I have a love hate relationship with rest days. After a hard training block, nothing sounds better than sitting on the couch all day drinking coffee and binge watching a TV series. But in reality, by noon on a rest day, I feel anxious to do something whether that is house work, bike work or in some cases, climb a mountain. Morale of the story, I’m not very good at rest days.
On one rest block in Bariloche, DJ and I took the gondola to the top of the local ski mountain, traversed a ridge across the top of the mountain and then dropped into a valley where we would find a Refugio to camp at for the night. Typically, I like to self-power myself into the wilderness, but to satisfy coaches resting orders, this was the best solution to get out and into nature.
Refugio Frey sits at the end of a lake, surrounded by jagged granite peaks and spires. The endless opportunities for climbing in the area make it a climber’s paradise and that is the primary crowd hanging around the Refugio. We strolled in just before sunset to a lake smooth as glass and the smell of pizza being cooked in the Refugio. We set up camp under the light of a full moon and soon after headed to bed. I woke up just before sunrise and caught one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen. Just as the sun crested the horizon, the sun light the granite spires turning them a vibrant red. I sat at the edge of the lake, soaking up the views with the whole area to myself. Just the type of rest and “reset” I needed before kicking off another hard block of training.
A few solid weeks of training ticked by and I found myself with another three days of rest. The plan was to take the gondola up again, rogue camp on top of the mountain, hike to a nearby Refugio, spend the night and then hike out the next day.
Already at our rogue campsite, a friend down in town texted me and said we should climb Torre Principal starting the next day. We’d talked about it casually, but all the sudden the idea became a reality. DJ and I parted ways on day 2; he continued with the original plan and I headed back to Refugio Frey where I would be meeting Lucas, my climbing partner.
I’ve climbed a fair number of peaks in Colorado. Some requiring some borderline sketchy scrambling that others may opt to rope in for. I, however, had never climbed with a rope and harness. Torre Principal is a 4 pitch climb ranging from 5.7 to 5.10. I had a lot to learn if I was going to make it to the top the next day. We spent the afternoon climbing around Refugio Frey so that I could learn as much as possible about climbing before attempting the Principal the next day. Lucas is a very skilled mountaineer and an excellent teacher. By the end of the day, I felt comfortable belaying, removing gear, crack climbing and rappelling; all skills I’d need to put to use again the next day.
Go time. As the sun was rising and the surrounding peaks were covered by alpenglow, we set out towards Torre Principal. The first three pitches went by with relative ease. I felt confident on the mountain and comfortable climbing the cracks. It was a challenge, but I didn’t feel in over my head, yet. The fourth and final pitch is quite a bit different than the first three. It’s airy, exposed face climbing, and it’s the crux of the route. I watched a group of 4 go up it before us. Some struggled and some made it look easy. Lucas zipped right up also making it look easy. I made it up the first half of the pitch slowly but methodically. The final bit of the pitch involves traversing across the face to a crack that you climb to the top. Here’s where I really began to struggle. My fingers were sweaty and I felt as if I could slip off the mountain at any moment, one of my legs started shaking uncontrollably. I felt as if I was holding onto a glass wall and began to feel a surge of adrenaline pumping through my body. I tried not to think of the fact that I was hanging onto the side of a rock a thousand feet off the ground.
I reached the final crack and couldn’t have been more excited to latch onto something that felt like a large hold, relative to what I had just climbed. I reached the summit and was treated to amazing 360 degree views. You could see three volcanoes, several lakes, Bariloche below and Refugio Frey was down the valley. I’d estimate the summit was only 20 square feet and a sheer drop off from every side of the Torre. I’m not a fan of heights, but I enjoy the rush you get from doing something that pushes the comfort zone.
We safely rappelled our way down the mountain; also, a new experience for me. I found it hard to truly trust the rope and belay station up top at first, but I felt more comfortable as we worked our way down. Climbing Torre Principal pushed my comfort levels and scared me a couple times, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience and a solid introduction to climbing. It’s safe to say I am hooked and look forward to doing some more climbing in the future. Sometimes rest days are best spent on the couch, but sometimes you also need to rest your mind. The next few days of intervals were some of my best yet, most likely because I was still running off the adrenaline from conquering Torre Principal.