Connect with us


Climbing Patagonia: The Wave Effect

Avatar photo



By Whit Magro, 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
National Park),
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

Roy range.

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

and backpacks.

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

behind us.

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

the traverse.

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

whiteout—not ideal,

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

up camp.

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.”][/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 ( He lives in Bozeman with his


Upcoming Events

february, 2023

Filter Events

No Events