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South America, Argentine—Chilean Patagonia, Paine Towers, East Face of the Torre Sur and West Face of the Torre Norte

Paine Towers, East Face of the Torre Sur and West Face of the Torre Norte. After the arrival of Frenchman Vincent Sprungli and me at the foot of the Paine Towers on January 18, we started the very next day to take advantage of each period of calm weather. The South Tower is the highest (c. 2500 meters, 8202 feet), the wildest and the most distant from Base Camp. It takes four and a half hours to reach the foot of the east face from there. Only two routes had previously been completed on the tower. There had been at least two tries made before on the 900-meter-high east face, including the attempt in 1985 by American Craig Peer and South Africans David Davies and Johnathan Gordon; they climbed to about 200 meters from the summit when Peer’s leg was shattered by a falling rock, necessitating a dramatic rescue. (See AAJ, 1986, pages 87-95.) Their route was to the left of ours. Being only two and having only four weeks to spend, we placed a camp at the foot of the wall and for four days fixed ropes up to the steepest part of the wall (A3 and A4). Despite fog and falling snow on the morning of January 28, we climbed the 500 meters to our high point and continued on. By good luck, the weather cleared and we forced our way to the summit by eight P.M. The rock was very compact and called for numerous hooks, copperheads and knifeblades. The snow on the upper part softened so much that it was impossible at midday. We called the route “En el Ojo del Huracán” (In the Eye of the Hurricane). After evacuating the camp and all traces from the face, we turned to the west face of the Torre Norte. Only one route had previously been climbed on this tower, the south ridge. Although the east face of this two-peaked tower appears rotten, the rock on the west face is magnificent, but the wall is particularly exposed to the wind. Sprungli and I completed the 500-meter-high climb in 22 hours from Base Camp to the summit and back on February 14. We left in place only 3 pitons, 2 wedges and some nuts with slings, used for rappels. We called it “La Ultima Esperanza” (The Last Hope). After our departure, the face to the left of the north summit was climbed by two different new routes: by Italians Mànica, Leoni and Zampiccoli and by Briton Pritchard and South African Lloyd. [For these climbs, see below.]

Michel Piola*, Club Alpin Suisse

* For the ascent of the east face of the Torre Sur del Paine, Piola and Sprungli were given the prestigious award, the Piolet d’Or, for what was considered the best climb of 1992.