American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Argentine-Chilean Patagonia, Cerro Catedral and Torre Norte del Paine, North Summit

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1994

Cerro Catedral and Torre Norte del Paine, North Summit. Our expedition was composed of Javier Ballester, José Chaverri, Santiago Palacios and me. We first turned to Cerro Catedral in the Valle del Francés. The east face has a rise of some 900 meters. Its rock is different from the other peaks, grayer and more vertical with thinner cracks. After the first ascent by British in 1971 by the west ridge, the east face was climbed twice in 1992. (See AAJ, 1993, pages 191-194.) The Americans reached the summit, but the Italians quit after reaching a subsidiary summit some 100 meters lower in bad weather. Thus, we were the third party to reach the summit on a route to the right of the other two. We were on the mountain from January 17 to February 25. We fixed 650 meters of rope during 14 days. We dug an ice cave at the foot of the wall, which was the center of operations for each attacking pair. The weather was foul until February 19, when an unusual period of fair weather began, which lasted until March 4. The bad weather restricted our climbing. At one point, we were trapped in the cave for four consecutive days. We climbed the first 550 meters in short breaks in the bad weather. The cracks were very narrow and there were numerous smooth slabs where we advanced slowly with copperheads and on skyhooks placed in tiny holes. The rough crystaline rock was very abrasive and we had continually to repair the sheathes of the fixed ropes with adhesive tape. Some 90% was aid climbing (up to A4) with free climbing up to 6b. When it was cold, because of the frequent snowfall verglas was abundant and the fixed ropes iced up. In rare warm weather, the rock ran water. The rock was never excellent but never really bad. Expanding flakes made some of the progress slow and somewhat dangerous. All four of us made the summit on February 22 on a cold and very windy day in a 33-hour round trip. We call the route “Cristal de Roca.” Palacios and Ballester had to return home to Spain. Chaverri and I headed for another new route to the north summit of the Torre Norte del Paine. The Torre Norte has two distinct summits, the north summit slightly the lower. The peak and the 500-meter-high west face had no ascents until 1992, when two Italian parties and a British-South African team all three completed new routes to the north summit. (See AAJ, 1993, pages 194 and 196 and the present AAJ.) On March 4, Chaverri and I started from the forest and fixed 150 meters of the face on an impeccable day. The route led up slabs and elegant cracks, although many were running water, an eternal Patagonian problem in good weather. It was mostly free climbing with occasional aid. We descended to bivouac in the moraine. On March 5, we climbed two hours to the foot of the wall, a rise of 700 meters in part on uncomfortable 40° slabs, to complete the climb in a brisk west wind. After regaining the first 150 meters, we climbed another 170 more vertical meters, where we occasionally had to use aid in frozen cracks. Once on the north shoulder, we found easier climbing above with only 15 meters of V+, Al. We descended the same route in a fierce storm. We call the route “Armas y Rosas.” On neither climb did we place any bolts. [An excellent article with photographs, a map and details useful for anyone heading to the region is found on pages 86 to 92 of Desnivel of June 1993.—Editor ]

Lorenzo Ortiz, Peña Guara, Aragón, Spain

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