Two days ago, jaws dropped around the world as news broke of Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell teaming up for a mega link-up in Patagonia. Hazel Findlay tracked Alex Honnold down to talk suffering, snow blindness and sharing a sleeping bag.
Between February 12 and 16, American climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold made the first ascent of the much discussed Fitz Traverse in southern Patagonia: an immense line, teetering across the unbelievable ridgeline of Cerro Fitz Roy and its satellite peaks.
This futuristic route involved climbing Aguja Guillaumet, Aguja Mermoz, Cerro Fitz Roy, Aguja Poincenot, Aguja Rafael Juárez, Aguja Saint-Exúpery and Aguja de l'S. Its stats are, quite honestly, awesome: 5 Km of ridgeline, 4,000m of vertical gain, climbing up to 7a (5.11d) C1 65 degrees.
“Respect, respect and more respect,” stated Rolando Garibotti as he broke the news on the Supertopo website. Rolando reported that the pair climbed with minimal gear (one ice tool, one ice screw, four cams, two sets of nuts, six quickdraws and 14 slings). Simulclimbing much of the route, they dispatched some 20-pitch sections in a mere three pitches, and everything apart from the Pilar Goretta and the North Face of Aguja Poincenot were climbed in approach shoes.
This was Alex’s first route in Patagonia, although over the years, Tommy has managed a number of big ticks in the area, including the first free and onsight ascent of Linea de Eleganza on Cerro Fitz Roy.
I already knew that Tommy and Alex were keen to try the traverse. However, my experience in Patagonia this season is that there was no such window in which you could even think about trying something like it. People were getting shut down on way smaller objectives and most of the time climbers weren't climbing at all; if they were, they were choosing pure ice and mixed lines.
After I left, my friend posted a picture of the meteogram for the coming week, and I thought, wow a lot of cool stuff is going to happen. There were low winds, high temps and no precipitation for five days – unheard of.
Apart from being insanely jealous that I wasn't in Patagonia for this weather window, I'm very impressed by what Alex and Tommy had pulled off. It’s such a lot of climbing and it really reflects how ridiculously fit they both are. I got in touch with Alex and decided to find out more.
Hazel: Any good stories from the ascent – any particularly funny or scary moments?
Alex: Well, I don't think either of us nearly died. All the climbing sort of blurs together into one epically-long simuling session. Rolo (Rolando Garibotti) counted up our ‘pitches’ and said: "you spent five days in the mountains to climb 15 pitches…why so slow!?" I think the bivy sites were kind of the highlight: such amazing places to pitch a tent. We camped on the summit of Fitz Roy and Poincenot. In fact, we called our whole trip an extreme camping trip.
Hazel: Now you’ve ticked every summit in the Fitz Roy range, will you come back for the Cerro Torre traverse and then call it good? Or do you want to return to Patagonia for other routes?
Alex: I would love to climb the Torre traverse someday, Tommy and I both would. But first I need to learn how to ice climb. I think I'll be back next year to climb some more mountains, or harder routes, or whatever else. I think this was a good sample platter for the range. Now I'm hungry for more.
Hazel: You’ve ticked the Sufferfest (a man-powered mission to cycle between and climb all 15 of California's 14,000 foot peaks) and the Triple Link Up (the three biggest faces in Yosemite Valley in a single day). How does this compare?
Alex: It’s probably harder in general. Maybe not as gruelling as the Sufferfest, but that's only because we were only up there for five days. But day to day, it was quite hard. We didn't really get a ton of sleep and didn't recover a lot, so each day I kind of felt like I was grinding down to dust. Obviously, each day was easier than a day like the Triple, but we did five of them in a row. Basically, it was a lot of work and we got very tired.
Hazel: Is Tommy “the man”?
Alex: For sure. Yes. He led the mixed climbing at the top of Fitz Roy. He mined out the icy cracks so that a British team (Peter and Ben) could summit a few days later. I think he was leading that top stuff for the very first time all season; it was pretty rugged up there. There’s nothing like icy aid climbing up a river in the dark.
Hazel: Why are you snowblind and what are your thoughts on Patagonian weather?
Alex: Well, the snow blindness is because it's quite bright out and I didn't wear my sunglasses (they're too scratched up to see out of anyway). Thankfully it's getting better, but it's been super annoying. And painful. I don't really mind the weather too much since the bouldering is so good. Honestly, the weather is just a way to ensure that psyche is high when you head into the mountains.
Hazel: How much did you cuddle up to Tommy?
Alex: In some countries, we would probably have been stoned to death. But, thankfully, we were far above any kind of law enforcement. Next time we might do two light sleeping bags instead, just for comfort. Dialling in the bivy scene is definitely one of the cruxes.
Thanks to Hazel Findlay for the interview, Alex Honnold and Rolando Garibotti.
Read the original Supertopo report at http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/2345655/The-mother-of-all-traverses-The-Fitz-Traverse.
What's Patagonia like? Watch some wild and windy action from Jon Griffith on BMC TV: