American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Argentine—Chilean Patagonia, Paine Chico, West Face and Torre Norte del Paine, North Summit, West Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1993

Paine Chico, West Face and Torre Norte del Paine, North Summit, West Face. It had stormed for days and when it dawned fine on February 19, South African Philip Lloyd and I slumbered late. Not until nine A.M. did we awake with shock and horror and virtually run up to the massive apron and tower I had spotted from the east face of the Torre Central. We arrived at the base of Paine Chico’s west face at one P.M. and began ascending the now decomposing snow with avalanches thundering around the valley. It was very hot. After a couple of pitches of mixed climbing, we reached the smooth slabs and actually climbed bare- topped. Seven long unprotected pitches followed an immaculate dike (5.10) until we got to a razor-sharp ridge leading to the final tower. It turned cold and it was late. I had to climb fast up a stunning overhanging comer capped by big roofs. This was a hard, very long pitch of thin hand-jamming, made all the more difficult with only three Friends of a useful size. Phil led one more pitch to the summit from where we descended in utter darkness through the whole night down an alpine ridge and couloir to the left of our route. After a rest day in glorious sunshine, February 21 dawned fine. This time we made the four-hour walk to the foot of the west face of the Torre Norte by 8:30 A.M. The day was cold but clear. We were to attempt the first ascent of the north summit by the superb pillar which sweeps up the right side of the west face. Three pitches of solid golden rock brought us to the first crux, a very overhanging constricted chimney which split the apex of a huge fin. After this, three pitches of hand- and finger-cracks led us to the main problem, an overhanging wall split by a finger flake. A dangerous traverse led rightwards to the flake, from where I had to climb fast to avoid pumping out. Higher, the crack was completely choked with ice and I had to traverse right to reach a crack line. After one more pitch in the crack, the angle eased and progress was fast, but the weather began to deteriorate. On top we met a team of Italian friends who had just completed a line to the left of ours. [See the account above.] We decided to rappel down their route with them and clean the fixed rope. Halfway down, the rope pulled off a loose block whick broke the leg of Mario Mànica, a gruesome compound fracture. The three-day rescue in appalling weather ensued with soldiers and helicopter.

Paul Pritchard, England

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