance only enhanced the Star Wars effect—we really couldn't see anything. We hit dead end after dead end in a serac field before roping up and crossing some sketchy terrain to gain the main boot pack up towards Col Standhardt. We weren't that far behind schedule (trying to hit the col at daybreak), but had burned a bunch of energy going up and down the snow slopes.
Another party was clearly above us on the approach. We could see their headlamps making steady progress toward the col before dawn. Unfortunately, the new snow was being blown into pretty significant drifts and was over a foot and a half deep in places. We were on slopes that met the magic criteria for avalanche and knew there was an icy layer below. Dale's spidey sense was going off and we had a chat about the avalanche potential at a rock band just below Col Standhardt. It was decided that the risk was not worth the reward, especially given a party above us on the route who would be causing a bunch of ice to fall in the crux WI5+ chimney, up to 4 pitches above us, so we bailed.
We were pretty dejected. After not being able to summit our first objective and a couple of days spent festering in town, we were both a bit sad. The snow stopped as we got back to safety and the sun came out. Cerro Torre emerged and we spent the next few hours taking photos of the gorgeous valley, with striking views of the Torre Massif and the West side of the Fitz Roy Massif.
After an afternoon of champion napping in the sun on my thermarest, we spent the night and hiked back to town the next morning with weather rolling in over the course of our 6+ hour saunter.
Regardless of the outcome, it was a great experience and we were able to catch views and see parts of the range that most trekkers never get to see. I'll take it.