Chilean Patagonia, Various Ascents. Michael Pennings, Scott Lazar, and Cameron Tague reached the south summit of Torre Norte via a variation of La Ultima Esperanza on January 13, 1996. Our route was 1,500 feet, eight pitches, and 5.11 Al. On January 16, Lazar, Tague, and a young Chilean climber named Cristian Oyarzo began work on Via de Las Mammas on Torre Central. We climbed clean hand and finger cracks free with intermittent aid. In two days we had half the route fixed. We retreated to our hut in Camp Torres and waited for a window of weather to attempt the summit. On January 24, Pennings, Lazar, and Tague reached the summit of Torre Central, descending in full winter conditions to complete a 19-hour day. On January 31, Pennings and Felicia Ennis* climbed Torre Sur via the difficult Aste route in an outstanding 28 hours round trip. Two days later, Lazar, Tague and Chilean Andreas Zegers repeated the same route in 31 hours.
On February 1, we moved our base of operations to the Pingo Valley, which is located between the Rio Ascencio and the Rio de Frances. Upon our arrival in the Paine a month previously, we had been captivated by our first views up into the Pingo. After extensive journal surfing, we knew of but a single route established in this untapped valley. A team of Welsh climbers had completed Fist Full of Dollars on the east face of Cuerno Norte during the previous season. We were intrigued, and were curious to take a closer look at the potential.
Initially, we established camp high in the valley, close to the base of the walls. After a week of being battered by the wind, we moved camp down below tree line. Three weeks of waiting passed; our patience and resources were nearing exhaustion. On February 28, three days before our planned departure date, the weather changed, and we were surprised by the return of sunny skies. Unaccustomed to the alpine starts after a long sedentary month, Pennings and Tague reached the base of the 500-meter east face of Cuerno Este in the early afternoon. Six pitches of fantastic free climbing, interspersed with a few moves of aid, brought us to within 50 feet of the horrendously rotten and overhanging sedimentary rock that overlies the granite. We dubbed our new route Vuelo del Condor (IV 5.11 A1) and rappelled the route.
Two days later, we awoke to clear, windless skies once again. We departed camp at 3:30 a.m. and arrived at the base of the east face of La Hoja three hours later. Our intended route followed a single crack system for 700 meters, and looked to be choice free-climbing. Feeling confident we could get by without, we left our hammers, pitons, and bolts back in camp. We fuckin’ went sick! We got jams, we fuckin’ pulled on ‘em. Fingies, stemmin’, the whole goddam bit. Pitches three and four!!! Jesus, fuckin’, YIKES. Glad I was holdin’ the other end of the rope on that shit. The Nuggetive Energy! Do you want to talk about GOOD. Oops—I got a little excited. The result of one day’s work and one month's waiting was the best alpine rock climbing either of us have done. Our route was christened Anduril (IV 5.11 Al), with a short section of aid that could be eliminated if it is not snowing on you. Check it out, it's worth the wait.
Michael Pennings and Cameron Tague, Uncoordinated
*Perhaps the first female ascent of the Torre Sur. Reports of an Italian woman climbing Torre Sur in 1985 are unconfirmed.