By Whit Magro, Explorebigsky.com Contributor
We were sitting on a sandy ledge, below an enormous
granite spire called Aguja Desmochada. The
needle-like spire of perfect granite shot straight up
for 2,000 feet above us. To the south of Desmochada,
in a perfect succession rose two more towers:
Aguja de la Silla and
then Cerro Fitz Roy,
the largest tower in the
massif, and the namesake
of the range.
The Fitz Roy Massif,
one of the world’s
most wild and sought
after mountain ranges,
is part of Argentina’s
Parque Nacional Los
Glaciares (the Glaciers
in Patagonia. Near the
southern tip of South
America, this region
has some of the worst
weather in the world.
It was the end of
February, the middle
of Patagonian summer,
right after the full
moon. Good weather
windows earlier that
month had dried everything
out, which is
a rare event.
I was there with climbing partners Nate Opp, a Big
Sky ski patroller and mountain guide out of Bozeman,
and Josh Wharton, a full time climber from of
Estes, Colo.[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true” framedall=”black”
author=”Photo courtesy of Josh Wharton” desc=”Whit Magro and Nate Opp early on the climb”]
Our lofty goal was to do an enchainment of Desmochada,
De la Silla and Fitz Roy. With a total gain of
nearly 7,000 feet of vertical rock climbing, linking
up these three peaks had never been done before,
and was one of the few remaining prizes in the Fitz
We spent two days approaching from the nearest town
of El Chalten, Argentina. The first to our base camp,
and then that morning we’d crossed the Torre Glacier
and then scrambled and
climbed up gullies of mixed
rock and snow to reach the
base of Desmochada. Having
checked the weather,
we knew a big high-pressure
system was headed our
way. This was very uncommon,
and we wanted to take
full advantage of it.
We planned meticulously
for speed, mostly by sacrificing
comfort for the ability
to travel extremely light.
Between us, we had only
one sleeping bag, a twopound
tent, and a jetboil
stove. It was in the upper
30s during most nights,
so we were a little chilly.
To sleep, we put on all our
clothes, draped the sleeping
bag over us like a blanket,
and lay down on the ropes
The next morning we got
up pre-dawn and brewed
instant coffee. Our strategy was to lead in 1,000-foot
blocks: The lead climber carried only the rope and rack,
and the two guys following ascended the ropes with
our overnight gear and food. The goal was to have the
leader free climb everything with no falls.
It was my block first. We moved through the first 400
feet of easy climbing together, then I led a short pitch
of more challenging climbing, and then we were at the
crux. The 200-foot pitch started with a hard boulder
problem and led into a steep and sustained finger crack
we rated 5.12+.
Finding few holds, I took about 20 minutes to get it
figured out, with Josh and Nate coaching me from
below. Josh and I had been here the year before, but
were thwarted by bad weather and icy cracks, so I’d
been thinking about this section of rock climbing for
the past year. Cranking past the boulder problem, I was
focused. I knew I couldn’t fall or I’d hit the ledge.
Every rope length we went up the more committing it
became. The realization set in that until we were done
with this colossal enchainment, we were living in the
dangers of a vertical world. Funny thing was that’s
exactly where we wanted to be.[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true” framedall=”black”
author=”Photo courtesy of Josh Wharton” desc=”Whit Magro climbing perfect granite on Desmochada”]
The rest of Desmochada was sustained and brilliant
5.10 and 5.11. It went really fast. My block ended on
a large ledge, where Josh took over the lead. His block
took us up to a knife-edge ridge that ended in the big
sloping wedge-like summit. The wind was blasting off
the southern ice cap from the west at steady 40 mph,
gusting into the 50s, so we held on tight.Traversing over the top, the hardest climbing was
Using our ropes to descend, we did two rappels down
off the backside toward our next tower, De la Silla.
We stopped at a small ledge on the side of the wall and
decided to spend the night there. Using his trail building
skills, Nate plugged boulders into a trough and
built a “flat surface” where we could set up our tent.
We cooked our freeze-dried dinners, split up a stick of
salami, and went to bed at dark. Sleeping with stacked
rocks digging into our backs was not comfortable at all,
and we were in and out of sleep all night.
