How a Longtime Patagonia Climber Just Had His Best Season. Ever.

In the last two months, Colin Haley, 31, has squeezed in a lifetime’s worth of cutting-edge Patagonia alpinism. He’s logged speed records, solo records, and first ascents on virtually every major formation in Patagonia.

When pioneering climbers Yvon Chouinard, Dick Dorworth, Lito Tejada-Flores, and the late Doug Tompkins, enjoyed their epic 1968 road trip from California to Patagonia, climbing, surfing and skiing along the way, they called this brand of adventurism “fun hogging.” They even installed a “Viva Los Fun Hogs” flag on the summit of Fitz Roy after making the mountain’s second ascent via the California Route—now also affectionately called the “Fun Hogs” route.

What Haley has achieved this year looks a little less like classical fun hogging, and much more like full-bore alpine gluttony.

His incredible season started on the last day of 2015, when he soloed Fitz Roy (aka Chaltén, the preferred local’s name for the 11,171-foot / 3,405-meter peak), climbing via the California/Fun Hogs Route.

Haley dubbed his Fitz Roy solo a more important achievement than the car-to-car speed record, likely due to the mental challenge of climbing alone. It would seem that his solo of Fitz Roy got him into a mindset that would, in the coming weeks, prove to be extremely valuable and help push Haley to new extremes.

Next up, Haley soloed a new route he dubbed El Dragón, on a relatively minor peak, Cerro Solo. His route takes the right skyline in this photo.
A short storm cycle later, Haley and Wyatt teamed up again for another “big cardio day,” according to Haley. This time, they climbed Cerro Huemul, in 11:54 round-trip from the ranger station at the trailhead. In his Instagram caption, Haley ponders the possibility that, although this peak was climbed 100 years earlier, he may have become the first person to reach the true summit on a pinnacle, around 10 meters (30 feet) higher than the north summit, and located across a sketchy ridge traverse.

Next up, the big one: the first solo of Torre Egger, considered the most difficult peak in Patagonia, and therefore, perhaps, the most difficult mountain the Western Hemisphere.

“During the past five years I have spent so much time daydreaming about this goal, about what skills I needed to develop, about what strategy to adopt, about what equipment to take, and about whether or not I had the gumption to make it happen,” Haley wrote. “I’m sure that yesterday’s climb is among the very best climbing accomplishments I have made in my life thus far. Very tired, very stoked.” Haley’s season, however, was only just beginning. In mid-January, Alex Honnold arrived with fresh energy, and the two teamed up to become a formidable alpine partnership. They warmed up with a first ascent on the east ridge of Cerro Huemul.

After that initial warm up, their first big mission would be setting a speed record on the Torre Traverse, climbing north to south and ticking off all four major peaks in the Torre Range in a single day—20 hours and 40 minutes, to be exact. (Their camp-to-camp time was just over 32 hours.)

Patagonia climbing guidebook author and accomplished alpinist Rolo Garibotti—who made the first ascent of the Torre Traverse with Haley in 2008—wrote, “Something tells me this record will stand for a long time to come.” Five rest days and one storm cycle later, Haley and Honnold achieved a significant second ascent, and 17-hour speed record, of the “Wave Effect,” a link-up first envisioned by the late Bean Bowers and first climbed by Josh Wharton, Nate Opp, and Whit Magro over four days in 2011. The Wave Effect, primarily a rock climb with difficulties upwards of 5.12a, is an enchainment of Aguja Desmochadaa, Aguja de la Silla, and Fitz Roy.

Haley, 31, has been climbing for 20 years, and at least 12 of those have been dedicated to Patagonia. “Colin knows the Cerro Torre range better than anyone,” says Hayden Kennedy, an alpine climber from Colorado. “He’s logged some serious time here.” Haley grew up in Seattle, but now splits his time between Chamonix and British Columbia, and, of course, Patagonia. According to Haley, two of his four all-time proudest climbs of his career were achieved in the last month: the one-day Torre Traverse with Honnold; and the first solo of Torre Egger. The other two are: the first ascent of the south-to-north, aka “reverse,” Torre Traverse, also called La Travesía del Oso, completed in 2015 with Marc-André Leclerc; and the first ascent of Dracula, on Mt. Foraker, Alaska. We caught up with Haley to hear more about his groundbreaking season. Year after year, you continue to return to Patagonia. What is it about this place that you find so alluring? There are many reasons that I continue to spend so much time in Patagonia, and obsess over it for the rest of the year. It is the most visually stunning place I’ve ever been, the climbing is extremely high-quality, the vibe is really fun, etc. But, really, the biggest reason is for the challenge. There is no other climbing area that has inspired me as much over the years to improve as a climber to be able to accomplish new goals. I really love that the climbing in Patagonia, especially on the Torres, requires the full skill set. For example, the one-day Torres Traverse required skills of a solid 5.12 rock climber; a solid Grade 6 ice climber; experience in big wall speed climbing; general experience in big, glaciated mountains; and a high level of overall fitness. What other mountains require all those skills at once? Obviously some, but it is the essence of climbing on the Torres to me.

