Guillot-Conqueugniot Route on Aguja Guillaumet

Getting started

Getting started

For Dale's take on this adventure, check out his blog:
http://www.daleapgar.com/blog/patagonia-2014-part-iv

Coming off the high from our home-to-home success on Mojon Rojo, we wanted to squeak out one more trip into the mountains before having to fly home. Conditions hadn't changed and the weather forecast didn't look terribly inspiring, but we had to give it a shot.

There was much debate about our final objective. Both Dale and I wanted a shot at redemption on Exocet, but the weather did not appear commensurate with the magnitude and commitment of the route. Our other challenge was time—to climb something as far back there as Exocet would have required a nearly continuous output and very short bivy. We eventually settled on a return trip to Aguja Guillaumet.

Our approach day started out better than our previous soirée at Piedra Negra, but quickly caused a little PTSD and flashbacks when sideways snow began to whip our faces on the hike up from Piedra del Fraile. We ended up waiting out the worst of it (or so we thought) with a couple of lovely ladies from Buenos Aires in the last tree-protected area before camp. It was a lovely way to spend an hour that would have otherwise been pretty grim.

Unfortunately, the weather didn't calm down much and we experienced a bunch more whipping wind carrying face-buffing particulates. At times, the gusts would literally push us uphill. We simply had to keep moving our feet forwards and the wind was strong enough to carry us. This awkward and challenging hike finally brought us back to Piedra Negra where we quickly pitched the tent and experienced a wonderful progression of first dinner, a nap, and a second dinner.

To save some weight after lugging heavy packs around for most of the trip, we decided to try sleeping in the tent with just puffy jackets and pants. As we settled in for the night after our second dinner and blood rushing to our stomachs to deal with 1,600 calories of Backpackers' Pantry deliciousness, I was glad that I'd brought an emergency blanket. We tucked ourselves in under our crinkly sheet and shivered our way to sleep, listening to a roaring wind outside and watching ice form on the inside of the tent.

Nearing the top of the couloir.  Photo by Dale Apgar.

Nearing the top of the couloir.  Photo by Dale Apgar.

The wind had calmed a bit by our 4am wakeup and we quickly ascended the glacier and scree up to Paso Guillaumet. As we reached the pass, I experienced, for the first time, wind rushing up both sides of a pass, meeting in the middle, and shooting straight up in the air. It was too windy and cold to climb, so we waited for the sunrise; Dale stomping around to keep warm and me donning my puffy pants. Thankfully, the wind subsided a bit after the sun came up and we headed for our route—the Guillot.

Working through the rock section

Working through the rock section

The coulor was more consistent than the Amy, maintaining a similar width and set of conditions throughout. There were some steps of steep ice, but most of the climb was steep snow and off-angle ice. We climbed it in about 4 pitches with our 70m rope, topping out on the ridge after a short mixed section. It took a few minutes to confirm our next pitch along the ridge line, which ended up feeling a lot like 5.8 climbing since we were doing it with gloves and mountaineering boots on. Perhaps on a sunny day and with approach shoes, it would have felt much more casual.

The rest of the ridge after that point eased up a bit. There was an easy traverse, followed by one more 5th class section that was less exposed and quite a bit easier. I decided to use one tool and one glove for that section and it seemed to be a much better approach. The wind had kicked up again when we had gained the ridge, and these last two pitches were quite blustery, but still safe. All that stood between us and the summit at that point was a bit of steep snow.

Cumbre!

Cumbre!

The summit was in a full whiteout, but we could not have been much happier. In our last week, we'd gone from a big goose egg on our summit to a slightly more respectable 2. We didn't hang out for very long, knowing that the wind was only getting stronger and that the weather was moving in. We rappelled the route quickly, got back to the col, and booked it down the scree and snow slopes to camp where we made ourselves a hot lunch and packed things up to get ourselves back to town.

I'm not sure if it was a desire to stop the sand-blasting of my face by the wind, the magic of the whisky we drank, or something inside me that wanted to make the most of my last day in Patagonia, but I ended up moving quickly on the trail back out, propelling my tired legs with my upper body and trekking poles, making it from Piedra Negra to the road at Rio Electrico in 2.5 hours. A bus picked us up minutes after we started hitchhiking and carried us back to El Chalten for a final night of merriment.

During our first two weeks in Patagonia, especially during the second week when the festering really set in, I wasn't sure that I would return to this wind-scoured, wintry, real-deal mountain paradise. After the successes and experiences of our last week and after taking some time to reflect on the trip as a whole, I can say confidently that I'd like to make it back to El Chalten one day.