As we approached our hearts sank, the lower slabs were fully covered in ice and snow, unrecognizable from last season...
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Mayan Smith-Gobat and I traveled down to the Southern Tip of Chile this January to attempt to free climb “Riders on the Storm” (Kurt Albert, Bernd Arnold, Norbert Bätz, Peter Dittrich and Wolfgang Güllich, 1990/1991, 1,300m). Mayan had climbed the route last season accompanied by German alpinist Ines Papert and discovered a possible free variation around some mandatory aid pitches.
Mayan Smith-Gobat jugs fixed lines on the lower slabs of Riders on the Storm, Torre Central.
As we approached Torre Central our hearts sank, the lower slabs were fully covered in ice and snow, unrecognizable from last season when Mayan had climbed the route with Ines. Our determination was still high as we battled through the snow-covered and unprotectable low angle terrain. However, on reaching the more technical slabs, large amounts of verglas slowed our going and free-climbing became impossible. We were forced to use every technique we knew to get through the ice-covered and often run out climbing. Our goal then changed to just making it through the first half of “Riders on the Storm” in any style possible.
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The cold chill and high winds of January transitioned into a damp and rainy February but while dark storm cells harbored around the towers, our base camp lay just beyond, in the forested valley bottom. The skies were often filtered with blue and our days in basecamp were full of activity. There was always something to do, get done, or to explore. Most of our days were spent hiking loads to prepare our high camp for when a good weather window would arrive or exploring the boulders around the area.
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Mayan hauls a heavy load to the base of Riders on the Storm, Torre Central in G2 SM mountaineering boots.
Our standard wake-up time became 4:00am, as we remained optimistic about the possibility of climbing with each day. We would boil water for breakfast, and begin the approach hike by headlamp, but most often the light of day would reveal dark and snow filled skies.
Morning hand-warming ritual while brewing up some hot tea in the cold bivy cave at the base of Torre Central.
After nearly four weeks of battling through terrible conditions, Mayan and I (with photographer Drew Smith) finally reached our objective - the crux pitches of the free variation Mayan and Ines had discovered the previous season. Still, the weather remained extremely unstable and while at several points we were ready to leave, our determination was fed by our small successes in our gradual progress up the wall. We fought on for the entire six weeks in Torres del Paine.
Mayan shoeing up in the TC Pro to prepare for a lead on "Riders on the Storm," Torre Central.
Though the trip did not go as planned at all, we all learned a lot about the region, its climate and most of all, the route. In our final days Mayan and I confirmed that the crux pitches could go. Our hard work and immense effort has prepared us to return next season if the weather permits to make another attempt.
Progress up the verglas-covered route was slow, but the pair finally got to make attempts at the free variation pitches.
Brette tops off her water bottle at the base of Torre Central after a long day of climbing and battling the harsh Patagonia conditions.
Photos: © Drew Smith
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brette Harrington is a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team.
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