Marc-André Leclerc Free Solos Aguja Standhardt in PatagoniaItching for solitude and adventure, Marc-André Leclerc disappeared to Patagonia and found solace on an ice soloing bender in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.
his blog. Unable to swing his tools or kick in the confines of the chute, he resorted to “rodent technique,” he says, “similar to a squeeze chimney in rock, but distinctively more ‘rat-like’.”
Leclerc stood on the summit and checked time. It was 4:30 p.m.—12 hours flat since he left the Niponino camp at the base of the Torres that morning. He just completed the second known solo ascent, after Colin Haley in 2010, and first known free solo of the Tomahawk to Exocet Link Up on Aguja Standhardt, Fitz Roy massif, Patagonia.
Leclerc, 23, was itching for solitude and adventure after a two-month Euro climbing trip and another month of summer crowds in Squamish, B.C. “It was in July that I first envisioned going on a Patagonian ice soloing bender, “ he told Rock and Ice. “Just the mental picture got me so psyched!”
Leclerc disappeared to Patagonia and found solace in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.
“It is basically the locals and myself,” says Leclerc. “There were a handful of European climbers in town a couple of weeks ago, but they have now left. I am certainly the only person sessioning the Torre Valley at the moment.”
Leclerc came with a mission—to solo Patagonian towers in winter. He arrived in El Chaltén, after three days of travel, in the dark. Wasting no time, he left his hostel the next morning with his boots on, in the dark.
He carried a load of gear to caché at the Niponino climbers’ camp below the Torres and returned to town that night. After two rest days, “bouldering lots, ticking off many projects,” he says, he made a second schlep into the valley. Leclerc had learned, from his past two trips to Patagonia, that “making several carries is a more advantageous strategy over making only one trip with a crippling load,” he writes.
Nonetheless, his left IT band took a hit and he spent several days “stretching, massaging,” and pumping the anti-inflammatories, “hoping that I would still be able to make use of a promising window in the forecast,” he writes.
“The window appeared to be best from the 20th of September onwards, with an unusually large high-pressure system settling over the area for nearly a week.”
The Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere is the Vernal Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere—in other words, on the 23rd of September, Leclerc would be out of winter. “…and thus my hopes of making ‘winter ascents’ were unlikely to be realized,” he writes. “In Patagonia it is important to strategize in the most logical manner for a successful climb, and to not go too early simply base on how high the stoke is. For me, this can be a crux.”
Leclerc hit good conditions, “not perfect”, but “about as good as one could ever expect to get on a long route in Patagonia,” he says. “The ice on Tomahawk was a bit sun baked, and above on Exocet the ice was at times brittle, but the chimney features kept things from ever getting too strenuous, even if one had to work a bit for good placements.
“The biggest factor, was that I was able to climb the mixed cruxes without gloves. I did encounter the screaming barfies, but regardless, this made it easier to free solo the mixed terrain.”
Leclerc has used this tactic before to free solo mixed ground on the Northeast Buttress of Slesse, B.C. in winter. He says, “It really is the key to feeling as secure as possible on these types of routes.”
After summiting Standhardt, and rappelling back through the mushroom tunnel as “straight as a pencil,” he retraced his steps across the summit snow slopes and rapped directly through V-threads in the chimney below, “retrieving my slings along the way and leaving nothing behind aside from holes in the ice,” Leclerc writes.
“The route was totally classic! Just phenomenal positions throughout with great vertical chimney features,” Leclerc says. “In the middle it gets pretty easy for several pitches, just steep snow and easy ice (grade 4 maybe?). But above it kicks back and gets technical again.
“Overall it is just a total global classic in its style, without doubt!”
Leclerc has one more week left in Patagonia and a weather window is opening today. “The psyche is for real!” he says.
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