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Routes in Santa Cruz Track and the Punta Union Pass

Rinrihirca South Face Buttresses (unfinished) WI4 M2
Type: Mixed, Ice, Alpine, 4000 ft, Grade IV
FA: Bradley White, May, 1988
Page Views: 710 total, 7/month
Shared By: bradley white on Jul 21, 2009
Admins: Tony Yeary

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For many years I recommended avoiding this climb. I had not been on any glacier before. My multiple thousand foot ascent without a rope and at my limit of mental endurance had me thinking everyone should not do this route. This caste misguidance to my opinion is gone. If I had, had a rope, alone, going up it would have made a big difference.
The climb with a rope and a few anchors would have been pretty good because it was out of the way from and climbing had no avalanche potential. I climbed what seemed like forever the east or right rock slab to the glacier tongue. Severely crevasse glacier tongue hopping between ice like it was eroded stream beds at first. In the end I could not wait to reach the first buttress, the hopping had become wide and chaotic path finding over wider jumps above darkness. Further left I went the more reasonable again the jumps went until I got to a very small slab below the giant inclining cliff line. There was no go back. I'd likely get lost hopping to where I came from. There was a chimney made by one side bergschrund ice and the other rock wall. I checked it out a move and proceeded up committed. The buttress overhead huge 1000+ft? and all of it appeared inclining. Facing down hill with good holds dry pointing on the left side nearest to the outside edge of the rising 20 meter? bergschrund. The outside sunny edge of the bergschrund was rotten and overhung and much of it was with tiny icicles. Deeper inside the bottom of it's interior was concave ice with no foot placements. Between these two features were crispy decent foot placements and tools, so I climbed there at (M2-3?). The mixed bag chimney ended badly. So bad, it wasn't being reversed. I escaped the chimney rotating onto the ice where it ended at sunlight. That spot was snow ledge lower than my tools that had to be reached. Trust in the picks only for a moment and hang drop too plant feet and then the a tool placement. Excellent the hard stuff should be over I thought facing uphill in snow. No where but up to go further shut off from escape. I mantled onto what the hell is this? Gravel embedded bergschrund ridge sidewalk! A bad way to start went to worst. I didn't know such stuff existed. Out of the chimney and onto the frozen inclining gravel pit. I didn't think I would make it. Desperate dry pointing black ice 4-6 degrees incline and unable to swing an ax. Very slow pulls and very heavy load (my body weight flat lined on all points tightly gripped. Could not handle it and overheating, I tried to stand up. Almost slid off instead, so I snailed along for a very long distance with the severe drop off to my right and left. Thousands of years of pebbles and flakes dropping unto the bergschrund and I traveled up it. Up close and personal with a mountain. Not what I dreamed of from the high mountains. Then this ascending became steeper and covered in snow and I got relieved. I stood up and looked around. This area was filled with whipped cream like snow beauty. I climbed snow for hundreds more feet staying away from the increasing in size cliff side, serac. It kept veering me off coarse, making me go further towards the right. Then it ended and I went up direct to the bergschrund's edge. No more bergschrund, now a horizontal chasm, bus wide crevasse with a bottled necked island in the middle of its abyss. That's nice cut off from further right a field of hanging seracs. I went tropical island hopping. I got a running start and did a broad jump to hope it doesn't fall in. Excellent it was solid and another can't repeat back move. The island jumped down to was uphill on both sides. A simple fact that hadn't occurred too me. Mountains usually go up hill. I made it across jumping from being stationary but went into deep powder. Then I slid backwards down the snow towards the bottle necked crevasse. Got stopped by my knees on the edge because of an ice ribbon. Swung my arms with my tools like a bird and quickly tunneled with my legs until the deep snow was gone and I popped out onto the slope of decreasing snow depth away from that horror. A long neve slope besides the next buttress was really excellent but at the top of the next buttress, again no where to go but up another thing I didn't want too do! The buttress top left sunken snowfield of icicle snow mushrooms. Wasn't going into that trap. I had plugged my axes into the the thick narrow water ice ribbon curtain that made my flat footed stance at it's base. Right of me was a short overhanging rock band with many seracs. I rested and took off one of my over mitts to get a drink. Oops I dropped it. It gave me the example of where I would end up, down in that bottle necked crevasse. I kept my act together and 10 meters later, I was above the ice curtain of great ice (no plating). Got onto a easy snowfield ramp to the third buttress cliff line, at the beginning to middle of its bergschrund. Several feet higher I slept under the giant overhanging buttress and enough bergschrund to keep me from rolling out into the open. Protected from the outside cliff world with my inside corner pocket. I had to chisel for hours ice and rocks with my Forest lifetime ax's adzes (my favorite ax). I didn't care if it broke, I was going to sleep flat. The night was clear and moonless Being at the opening of the bergshrund the occasional creaking of the glaciers was heard (like lake ice sounds under pressure). There were many stars. I awoke much. The next morning I got up perplexed. I had no water or food. I could body melt snow, go up for the day, sleep, and come down from there but that would be it. Ahead the side walk under the cliff was a dark cave in the next bergschrund. The giant cliff side serac I saw intimidated to go up the cave way. I kick myself for not exploring it. I descended instead to the other side of this buttress. There I saw a 12 foot pillar up to a wide open expanse. I would have to do a high altitude glacier traverse there and upward to reach the skyline ridge. I would also have to do a down climb of that pillar if I returned this way. I bailed out on the whole idea of the suicidal cross over on crevasse glaciation, the many summit cornices on the summit ridge and the cave route alternative. I down climbed from 5500+ meters, WI2 and WI3 frozen waves of cork ice switchbacks on this the opposite sunnier side or west side of the buttresses down to the slab start of the day before. It was a much safer and reasonable way to climb this mountain to the third buttress. I climbed down the rock ridge on the far west side (better approach) and went to my basin camp. Packed up and left the valley. I might have made it to the summit by the cave but I doubt I would have ever made it down. Looking at recent photos the buttress route is reasonable above the cave sidewalk.
To this day I have my reservations about why I didn't try to make it further. Its a very remote place. The awful decision to go down. After the conflict debate with myself about staying and going was resolved. I had set out to do a mountain. I was in the middle of one that had proven to be beyond reasonable climbing without a rope. I needed to keep alive without a rope. That meant going down. Being careless on my way down also happened. It was so much easier, I kicked a crampon off almost jogging down on cork ice. Tumbled and had a safe landing in snow. Beginner's luck.
There are some excellent internet provided photos. Rinrihirca Punta Union Pass works for google images. So, looking at this mountain volumes of the glacier tongue have receded to the first buttress. It begins at this height now. The mountain environments have drastically changed too much deeper wet snow and avalanches. Possibly a more rock involved beginning to broken ice fields (where deep snow fields were). There will be much more water ice climbing potential than there was before. The ice fields look wild to get through. This ascent especially passed the third buttress would be awesome. Then over the crest to the north side to the summit. This shadowed more side I would take to the ridge. I dreamed of doing this ascent again. It was the only high mountain on my bucket list too do, before my alpine climbing career became over but as life has its turning points, I have already been done in from too many sport related collisions (not much from mountaineering). I will do other things instead.


East side of the central buttresses of the south face of Rinrihirca to the third buttress. Down climb the west side of these buttresses. Due to severe glacial melting, the glacier tongue is gone and the slab now extends to the base of the first buttress. This buttress is a overhanging granite wall of several hundred to a thousand plus ft. It was fascinating. Every buttress is on a grand scale of size and the flanking cliffs are immense in magnitude and height.


none, free solo, two axes, crampons, bivouac sleeping bag and a pad. I had one quart of electro-fix water solution.