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South America, Argentina-Chilean Patagonia, Climbing Season in the Paine Group, 1994-95

Climbing Season in the Paine Group, 1994-95. [Because the American Alpine Journal goes to press before the complete record for the current season is on hand, we are very grateful to Chris Breemer for his information written at the beginning of March. We hope to fill in gaps in next year’s AAJ. —Editor.] Our climb of the Escudo was one of the earliest climbs in the Paine group this season. [See below.] On the Torre Norte del Paine, numerous teams were active, repeating the standard Monzino Route and climbing new routes as well. After only three weeks in the park, Slovenes Andrej Štremfelj and Marko Prezelj completed a route on its east face previously attempted by another Slovene party. They reported that they encountered some difficult hooking and generally climbed on less than perfect rock. Their description of “difficult hooking” should be taken at face value, given Prezelj’s recent ascent of El Capitan’s Wyoming Sheep Ranch (A5+). On the other side of the Torre Norte, Italians Giancarlo Polacci, Sestoluigi Borghesi and Alessandro Angelini returned to complete Giorgio Giannaccini (VII, A2). Surprisingly, the Torre Central had seen only one ascent by mid February, an ascent by Americans on the original Bonington-Whillans route. Five Basques and a Castilian returned to the east face to make a second effort on a line left of Máigica Este. Last year they were chased off of the peak due to a permit dispute and this year bad luck continued as one of their members was seriously injured by icefall. By mid February, they were still unsuccessful. Mike Turner, Louise Thomas, Martin Doyle and Ollie Sanders from Wales made a first ascent on the east face of the Cuerno Norte del Paine. Their route reportedly climbs a wall with 20 overhanging pitches that was fairly well protected from precipitation and from the notorious Patagonian winds, allowing them to climb on days when other routes were out of condition. On a sour note, the Chilean Park Service has made good on its threat to charge peak fees for climbing in the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. The $850 fee for foreign expeditions came as a bitter surprise to many climbers, causing some to change plans and head for the nearby Fitz Roy region, while others paid and remained in the midst of an acrimonious atmosphere between the climbers and the park service. The newly instituted peak fees may result in a drop in climber visitation to the Paine group and a corresponding increase to the Fitz Roy area, where climbing is free.

Chris Breemer