Back on Cerro Plomo. As we retreated from the storm just five days prior, Sergio remarked that the ice falls just below camp Federación hadn’t been so well formed in many years and that we should go back the following weekend. I thought it was a dehydrated, altitude-delirious bluff, but there we were the following weekend.
Casey Overton in tow, we drove up early Saturday. At Tres Puntas we loaded packs and waited for a new mulero to ferry our heavy ice climbing gear. No show! After an hour we set out with heavy hearts and heavier packs. In three hours we were setting up camp below Federación.
After lunch we slogged gear up to the base of the icefalls to help Queso acclimatize and make our climb day a bit easier. Played with the gear a bit , climbed a touch on the low-grade stuff unroped. Casey used Darlene’s axes and I used a nice pair of sponsored Petzls!
The ice as plasticy and forgiving. Hero ice. As we hiked back down through the steep scree we hoped it would be the same quality the next day. Queso and I slept in the tent, which was plenty big enough for three, while Serg bivied outside. Doesn’t like our smelly feet, I think. Actually, I’m sure he was trying to soak up the mountains. He’s off to Dubai next year. Nido will miss him, and so will all his friends.
We slept long, maybe too long, but it was glorious. I hadn’t had a chance to catch up over the week. So we slept, and I didn’t mind. Loaded light packs and scrambled towards the icefall we were eyeing. An hour to the base in sucky scree, then some time outfitting.
First picks were sunk at ten-ish, at a respectable altitude of ~12,000 feet. Sergio legged the lead. The first part of the pitch was low angle, then turning more vertical. I belayed as he swung picks and his fancy center-point crampons. Show off. He made it look easy, like most things he does, placing ice screws along the way.
Showers of ice chunks of varying size and destructive capacity plummeted down at us. At first it was fun, a bit like frogger, but eventually I lost the game and got cracked with a baseball size fragment from 100 feet up, right in the belay hand. Owwie. I dodged and weaved more apprehensively. Serg climbed unhurriedly, and in the afternoon sun the rain of ice began to mix with rocks, cracked off gully face some 300 feet up by the expanding, sun-lit face. By the time your eye would track them they’d be already going 200 mph, dark streaks embedding into white snow around us. Glad to be wearing helmets.
When Sergio had set a top anchor Casey and I were ready to climb. Happy to warm up from standing in the snow! We climbed simultaneously on either side of the twin ice ropes. Queso a bit above me, raining ice shards down my neck. We climbed slow. You end up in an easy rhythm. Kick, kick, swing. Kick, kick, swing. That, mixed with some heavy breathing from exertion at altitude.
The rock rain increased and by the time we were all at the belay station a quick assessment made descending a good call. We were too late, climbed too slow, and had too much fun in the process. Tired and happy with our success, we set about making a V-thread, two ice-screw holes meeting in the ice with a loop of webbing that we rappel off of. As the clouds cruised over our heads just outside the sheltered couloir we rapped down off the ice. I was last, and therefore the only guy trusting only the ice. I slapped it a kiss for good luck and descended the 150 feet. So fun.
Packed up and trudged back to camp, our gear stained white from the minerals in the ice. Our bodies melted a good deal while kneeling on the climb.
I’ll be very sad to leave the people and places that have come to mean so much to me. This is likely my last hurrah with Sergio and Cerro Plomo. Goodbye my good friends.