You’ve had a huge year. Are you in particularly good shape? Have you been training? What “clicked” for you? I’ll briefly mention that my season started with soloing Chaltén (Fitz Roy), which was a bigger accomplishment than the later car-to-car ascent, and that this past window with Alex on The Wave Effect was even as rad as the one-day Torres Traverse. Yeah, it’s been an awesome season for me—I’d even say my best season ever, and my most successful climbing trip ever. I think that having a really successful season like this is the result of a lot of factors coinciding. The biggest factor is having a bunch of good weather and good conditions. Some seasons you simply don’t get many chances to try much. The second biggest factor is having a motivated and talented partner, and in that regard I couldn’t really ask for anyone better than Alex Honnold. I think I’m in decently good shape right now, but not drastically more so than past years. I have, however, been in a very “productive” mental state this year for whatever reason. For example, the Torre Egger solo is something I’ve been planning for years, but in other seasons I was more afraid to try. When that weather window arrived this year I felt absolutely excited and not apprehensive at all, although I have no idea why that change happened.

Tell me more about your solo Torre Egger. Where did you get the idea? Were there any particularly scary moments?

Torre Egger is the most difficult mountain to climb here, and many people would argue that it’s the most difficult mountain to climb in the Western Hemisphere. That is why it was one of the few mountains here that hadn’t yet been climbed solo, and it was the obvious prize.

Among the small cadre of people that engage in hardcore, technical, alpine soloing, Torre Egger was an often-discussed goal. Alex Huber came here to try it a couple times, and it was on the radar of

Marc-André Leclerc as well. I think that Alex Huber is no longer obsessed with it, but probably Marc-André will still eventually do some sort of radical solo climb on Torre Egger.

During the past few years of daydreaming about soloing Torre Egger, I often had feelings of dread, and imagined that up there I would be feeling tense and scared. When the right moment finally came all of those emotions vanished, and I got to enjoy the entire ascent feeling confident and unafraid.

However, on the descent I had a properly terrifying experience. On one of the rappels down the south face of Torre Egger, my rappel rope got extremely stuck after I had only pulled down a few meters. It was a full 60-meter rappel, on overhanging terrain, so the other end was already in space above me, and impossible to retrieve. I spent two hours bouncing as hard as I could on the rope with a MicroTraxion, pulling in a few centimeters of rope at a time. For about an hour, I honestly thought that I was going to end up having to descend the east face of Cerro Torre with 20 meters of 5mm cord. That plan would have basically involved a lot of

free-solo downclimbing of hard terrain, while already extremely tired, and a lot of short rappels off of very marginal anchors. In short, it would’ve been the epic of a lifetime. Thankfully, after my two hours of bouncing, I finally got both of my ropes down, which was a humongous relief. My rappel line had been completely destroyed in the process, but I could still use it as a pull cord.

How has El Chaltén and the climbing community changed, for the better or worse, over the past decade plus that you’ve been coming here?

My first trip down here was in 2003, and indeed, Chaltén has changed drastically since then. My first three trips were real expeditions, all spent base-camped up in the mountains, spending only a few nights down in town to buy more food. The first season that I, along with most other climbers, started staying down in town instead was 2007.

That’s because, before then, we had no weather forecasts (there wasn’t internet in town), so it was important to be camped as close to the mountains as possible, because we had no idea when the good weather would start. Since 2007, climbing the Chaltén Massif has changed from an expedition to an alpine-climbing vacation.

During the span of time that I’ve been coming down here, the town of El Chaltén has grown by roughly 500%, which is, of course, a humongous change in 12 years. The number of tourists here for trekking has grown immensely. The number of climbers has increased more slowly than trekking tourists, but definitely has also increased a lot.

I’d say that the average competence level of a climber in the Chaltén Massif is actually lower today than it was 12 years ago, because back then, generally only very experienced climbers dared to come climbing in Patagonia. There has been a huge paradigm shift in Patagonian climbing, and part of that results in less-experienced climbers coming to climb here as well. Generally, that’s all good, except for when they get in way over their head and either kill themselves or require a giant rescue effort.

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One really cool change has been in the Argentine climbing community. When I first started climbing here, it was almost entirely Europeans and North Americans doing all the hard stuff. The new generation of Argentine climbers are really talented and motivated, and now are doing a lot of the rad climbs here on their home turf.

How important is having the right partner for success in Patagonia?

A good partner is extremely important, and I take the task of picking a good partner very seriously. Obviously it’s great to climb with someone really talented, but more important than that is to climb with someone who you trust to make smart decisions. I generally prefer to climb with a partner than to climb solo, but I prefer to climb solo over climbing with someone I don’t trust or who isn’t sufficiently motivated or talented to get stuff done. I usually start trying to line up partners for Patagonia as early as the previous July.

What are the most futuristic unclimbed objectives remaining in Patagonia?

They get as futuristic as you’re willing to dream! Alex and I both agreed a couple weeks ago that the pinnacle of alpine rock climbing would be to solo the Fitz Traverse in a day! Also, the most badass faces on the Torres are ALL still awaiting a single alpine-style ascent: south face of Cerro Torre, east face of Cerro Torre, west face of Torre Egger, west buttress of Punta Herron.

Do you have any ambition to climb in the Himalaya or Alaska? What objectives do you currently find most interesting, and do you have plans to try these climbs in the future?

Definitely. I’ve already done a lot of my best climbs in Alaska, and will be returning there this spring. In the Himalaya I haven’t yet had much success, but I have lots of ambitions. Until this past year, I very consciously decided not to do any trips to the Himalaya for three years in a row, and instead dedicate more of my time to improving my rock-climbing skills.

That decision is a large part of why this season in Patagonia, and last season in Patagonia, have been my most successful yet. I still have some dreams here in Patagonia, but in the future I imagine that I’ll start to transition to spending less time in Patagonia and more in the Himalaya.

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