Tom Ballard: Cerro Torre III

7:30am and I'm swinging my axe gingerly into a neve eyebrow. My back is against bare rock and my feet are pressed onto the opposite wall, where the snow and occasional blobs of neve are pasted to the rock. I hope the axe placement sticks!

Making do: a Masterclass

The dawn is doing its thing and I can see my surroundings now. The dim beam of my headtorch is now only needed for details, like fiddling protection into granite cracks. The dawn light illuminates Cerro Torre - if only we'd had a decent spell of weather I would be up there! If only.. and but.., the most uttered phrases after any 'failed' expedition!
I'm following a big chimney/gully feature on the unclimbed West Face of Hombre Sentado. Vertical pitches lead to easy angled snow and good belay opportunities. I rely on my mixed climbing experience. Where the 'snow on rock' is just that, I dry tool a thin crack. Four pitches follow in this pattern.
Now I'm in the back of a deep but narrow chimney. The rock (a 'dyke' of dark coloured rock) is becoming dangerously loose. The best placements I find are in mud! A peg and a small cam in an expanding crack provide some reassurance as I use a friable thread as both placement and protection, inching my way up the overhanging choss.
The 'mixed' conditions have petered out. Two pure rock chimney rope lengths remain to the top. But (there it is again) I've had enough. The climbing has, apart from the choss pitch, been enjoyable. I am content at not having climbed anything this trip. To have finished this route would in some ways have shown the rest of the trip up!
One week earlier I had tried this same line with Marcin. Temperatures were really high. The icy cracks were streaming with water. We had avoided the chimney and attempted a variation. Climbing two short drytooling pitches in the smooth granite cracks. Footholds were scarce, protection abundant. When we were wet enough we bailed!
Back at Niponino 14 and a half hours after having left the tent. That night the wind really picked up (it always does!). I was accompanied inside the tent by rocks. The continual bashing and crashing of the fabric made for a somewhat sleepless night!
Early next morning I packed up (still windy) and started the long stumble out, heavily laden. Last time Marcin had literally been blown down a 5m deep crevasse, ending up hanging hhelplesslyfrom his wedged rucksack. I managed to come to the rescue. Fortunately, the wind was not as strong this time, a good job really as no one would be coming to my rescue.
Even before I came to Patagonia I knew that there was only a slim chance of us succeeding on our goal. To not even get to the base of the route though feels like even more of a failure. If only...