Colin Haley is becoming a Patagonia local, or maybe has become a Patagonia local. His years of Patagonia expeditions have proved fruitful with first ascents, big solos, and hard repeats. Having climbed in Patagonia myself I know that you have to have a strong heart and will, to return year after year to battle weather, to climb in remote and exposed conditions, and to have patience when the season deals out weather that is constantly bad.
Jorge starting up the first pitch on the south face, mixed climbing up and left, with the summits of Cerro Torre and Torre Egger in the background.
Despite the challenges of conditions in Patagonia, it's the splitter days, the clean granite, and the spectacularly wild views and isolation that keeps you coming back. I remember fondly the summits and granite cracks, and the days where I was trying to clip moving quick draws that were actually floating above the bolts, walking through the streets of town getting a sand lashing on my face, or being blown off my feet and into a glacial river in a raging storm, are but a mere figment of my imagination I think.
The south face of Standhardt, showing the line of El Caracol (500m, 5.9, A1+, M4). The route we took is marked (with the pendulum), as well as the route that future parties ought to take, on the crack further to the left.
Haley made the news again recently, with climbing partner Jorge Ackerman, by climbing the first route to reach the Cerro Standhart (2730m) summit by its South Face on December 3, 2011, El Caracol (5.9, A1 and A3 M4, 500m). After a failed attempt on December 1st on Torre Egger by the O'Neil-Martin route, due to a route finding error and conditions that provided for slow mixed climbing on terrain that is usually climbed in rock shoes, the team descended back to the Norwegos Bivouac. Lucky for Haley and Ackerman the weather forecast remained favorable and the team headed for Festerville on Cerro Standhardt . At the Standhardt Col, with very strong winds the team decided to abandon their original plan and attempt the unfinished South Face in hopes of more protected climbing. After 25 hours the two succeeded in linking the O'Neil-Martin, to a new mixed route called El Caracol, which refers to the spiral shape of a snail's shell, in reference to the slow nature of the climbing on tricky pitches, and the meandering route.
A full trip report can be found at : http://www.colinhaley.blogspot.com/
Leading an iced-up dihedral on the lower portion of the O'Neil-Martin route on Torre Egger.
Zoe: How many seasons have you spent in Patagonia?
Colin: This is my eighth trip to the Fitz Roy range. This year is the fourth
time that I have spent an entire season here, but my earlier trips
were mostly 3-5 weeks, because I was still in university at the time.
Zoe: What have you seen change in the scene and the climbing over the years?
Colin: The experience of climbing in Patagonia has changed tremendously since
my first trip in 2003. My first three trips to Patagonia were spent in
basecamps in the mountains - it used to be a real expedition. We would
just watch the skies, and when they turned clear we would try to climb
something, with no idea if the weather window would shut down in 3
hours or 3 days.
Since then, the town of El Chalten has more than quadrupled in size
(literally, in 8 years). Now in Chalten you can use the internet to
check weather forecasts, sleep indoors, and buy fresh fruits and
vegetables in the grocery store!
Zoe: The past two years there was a big outcry against David Lama's climbing ethics in the area. You were involved in the clean-up of this . What are your thoughts on this sort of issue, and do you think that the public disapproval spread an ample message on how climbing is conducted in Patagonia?
Colin: Yes, David Lama's group in their first year made some very bad
decisions - fixing ropes for months on a popular, classic route (and
not taking them down afterwards), adding bolts to the most over-bolted
route in the world, and adding those bolts immediately next to perfect
I think that David Lama is actually a nice guy, and obviously a very
talented technical climber. Unfortunately, he got swept up in a
multi-million-dollar movie project, and wasn't able to control the
actions of the film-makers. However, making a movie is never an excuse
for unethical practices in the mountains - climber film-makers should
be held to the same standard as any other climbers.
Fortunately, David Lama's group have changed their tactics
dramatically. They have abandoned plans to fix ropes, and have
promised now that any variation bolts they place will be hand-drilled
All is well that ends well, but I think it is important to remember
that public outcry was critical in bringing about change in the
tactics of David Lama's expedition.
Fortunately, the mountains are as beautiful, savage and difficult as ever!
Zoe: A lot of your climbing in Patagonia has been soloing. What are your motivations for that? What do you gain from that that you don't get from climbing with a partner?
