Exum Guide and Correspondent, Mark Givens reports from Patagonia
Exum guides, Mark Givens and Gary Falk are in Patagonia to attempt a route on Fitz Roy. This is Mark’s first report. We pick up the story at the Buenos Aires airport.
February 2, 2009 – Ah, Buenos Aires.
We chill at the airport, looking for a ride to a free place to sleep since our flight to El Calafate leaves tomorrow afternoon. It’s not happening. Gary’s charms are not working, even on the ladies. A German climber goes on and on about her recent forays on Fitz Roy, mentions her apartment in BA she shares with her boyfriend, and still misses on Gary’s suggestion that their floor is a perfectly acceptable place for us to crash. She wanders off. I locate directions to a local hostel in San Telmo and we are out, bags and all. Arriving there reminds me of an unruly Euro-style Breakfast Club-type scene, except that the kids are all drinking and smoking and it’s noon. No climbers. Gary and I bump the average age of the hostel up by a lot. We grab lunch, take a nap ‘til about 8pm, I edit some video ‘til about 11pm, and then we wander downtown to a real Argentine steak dinner. Yes! No lie, the beef is good down here. Arriving back at the hostel, we discover that it’s disco night. Music is blaring, the kids are sweaty, and the cervezas are flowing. We take it all in for a few hours and then I retire to my dorm room. Eight beds, and at nearly 3am I am the only person there. Youth rules!
February 3, 2009 – “Are there gymnasiums in your airports?”
We are awoken at 11:45am by a hostel employee who admonishes us to clear out – the bed is needed by others and we have a flight to catch in two hours. We’re outside hailing a taxi in 15 minutes. At the airport I discover my gafas del sol are missing. Not good. We get our boarding passes, have a doble espresso and a sandwich, and I purchase a replacement pair in the event mine never materialize. Gary is feeling antsy – this man must MOVE! He desires some exercise to get the blood moving after two days of lethargic traveling. I agree. Once we pass through security we begin to do some yoga and stretching when Gary points out a perfect hand crack rising up a glass wall separating us from the outside about 2 stories high. This is too good to be true. Gary takes an initial foray up the first few meters. I take a lap. It’s fun, perfect climbing. I imagine that if the cracks are at all like this we’ve got it in the bag. Patagonia can’t hold us back. It also whiffs of danger. Surely airport officials wouldn’t condone this type of behavior. Gary takes a lap and I snap some photos of him. We’re discreet. I retire to do some more yoga, my headphones on, and a few minutes later Gary pokes me. Hey, keep an eye on me – I’m getting messed with pretty hard. I turn to see him being led away by the police. Gary looks small next to this big man with a gun and uniform, and I want to scream, but I’m also amused and watch as Gary is led to the security area. Will he make the flight? Ah, now we have some appropriate drama! I kick myself for not being quicker with the video camera – this is TV definitely worth watching. I continue watching as Gary and this large man trade a few words, he opens a glass door, and Gary is politely ushered outside of the secure area. The door closes, and the cop wanders back to his amigos. My partner is gone! It’s as if Gary was a naughty little puppy caught peeing in the house and was sent outside. So, a plane to catch, half of Gary’s stuff is with me, and he is on the wrong side of the airport now. Three police and a security check-point to reclaim before he can be by my side. I wander outside the secure area a little bit later. Gary looks bored. He shopped while on parole. Look, I got some good maps! he says. He seems to think his sentence will be commuted once the plane begins to board, so I wave goodbye and cross security again. Our plane arrives, I wander over to the police, politely explain that the American (the stupid one?, a cop responds) is needed now. Stupid or not, he’s my climbing partner and thus needs to be by my side, I say. Suddenly Gary materializes in line and we are reunited. How’d it go, I ask. He asked me if there were gymnasiums in American airports. Sayonara, Buenos Aires!
February 4, 2009 – They climbed this in 1965 – how hard can it be? Ten minutes later – Gary, I’m kind of scared!
It’s 8:33pm in Chalten. Things are kind of collapsing around here suddenly. Time is compressing, there is an unmistakable urgency in the air. First, the weather is good. We see Fitz Roy from at least 80 miles away, during the drive from Calafate. It’s huge. While it’s not blue skies we can’t believe we’re arriving with only high clouds and clear mountains. The pressure is rising, precip is forecasted for tomorrow but Friday is looking amazing. Little wind, little to no precip, and stable all day. Saturday looks to be slowly denigrating into a typical Patagonia pattern. So, we arrived in town with a rough plan: if the weather will hold, we’re launching for our objective immediately, no questions asked. People have been here for three week and gotten nothing done, so if this is our window, we’re taking it. Quick to mobilize: get a room to stash our gear. Check. Find a reliable weather forecast. Check. Pray that Rolo is here and willing to give some beta. We find him within 15 minutes and he is of course generous. Check! Find Nacho and Majo, drop off the gear we brought them, socialize a bit. Check. Buy some food. Check. Begin to pack. A bigger task than we anticipated, especially since we are going so light, but two hours later we get it done. It’s ridiculous how heavy the packs are, but we’re trying to be conservative. Perhaps we could single push this thing, but we’re not going to try.
The plan: push tomorrow to the base of the route – we’re heavy like turtles so anticipate a few hours. Bivy at the base. 2am start. The first 1000m done by dawn, the technical mixed stuff begins then. Summit in the afternoon and rap the Franco-Argentine. Down to Paso Superior. Collapse/pseudo bivy. Awake and stagger back to Chalten. If all goes well we’ll be back Saturday morning. Hardly Rolo (Rolando Garibotti) or Bean’s (Bean Bowers) performance but it’s conservative and we’d like to come back in one piece. Haven’t been this excited about a route in a long time. Gary agrees.
See you sometime soon!