“I once read, Guillamet, a tale in which your adventures were celebrated. I have an old score to settle with the infidel who wrote it. You were described as abounding with the witty sallies of the street Arab, as if courage consisted in demeaning oneself to school banter in the midst of danger and the hour of death. The man did not know you, Guillamet! You never felt the need of cheapening your adversaries before confronting them. When you saw a foul storm you said to yourself, ‘Here is a foul storm.’ You accepted it, and you took its measure.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind Sand and Stars
On the northern end of the Chaltén massif, the ultimate granite peak, before the range transitions to less coherent rock, is known as Aguja Guillamet. Named for the pilot Henri Guillamet, this peak is dwarfed by its southern neighbors, but it offers fantastic granite and plentiful opportunity for first ascents. All that, and one of the shortest approaches in the range, I don’t know why it doesn’t see more attention! The steep and clean West face was the site of my first ever new route, Las Vent’uras, with Blake Herrington in 2011. In 2012, I returned with Cheyne Lempe and established the first free route on the face, Manos al Cielo. While enjoying the gorgeous handcracks of that route, I looked right and spotted another line of perfect orange dihedrals and splitters.
During the past two years, I’ve shared the photo at right with many fellow climbers, encouraging all of them give it a go. Despite my best efforts, though, when I arrived this season this plum was still unpicked. It was not hard to convince Graham that we should hike up there and put in a proper effort!
On the morning of December 5th, Graham and I left camp pre-dawn and cramponed up steep snow to a pass on the lower Northwest ridge of Aguja Guillamet. On the other side, we made a long, rising traverse across a snowfield to reach the right side of the West Face of Guillamet. A note on this approach: in good conditions it goes quickly, and aluminum strap-on crampons, sneakers, and one light axe per climber is sufficient. A few days later, however, we would return to this approach to attempt the West Face of Mermoz and found the snow to be very thin and poorly bonded to the rock slab beneath. Fearing avalanches, we opted for a higher approach. See the photos below for beta on the higher and lower approach options.
Starting a few meters to the right of “Manos”, I led up a shallow dihedral. Ensconsed in a much larger chimney system, this section of the face sees little sun, allowing snow and ice to persist in the cracks after everything higher has already been cleaned. There was nothing to do but embrace the screaming barfies and jam the frigid cracks, but I was relieved to find a perfect belay ledge just 40m up, and happily stopped our “warm-up” pitch short. From here to the summit ridge, I would use our 80m 9.2mm Edelweiss rope to full advantage, running the next pitches to at least 75m each.
The third pitch was the key to accessing the beautiful corner systems. I traversed to the right across four smaller dihedrals, with each transition involving some funky and challenging climbing. On more than one occasion, a blind reach was rewarded with a miracle flake or crimp!
Entering the promised corner, a sense of fear came over me. Though I’d been thinking about this route for two years, I didn’t know quite what size the viciously sustained steep crack would offer. I had brought a triple set of #0.5 to #1 Camalots, picturing unrelenting big-fingers and thin-hands. In this size, I would likely be unable to find good jams with my fat hands, and would be forced to lay-back precariously.
But, climbing higher on the next two pitches, I found amazing hand cracks!! Yeehaw!!!!
Graham was feeling a bit under the weather all day, and graciously allowed me to lead every pitch while he followed or jugged with the backpack. What a hero!
The upper pitches, where I thought the climbing would ease, actually proved to be the crux. A steep, and slightly offset, #0.5-0.75 camalot sized crack proved too much for me to freeclimb at the end of the day, and I gladly aided through a few sections.
Higher still, I battled a tight squeeze chimney. After removing my helmet, jacket, and all the other extraneous junk on my harness, I managed to squeeze back in far enough to lasso a wedged chockstone. Tensioning off this, I freed my self from the chimney and bypassed a super-tight offwidth nightmare.
With the final squeeze lead, we gained the ridge to the summit, and enjoyed an amazing sunset as we tagged the top and began our descent.