|The North Face of the South Avellano Tower viewed from the base of the 'Tooth'|
In January 20014 John and I were hunkered down in El Chalten. We sat despondent, yet another weather window collapsing before our eyes. The proceeding week of hectic planning, training and getting excited seemed nothing but a cruel joke.
We cracked and took Jim up on his talk of Northern Patagonia and booked bus tickets.
Jim has had a house on the shores of Lago General Carrera for several years and has used it for a base to explore the mountains surrounding the lake and the edges of the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap. Information online was limited. There were a few trip reports, Cerro Choss, The Avellano Towers and Mt St Valentine but all were very vague.
It sounded like an adventure, something totally different far from the Cerro Torre circus.
We took a punt on Jim’s talk of ‘interesting’ objectives and Jim delivered.
In a weeklong spell of immaculate weather we walked into the Avellano Towers. Jim Donini assured us it was a short six hour walk to a basecamp by a lake. We followed as he led up out of the town of Bahia Murta and into the mountains. There must have been something wrong with our watches, as it seemed to take at least ten hours.
To kick things off Jim, John and I climbed the tooth. This shapely summit had previously repelled Jim in 2007 so it was good to see him settling old scores. From the top of this we gazed upon the face of the 'South Avellano Tower'.
This was the largest unclimbed feature I'd ever seen, un-climbed but not un-climbable. From our vantage, our eerie on the summit of the tooth features were visible. Huge dihedrals and ramp lines led the eye upwards. There were even some snow patches so we could make do with just taking a jet boil. Enthusiasm boiled over trumping reality and sensible decision-making.
After a 2 am alpine start we descended the couloir to the base of the wall. We managed to locate the base of our intended route in the nick of time prior to the wall falling into the moon shadow of the range. Congratulating ourselves John set off. In the pool of torchlight at the base I immediately noted Johns progress was slow. He inched up the big corner.
At 12 pm we had climbed three hundred meters. This sounds impressive, three hundred meters of new route up a thousand meter face. Gaining the top in two days was totally achievable. The problem was that our three hundred meters of climbing involved three faltering starts followed by abseils, several diagonal traverses and a short section of down climbing. We were possibly only fifty meters higher than we started.
Reality kicked in, we had climbed fifty vertical meters in six hours. There were another nine hundred and fifty meters to go, even my mental arithmetic told me we needed hundred and fourteen hours to gain the top. Convincing John however to bail was the hardest battle yet but in the end he also conceded that the chances of us gaining the top before starving to death were remote.
|A highly forshortened view of the South Avellano Tower from below|
It took one and a half abseils to gain the base so we might have made the top in only 60 hours of continuous climbing. Who knows.
Sitting at the base looking up at the wall in the afternoon sun I knew one thing. This unfinished business changed everything.
You just cannot leave unclimbed big walls made of impeccable granite lying around. They get inside you. They challenge you. I was coming back.
Screw commitments; I've an appointment in December.
|David Brown hanging out at the bivi spot in the col with the approach from Bahia Murta visible in the background|
|Jim Donini accending the final pitch of the 'Tooth' with the Avellano valey below|