Colin: Generally, I would rather climb with a good partner than solo.
However, I would rather go soloing than climb with a partner who
doesn't have enough experience to move quickly and safely on difficult
alpine terrain. I am pretty picky about partners, and after climbing
for a couple seasons with someone like Rolando Garibotti, it is hard
to then go climbing with someone who doesn't know how to jumar
efficiently, makes sketchy belay stations, or simply doesn't have the
technical skills to quickly climb 5.10 cracks with a pack on.
I do enjoy soloing though. It simply is a great challenge to get up a
big, difficult route by yourself. When I have been soloing a bunch and
then climb with a partner it is so simple and carefree by comparison
that it feels like taking a vacation!
Zoe: Have you climbed on Cerro Standhardt before?
Colin: Yes, the first time I climbed Standhardt was via Exocet, in Dec. 2007,
with Maxime Turgeon. I climbed Standhardt via Exocet again, a couple
months later, when Rolo and I made the Torres Traverse in Jan 2008.
Last year I climbed Exocet once more, by myself, making the first solo
ascent of Cerro Standhardt.
Jorge at our high-point on Torre Egger.
Zoe: Did you guys have the idea of the South Face in mind before you set out or was it a spur of the moment decision?
When Maxime and I were in Patagonia in 2007, Rolo showed us photos of
Standhardt's south face, and urged us to go there and finish it off.
We were interested, but never got a chance to try it, and for several
years I kinda forgot about that project.
Jorge and I were planning to try Festerville, which is the north ridge
of Standhardt. But on the way up to the Standhardt col it was very
cold and windy, and we thought that climbing in rock shoes on an
exposed ridge might not be very feasible. So, on the spur of the
moment I convinced Jorge that we should head to the south face
Zoe: Can you recap the history of attempts as you know it on the South Face attempts?
Colin: The south aspect of Standhardt was first attempted in 1977, when
Standhardt was still unclimbed, by British climbers Brian Hall and
John Whittle, who almost succeeded. Since then it was attempted by
Basque climbers Txema Egizabal and Xavi Ansa, Italians Elio Orlandi
and Maurizio Giarolli, Americans Jim Bridwell, Greg Smith and Jay
Smith, followed by Americans Bean Bowers and Kevin Mahoney, and
finally Canadians Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau. None of those attempts
reached the highpoint of Hall and Whittle in 1977, although I believe
Hall and Whittle fixed ropes, while the later attempts were made in
Zoe: In my mind each climb stands alone in my memory for one reason or another, sometimes good sometimes bad sometimes in different. Tell me what was different or unique on this climb.
Colin: For me, what was unique about this climb was its spontaneous nature.
I had studied photos of the face in 2007, but not since, so we were
really just feeling our way up. Since we decided to try it on the spur
of the moment we were limited to the equipment that we had with us for
Jorge leading the first pitch above the Standhardt Col.
Zoe: Can you explain the meandering nature of this route? Were these the obvious weaknesses linked up to reach the summit? And what was the climbing like?
Colin: We named the route "El Caracol" because it means "snail," but in
Spanish also means a spiral shape. Additionally, in Spanish "un
caracol" refers to a switchback in a trail. The route takes an
enormous ramp up and left across the east face, turns the corner onto
the south face, and then continues to climb up and left. The route is
basically a giant spiral staircase.
The climbing was typical of climbing on the Torres, in that it
included a little bit of everything, from steep snow climbing, to free
moves in rock shoes and chalk bag, to straight up A1 aid climbing, to
ice gullies, to mixed climbing, and finally a summit mushroom of rime
Zoe: Finally, what words of wisdom do you want to offer for future Patagonia climbing hopefuls? Advice, warnings, encouragement? Anything?
Colin: To not underestimate the mountains here. As information on Patagonia
climbing has proliferated in the past several years, more and more
climbers show up in Chalten with barely sufficient previous
alpine-climbing experience. In the past few years there have been
several fatal climbing accidents in the Fitz Roy range, and at least
two of them were from hypothermia. These are still serious mountains,
and although climbing 5.11 will help you get up the mountains,
having a wealth of experience in cold, snowy mountains will help you
survive the mountains here.
Images taken from Colin Hayley's blog with permission- www.colinhaley.blogspot.com
Interview conducted by Zoe Hart exclusively for planetFear - alpineprincess.blogspot.com