At dawn, we had coffee and a civilized breakfast of granola
with dried fruit and nuts, and then we were off.
A thousand feet of rappelling later, we were hanging at
the side of an ice sheet in the saddle between Desmochada and De la Silla. We had three pairs of crampons,
but only one ice tool between us. Tying our two ropes
together, I led 400 feet across the snow and ice field,
kicking steps into the exposed 60-degree slope. Josh
and Nate followed, rocks in hand in case they slipped
and had to stop themselves.
At the base of De la Silla, Nate took over the lead.
From photos I’d taken the year before, we’d scouted
the path of least resistance to the summit, which
would be a new route. Nate rapidly led 1,200 feet up
the wall to the notch between Fitz Roy and De la Silla.
We called the route Vertical Current.
The weather was starting to deteriorate. Clouds were
building but thankfully the wind wasn’t. We couldn’t
see across the valley, and Fitz Roy was engulfed in
clouds. At this point, the easiest way out was to finish
We left our bags at the notch between Silla and Fitz Roy
where Nate’s block ended, and I led another 800 feet to
the teeny, pointy two-foot wide summit of De la Silla.
Really cool. Clouds swirled around us as we rappelled
down to the gear we’d left at the notch.
“We’re doing it!” was our motto as we kept ticking off
summits. One more to go. Fitz Roy would be the highest
point of our enchainment, but thankfully not the
hardest. Our bodies were beginning to wear, but our
spirits were still high, and our bags kept getting lighter.
We crossed another ice col, this one only 20 feet across,
and then a long moderate rock pitch brought us to the
shoulder of Fitz Roy, at the base of the famous California
Route. We were psyched!
We stopped there for the night, finishing off our
last dinners. From there, we could see climbers
descending from Fitz Roy’s east shoulder, heading
back toward base camp and town. We hoped to be at
that very spot by the following evening.
Morning brought a
but we proceeded with
our morning rituals
anyway. Josh got our
climbing gear organized
and prepped for
his next lead block,
and Nate and I packed
We couldn’t believe
we might actually pull
this off.[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true” framedall=”black”
author=”Photo courtesy of Josh Wharton” desc=”Nate Opp (L) and Whit Magro (R) on the summit of Aguja de la Silla.”] http://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/patagonia_NO-and-WM-on-Sillas-summit.jpg[/dcs_img]
As we climbed, it was
so foggy that we often
couldn’t see Josh at the
end of the rope, and we didn’t really know where we
were on the route. We just put our heads down, and
one step at a time sped up Fitz Roy. On the upper ridge
we started simul-climbing, still roped in, but all moving
At one point, we stopped for 10 minutes to drink
water out of a pothole carved into the rock by wind
and weather. We each carried straws, and that’s how we
stayed hydrated throughout the trip.
We kept climbing, winding up and around rock towers
and over technical ground.
“La cumbre!” Josh shouted when he reached the summit.
It was 2 p.m., and he’d led the entire 2,000 feet
up Fitz Roy in only five hours and did an amazing job
finding his way with the poor visibility.
We were so tired and drained it was almost emotional.
We’d been going for five days straight
since leaving town. Enamored and awestruck, we
rejoiced in total whiteout.
Luckily we’d all been to the top of Fitz before, so we
knew how to get down. Nate a.k.a. “Special Opps”
safely led all the rappels, and it took us eight hours
to descend more than 2,000 feet to the mountain’s
glaciated shoulder, where we spent our last night.
We woke to the most amazing morning I’ve ever
seen. Below us, a sea of clouds stretched as far as we
could see. Only the summits of this amazing mountain
range poked through. We made it back to town
that afternoon, hungry and tired.
In a way, we climbed The Wave Effect for Bean Bowers,
a mutual friend who was the first to suggest the
enchainment. It was his vision, he named it, and
we had plans at one point to climb it with him also.
Sadly he discovered he had metastic cancer that
December before we left, and he passed away this
Whit Magro climbs professionally and is co-owner
of Stronghold Fabrication, a metal fabrication and
fine blacksmithing shop (strongholdfab.com). He lives in Bozeman with his