North Pillar of Fitzroy

Patagonia, South America
49⁰16’18.01”S 73⁰02’48.00”W
Leo Houlding, Kevin Thaw
February 2005

Three years after his accident, Leo returned to Patagonia with Kevin Thaw for a rematch with Cerro Torre. Finding the peak dangerously out of condition, they turned their attention to the neighbouring peak, Cerro Fitzroy.

The stunning north pillar rises for almost a mile above the glacier. Though incredibly long, the climb is not exceptionally hard in a technical sense. Anticipating the 2000m ascent to take between 24 and 36 hours they opted to climb in an ultra-minimalist style. They took no bivi gear, alpine gear or stove, just a handful of food and only two litres of water, expecting to find sources en route.

Leaving base camp at 1am, five hours later they arrived at the approach gulley leading to the true pillar. Much more difficult and time consuming than excepted, when they finally reached the immaculate granite, the wall seemed to grow as the pair free climbed pitch after pitch of strenuous but never desperate cracks.

Around 8pm the sun had almost set and the climbers were still a long way from the top. The complicated route finding had caused them serious delays. The pair decided to sit out the night on a tiny ledge where they had found a drip of desperately needed water. After a cold night they pushed on, reaching the summit of the pillar before quickly ascending the avalanche threatened headwall.

Leo and Kevin cut steps in the ice and rock-hopped a further 250m of alpine terrain in rock shoes reaching the summit around 8pm on day two. A hurricane force wind greeted them as they began their descent in ‘full Patagonian conditions’.

After some 50 rappels over more than 17 hours the exhausted pair finally reached the horizontal ground of the glacier. Stumbling through thigh deep snow they eventually arrived back at base camp some 56 hours after leaving, having hardly, slept, eaten or drunk anything. They proceeded to sleep for 24 hours continuously!

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