That wiley Señor Fox

I’ve been busy in Argentina this last month. After climbing Fitz Roy with Colin in late January, I almost immediately had to get back on a plane and head north to the northern Patagonian city of Bariloche, in Argentina’s Rio Negro province.

Many moons ago now, when I had finally made the decision to quit my job, and go on a really long climbing trip, I had decided that at the very least I should keep my brain engaged by learning a new language. Since Argentina is quickly becoming my second home, what better language to learn than the language of romance, Espanol?

After some research, and a few good recommendations from friends, I settled on a little school in Bariloche, La Montana. I would spend 3 weeks studying Spanish in Bariloche, while Colin climbed big, scary things with his good friend, Dylan Johnson, back in Chalten.

So, on January 20, I was back on the shuttle leaving Chalten, bound for the airport, and Bariloche. The next 3 weeks were a blur of school and climbing. I had anywhere from 20-30 hours of Spanish classes each week, and when not in class, did my best to immerse myself in the local climbing community.

You are probably wondering just how proficient I am in this new language of mine after 3 weeks of immersion? Well, let me assure you, I can speak only in the present tense, so don’t ask me about anything I have done, or plan to do. But, heck, life is always lived to it’s fullest when you live in the present. Right?!

Here are a few photos from my time in Bariloche…

Doerte and I enjoying a day of climbing in Frey. Doerte's photo.

Doerte on the super amazing last pitch of a tiny tower in Frey. 

The following weekend I walked into Frey hoping to meet up with fellow Canadian, and friend, Chris Brazeau. The plan worked like a charm and I found him chilling at the refugio pondering his plans for the day, "to climb with me of course!". Chris leading up on Aguja Abuelo.

Spanish school didn't only teach me a language, but it gave me some new buddies! Dani, John, and I on the summit of Cerro Lopez. Dani and John are on a 9 month around-the-world tour between moving from New York city to the simpler life in Park City, Utah. Dani and John are headed to El Chalten next, so I'm going to get another chance to hang out with my posse!

Just had to throw this one in. "Ya mom, it's me, Sarah. Ya, I'm in Argentina, and I'm on  MOUNTAIN!?"

Lucas, a Bariloche local, kindly dragged me around the local sport crag one day. Here Lucas shows me how it's done on some ridiculous project. I think this crag was called Piedra Blanca, it was a pretty fun day! Thanks Lucas!

On 9 de Febrero – how’s that for a little Spanish infusion – I arrived back to my little Argentine home in Chalten around 7:00 pm. Colin was still in the mountains with Dylan. They had managed to scrounge a good climbing day right down to the wire, Dylan was scheduled to leave Chalten on February 10! So, after a quick run to rejuvenate, I got busy preparing a giant feast for the two hungry men that would be returning to town hopefully with another summit tagged.  Unfortunately, I had misread the last email I’d received from Colin before he and Dylan started hiking into the mountains.

I had assumed they would manage to climb Mermoz – their intended objective – and make it back to town by 11:00 pm at the latest. They are two of the most badass mountain climbers I know after all, how could it possibly take them any longer than that? Well, 11:00 pm rolled around and my feast was complete, table set, warm bread in the oven; 12:00 am, 1:00 am, 2:00 am, OK, I’m going to bed now! The poor boys stumbled into town at 8:30 am, with Dylan’s shuttle scheduled to leave Chalten at 9:30 am! So, dinner was eaten at 9:00 am, and by 9:30 am Dylan was on a shuttle bound for home, while Colin and I napped away the morning.

The weather played with us for the next week and we spent days climbing around town. I even learned how to jumar! But, town was beginning to clear out now, summer was drawing to a close. Many of our friends were beginning to grow antsy for their boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses back home.  I too was getting a little bored of waking each morning to check the latest weather forecast, only to learn that it had changed again, and we’d not be going into the mountains that day.

A little photographic representation of what happens when boredom sets in down here in Chalten…

In case you ever wondered, this is what a Patagonian weather forecast looks like. It's pretty confusing eh? This little report  is updated every 8:00 and 2:00. Town pretty much clears out at these hours as every climber runs to an internet connection to catch a glimpse of the latest forecast. It's the equivalent of Islam's call to prayer, for climber. 

That's bad weather over Fitz!

That's REALLY bad weather over Fitz!

This is Colin's idea of staying busy during bad weather spells. He's testing out all of his bivy sacs...

Bad weather in the mountains also provides the perfect opportunity to hone one's skills closer to home. Like, rope soloing practise for Colin, and jumar practise for me.  This is Colin rope soloing up one of the multi-pitch routes close to town.

Here he is again...

Look who made it to the top!

