Aguja Guillaumet - 8461' - Amy Couloir Class 5.8 AI3
Yes this is a year late I apologize, however I can't resist to share this adventure. A couple weeks after arriving in Patagonia last year, after attempting Tronador and climb Cerro Heilo Azul, Itai, Elaine and I took the long 22 hour bus ride from El Bolson to El Chalten. Just as the sun was rising over the mountains of the Fitz Roy massif, we rolled into a quiet town with very few people around. As we got off the bus, a brisk morning wind reminded us we had ventured surther south than any of us had been before, and started the normal task of finding a place to stay where we could plan and coordinate our next adventure. We decided on the Lo de Trivi hostel, a quaint little place that was one of the cheapest in town. From here we spent the day asking around for some climbing conditions and other info regarding what routes have been getting climbed and what the weather has been doing. After a chat with the casa de guias, we found out the weather was about to become perfect for the next few days, and one of the reasond we did not find many people in town was because evryone made a bee line up to the camps and whatnot the previous day. So we quickly gathered up some food, and scheduled a taxi ride to the trailhead for the Piedra Negra camp early the next morning.
Watching the early sunrise from the kitchen window at the hostel was breathtaking, and I was so thrilled to be finally witnessing one of the greatest mountain places in the world. Before 7am we were at the Rio/Valle Electrico trailhead and beginning our approach. Since we were unsure if we would be climbing rock or ice routes, we saddled up our ridiculously heavy packs with gear for all climbing types (ice tools, big boots, rock shoes, cams, ice screws and a weeks worth of food) and started walking. Right off the bat, we had to cross a small side stream draining into Rio Electrico, requiring us to remove our shoes, but after that it was a pleasant walk through an open forest of very odd trees. It's obvious the wind really stunts the growth of these trees. Even the underbrush was almost non-existent! We passed along the base of an impressive set of cliffs dropping down the far northeast shoulder of Cerro Electrico. Rolando apparently has done some first ascents on this 5-8 pitch high wall of decent looking granite. Before we knew it, we arrived at the hut at Piedra del Fraile. We took a short break here and prepared ourselves for the grueling, steep ascent to the Piedra Negra bivy sites. It was not really sunny yet per se, but the clouds appeared to be thinning. The wind was still strong though.
Slowly and steadily, we made our way up the steep trail with views of the Electrico valley getting better as we ascended. After a couple hours we made it to a flat grassy bench with a large boulder about 2/3 the way up from the valley floor. Views west from here of the fringes of the southern Patagonia icefield were incredible despite the lingering clouds. Here, we had some lunch and prepared for the final third of the ascent which was mostly on social trails up talus slopes and across some old moraines. By early afternoon we reached Piedra Negra which was teeming with climbers, including legendary Colin Haley, who typically climbs in southern Patagonia every year.
We chatted with a few people that afternoon, including one pair of good climbers heading out around midnight to climb the Supercandaleta route on the Fitz, and a few other Canadians/Americans. Honestly, on our entire South American trip, the only other Americans I met were other climbers! I was suffering through a head cold during the whole approach up, and it wasn't necessarily getting any better however with the perfect weather forecasted the next day I sure as hell was going to climb anyways. Unfortunately, Itai realized shortly before dinnertime that he had forgotten his harness, and he would be forced to sit this climb out while Elaine and I went for it the next morning. After much discussion, we decided to do the Amy Couloir which gave us a mix of an ice climb and a rock climb. Early the next morning, Elaine and I put on the boots and started the steep talus hike up to the pass between Guillaumet and Cerro Electrico. With the fresh snow the previous few days, this was tedious as the talus and scree was frozen and icy. It took us longer than expected to get to the saddle, but when we reached it we saw a pair of climbers starting up the Comesana-Fonrouge route which goes straight up the rock face/ridge from the saddle. We traversed around the SE side of the tower now on the upper reaches of a glacier until we reached the base of the couloir.
There was a bergschrund that was slightly overhanging I had to climb over at the start of the couloir, and since the sun had been hitting it for a couple hours by this point I had no purchase with my ice tools. I more or less had to worm my way up getting soaked in the process, until I was above, and could begin climbing the 60-65 degree alpine ice above until I reached the first anchor to belay Elaine up. Three-four ropelengths of simul climbing up the couloir brought us to the last stretch where some snow covered rock climbing was required to reach a tiny notch in the ridge, at which point the route follows as per the standard finish.
The ridge itself was a beautiful all around fun alpine rock scramble, with a few 5.7-5.8 sections thrown in. The weather could not have been any better, and as we neared the summit, there was not one iota of wind! Such a rare occurrence for southern Patagonia. The summit of Guillamet is the smallest summit of all the Fitz Roy towers, room for literally just one person at a time, as the summit is merely a singular point. Since we caught up with a bunch of people who were climbing the Amy couloir ahead of us, we all took turns on the last 10 meters exposed summit scramble.
We both lounged around the summit for over an hour relishing in the moment of our first Chalten summit. It was easily one of the grandest views I have ever seen, with Cerro Torre visible; the first time I'd ever seen it. It was covered in rime ice and looked even more heinous than the photos make it out to be. Fitz Roy and Mermoz were towering right next to us and all I could think of was how amazing it was to be lucky enough to be there.
As the afternoon progressed, we began the descent, rappelling when desired until we reached the notch atop the Amy couloir, then making a series of double rope rappels down the couloir. We returned to camp, where Itai managed to make good conversation throughout the day. Since that climb took a lot out of me being sick and all, we agreed to just hike down the next day, but decided to leave a bunch of our gear as a cache, hoping we would return within a few days. So the next morning we returned and made the beautiful hike back and was able to call for a taxi at a small bed and breakfast to come pick us up. As we returned to town, we met up with other climbers we had met on the mountain at the town climbers bar (Fresca bar) and everyone celebrated the climbs and accomplishments that were completed during the weather window. A few, including Colin Haley were still trying to descend the Fitz as the weather was turning sour.
Unfortunately, over the course of the next week, the weather never improved, and we spent a good chuck of time bouldering with the group, drinking a lot or sport climbing. After a week, Elaine and I decided to go back to Piedra Negra on yet another less than ideal weather day to retrieve our gear cache, and we decided to bus back to the north, and made the Cerro Castillio area our next destination.