We camp in a
small cwm [gully] at the base of the French Rib exhausted. About an-hour later
the bergschrund [crevasse at the head of a glacier] behind us collapses [and
generates a small avalanche big enough to bury 10 people] & misses us by 50
meters. We are too tired to celebrate our good fortune.
At this point the
climbers were at the base of the route that the French had taken in 1954 and
that most subsequent expeditions had used. Connor, Andrews and Bludworth
thought they could ascend the French Rib—also called French Shoulder—in a day,
and from there it would be a relatively simple trek over the summit plateau to
the peak. But Connor had planned to reach the Ice Balcony in one day and it had
taken three. Had he underestimated the French Rib as well?
Up and Andy at
10:30 after cold nite of spindrift & ice. We cross two steep bergschrunds
(pulling Chuck out of the second one), move up a steep snow face onto the rib
itself. Where is the walkoff we are wondering? Christ, there is a 5.8 or 5.9
[out of possible 5.12 degree of difficulty] rock pitch above. Why? Chuck
ignores his bout with snowblindness to push the lead about 60 or 70 feet. He
gets stuck and Guy goes up to finish the pitch. In his haste to find us a
decent bivvy Guy does not take enough gear and ends up getting stuck about 50
feet above Chuck. I holler for a retreat to the stance I'm on but they feel a
good ledge is above. Almost convinced, I start to jumar [go up a fixed rope]
with my pack. As soon as I get 25 feet up to where I can see them, I realize
there is no way to haul their packs up this pitch in any case, and we are
really strung out with darkness & wind coming on fast. Then Chuck gets
panicky & drops a glove which heightens his anxiety (and mine). Since I'm
closer to the lower stance, I pass him one of my own along with a sharp order
for both men to GET DOWN NOW!!! I beat it back to the stance & begin
hacking at the snow with one numbing hand and shout for Guy to help Chuck get
down. C.B. is quite blown out by this time & I half expect to see him just
plummet in his state of anxiety.
the weakest member of the group, without question," says Connor. "He
was in a little bit over his head. This was by far the biggest mountain he had
ever been on, and I think he was intimidated by it. But we were prepared for
that; I felt Guy and I could deal with a situation of such stress. That was
more or less our justification for choosing Chuck in the first place; after
all, here was this guy we didn't know who had never been to that altitude,
chosen on the basis of availability and eagerness and ability to pay his
way—and almost coincidentally on his climbing ability. I would have preferred
going with somebody we'd been with before, but we just couldn't find anyone who
irritated with Chuck, but I think being around Guy kind of spoiled me. Here was
a 20-year-old, five years Chuck's junior, but with better mountain chemistry.
Guy had that little necessary ingredient, that mental toughness that—when
things get rough up there—keeps you from moaning and groaning about it and
telling everybody how hard it is. Christ, everybody knows that, they're there,
too. So I was probably expecting Chuck to be just like Guy. Well, that's just
not possible. Climbers like Guy are few and far between."
Guy will be one
of the best. I can't even describe to him what is in store for him if he
continues at his present pace. Ideal job, ideal physical attributes. Good
mental attitude. I only hope to contribute to his development. He can be the
Jack Nicklaus of climbing in a few years! Another Messner.
At the moment
Andrews was stuck on the face, 50 feet above Bludworth. Fortunately, Andrews'
problem was simply too few pitons to continue, so he was able to fix a rope and
rappel back down to Bludworth. There Andrews talked enough composure into
Bludworth so that he, too, was able to rappel down to the ledge Connor had been
preparing for their bivouac.
hated to have seen Chuck try to come down without Guy's help because he was
pretty panicked at this point," says Connor. "Sometimes you have to
slap a guy and say, 'Hey, if you don't move from there you're gonna die!'
have a name for the wind that blows on the South Face of Aconcagua: El Viento
Blanco, the White Wind. It is a twisting wind that roars like a tidal wave when
it passes, leaving everything in its wake a frozen white. The three climbers,
physically and emotionally drained, were perched on a 3' X 4' ledge in the dark
when El Viento Blanco engulfed them.