No seriously, that's hilarious, I just jumared 5 pitches of 5.10 sport?
Finally, our window of good weather arrived, and we made plans to head back into the mountains! The unclimbed west face of Mojon Rojo, the oft-overlooked tower along the Fitz Roy skyline, would be our mission. Mojon Rojo, 2170 m, sits at the southern edge of the Fitz Roy massif, and in fact, Mojon en Espanol means “boundary”, The Red Boundary, a fitting name for this little mountain.  The mountain from its east side is a tiny 4th class scramble from the glacier to the summit, but from its west side, 700 m of 5th class climbing is offered up. Colin assured me that many a Patagonian climber had eyed the mountain’s red tinged west face while hiking up the Torre valley bound for Niponino, the climbers bivy at the base of Cerro Torre.

The rock on the mountain is a beautiful shade of sun-touched red, but at the same time, this color difference offers up a warning. The rock is of a completely different composition than the remainder of the Fitz Roy group, which are all a safe shade of yellow/grey granite. We would have to find out for ourselves if this foreign red rock was climber friendly, or if it would simply disintegrate in our hands.

From our bivy at Niponino, on February 21st, we woke at again, the most ungodly of hours, 3:00 am and began hiking to the base of the massive scree slope that would lead us to the start of the 5th class climbing.  Armed with dozens of leaver’ nuts, and 16 pitons, we finally began the roped up climbing around 8:00 am.  The rest is a blur of red rock, and woots of joy. The rock was incredible, the climbing engaging, and on perfect splitter cracks. We were feeling like we were getting away with something!

We free climbed the upper headwall , minus a few French free moves, and finally, on the final headwall pitch, Colin needed to hammer in a few pitons and make a few real aid moves. At the top of the headwall we climbed a few more low 5th class pitches, which brought us to the most incredible knife edge ridge leading us onward to Mojon Rojo’s true summit.

It was while traversing the knife edge ridge, and finally getting a chance to look down at what we intended to descend later that day, that we made the last minute mind change to descend the other side, via the mountain’s east flank, and down the Glaciar Rio Blanco to Laguna Sucia and town. We’d be primarily walking down scree slopes as opposed to time consuming, and sanity-fraying rappels down the west couloir. I was sold!

After tagging the summit, and as darkness fell, we began our race for the lake. Unfortunately, our rapid mind change in descent plans meant that we’d have to cross the Glaciar Rio Blanco, and descend about 1000 metres of loose scree in our approach shoes, but oh well, so it goes.

Since neither of us knew this descent, and it was now the middle of the night, we took a while to descend. In fact, we didn’t even make it to the lake until 6:00 am a full 26 hours after leaving our bivy at Niponino the day before.  I couldn’t walk in a straight line at that point, and we stumbled to a little patch of heather where we slept in the full spoon position until 11:00 am, then began the long slog back to town.

And now, you might ask, “what does El Zorro have to do with any of this?” Well, it turns out Niponino, is home to not only climbers, but a wiley little fox as well. In fact, Señor Fox has been known to steal various pieces of climbing gear, food etc. left around camp by lazy climbers. And so, Colin and I decided to pay homage to this ingenious little creature by our route name, El Zorro 5.10 A1 700 m, Colin Haley, Sarah Hart, February 21, 2013, Mojon Rojo.

¡Qué bueno!

Here's a view of the Fitz Roy skyline from the west. Fitz is the big guy on the left, and Mojon Rojo, our "Red Boundary" mountain is the little guy on the right-most edge. This photo was taken by friends, Joel and Neil Kauffman. It's a pretty stunning shot!

And here's a closer shot from the Torre Valley. Our line  follows the face to the right of the giant dihedral.

Climbing easy slabs to the base of our route. It was cold. Me being cold, is certainly a common theme down here in Patagonia? Colin's photo.

Climbing more easy slabs to the base of our route. Colin's photo.

Colin leading moderate terrain low on the route.

The first pitch of the headwall proper.

Me following the first pitch of the headwall. Colin's photo.

Colin leading on pitch 2 of the headwall.

I love this photo!

More headwall climbing, as the face begins to narrow, and the climbing becomes steeper.


Colin traversing over to inspect a giant chimney/off-width we had scoped from the valley bottom. Turns out, it was a no go, so we returned to climbing up the ever shrinking cracks on the face of the headwall.

Me following mid-way up the headwall. Colin's photo.

Same pitch. Colin's photo.

Me following high on the headwall. Colin's photo.

Colin looking down at me, and the belay. That's a pretty smooth, red wall! Colin's photo.

The last pitch to the top of the headwall required some real aid. Here's a look up at the short, 15 metre pitch, and a great shot of the 5 piece anchor Colin made me. Love that! 

On the last headwall pitch 2 condors circled us for quite a while. I think they were surprised to see climbers somewhere they'd never seen them before. Condor's are such cool birds!!

Colin leading up on the low angle pitch to the ridge crest.

Me following. Colin's photo.

Me, and the Torres. 

Colin traversing the ridge to the true summit of Mojon Rojo, which is the tower to the left.

Colin traversing the knife edge ridge leading to the summit  tower.

A cool photo looking back as I traverse the ridge, with the Torres in behind. Colin's photo.

Another cool photo. Colin's photo.

The Torres -- they're really photogenic, I can't help it -- and Domo Blanco in evening light.

And finally, our little summit.