American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Chile, Paine Group, Patagonia

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1956

Paine Group, Patagonia. Although the Patagonian peaks are low when compared to the more northerly Andes, they rise sheer from sea level into murky and stormy skies and are often fantastically rugged and massive. Their glaciers end in ice cliffs in the sea. The towering granite spires of the Paine group have seen much climbing activity in the last several years. In December 1953 an Argentine expedition of the Club Andino Bariloche entered the region, hoping to climb Paine Principal, whose altitude is reported at varying figures from 9,000 to 10,000 feet. They were harassed by even worse than normal weather and had only two really good days in a month. Avalanches thundered down throughout their stay. Their reconnaissances revealed no easy route. On January 4, Birger Lantschner and Heinz Kaltschmidt attempted the highest of the Cuernos (Horns) of Middle Paine, a difficult rock spire. The late hour and a storm turned them back about 300 feet from the summit (7,800 feet). On January 15 Otto Meiling and Kaltschmidt made their second attempt on Paine East, which they reported to be 9,050 feet high, and climbed it by the southeast ridge. This is the only mountain in the region which had been previously climbed, having been ascended in 1937 on the northeast ridge by the Germans Teufel and Zuck. The expedition’s final attempt on Paine Principal over Paine West ended in tragedy when Heriberto Schmoll and Ton- chek Pangerc were overwhelmed by an avalanche that broke off a hanging glacier above and swept the whole slope. Their bodies were not found then or in a second expedition sent out to search in April. Meiling and Augusto Vallmitjana were again in the region in November 1954, reconnoitered the western cliffs of the group on which they thought there were four possible routes and reached 7,500 feet, below the col between Paine Principal and Paine North.

An expedition of the Federación de Ski y de Andismo de Chile, under Eduardo Meyer, came to climb in the Paine Group in mid-January 1955. They attempted unsuccessfully the main peak and its 300-foot lower northern neighbor on their northern and western slopes above the Olguín Glacier, where they established three camps. Bad weather and vertical rock plastered with snow stopped them still 400 feet below the col between these peaks. They reported that mushrooms of ice would have guarded the summit slopes, had they gotten higher. On February 10 they changed their objectives to what they called Paine South (apparently the Argentines’ "Paine West”) and the summit that lies between this and the main summit, for which they give altitudes of 8,530 and 9,050 feet, respectively. Two days later from a 6,000-foot bivouac they climbed a couloir on the west face to a col between the peaks; on one vertical stretch of rock they used three pitons. From there they climbed first the South (or West) Peak and up the eastern ice face to the other central summit.

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