Torres del Diablo and The Bader Valley, Various Ascents. On January 18, John Merriam, Dylan Taylor, Darrel Gschwendtner and I teamed up with Mark Slovak and Robert Bodrogi to visit the Torres del Diablo (a.k.a. Grupo La Paz). Five hours south of Puerto Natales by fishing boat, steep metamorphosed towers rise from glaciated terrain. Amazing couloirs separate one tower from another. Donini and Chouinard climbed one of the three in the late ’80s via a north face route. Our attention was drawn by the soaring south faces. Unfortunately the weather and wind battered us for 13 days, at which point we had run out of food, sustained broken tent poles, ripped flys, and had headed down to the shore line with hopes for a boat. Mussels and seaweed nourished us for a few days until a friend arrived, late, with a fisherman, a boat, and, most importantly, bread, coffee and sugar. In early February, after refueling in Puerto Natales, Dylan, Darrel, John and I hauled climbing gear and 20 days’ worth of food into the Bader Valley of the Torres del Paine. On February 9, John and I completed the second ascent of Vuelo Del Condor on Cuerno Este, finding perfect golden granite. The good weather had begun, and the Bader’s east faces are sheltered from the furious westerly winds. On the eleventh day we ascended a golden pillar on Cuerno Norte, lying about 1,000 feet to the north of Fist Full of Dollars. We call it Little Debbie’s Golden Pillar (IV 5.11 Al). The route involves some steep, loose, wet rock as well as immaculate golden splitters. We topped out on the pillar in early evening. To climb to the shale from there would have meant a few rotten vertical and overhanging pitches—not impossible, but the wind was ripping above us at nearly 100 mph, knocking rocks off the summit that soared past both us and the sheltered face. The rain that had been pestering us all day had returned and the glacier below was creaking and groaning. The land, amazingly alive, overloaded the senses.
Looking to the north as we began the 1,700-foot descent, a perfect line up Cerro Mascara (a.k.a. the Mummer) showed itself. It topped out with what appeared to be a 600 to 800-foot golden dihedral. Three days later we were there.
On February 19, with no fixed lines or use of a hammer, John and I made the first one-day ascent of Cerro Mascara. Beginning in the Bader Valley, five pitches with much simulclimb- ing brought us to the notch between Cuerno Norte and Mascara. From there the cold south face lent us passage, flawless hand and finger cracks and a soaring comer system. Duncan’s Dihedral (a fantastic IV 5.11 Al), as we later named it, engendered the beauty of the surrounding land. The 2,300-foot descent was the most fearsome part.
After refueling once more in Puerto Natales and stopping by Amerindia, a great local bar and café, John and I headed up to Japanese camp for an attempt at one of the Torres. El Niño returned with heavy rain and snow. The 100-year flood soon followed. At 2:30 a.m. on February 28, Steve Schneider, John Merriam and I woke in waterbeds. The Rio Paine had broken its banks and forced our camp under a foot and a half of rushing muddy water. Some food and gear was lost, along with optimism for another climb. The next few days were spent in a plastic shack that a few Spanish climbers had built. The three of us played chess and harmonicas and reminisced about the glorious sun. Little did we know the park had been evacuated by helicopter and boat. Bridges had been destroyed and trails were under water. We were alone. Patagonia had expressed its wild character; El Niño accentuated it. We left with love, in awe, in a boat.