La Mascara, Cuerno Principal, Cuerno Este, and Cuerno Norte, Various Activity. In mid- January, 1998, Darrell Gschwendtner, John Merriam, Jonathan Copp, and I traveled to Chilean Patagonia with hopes of climbing new routes. Following an aborted attempt (see above) at climbing some remote metamorphic towers, we focused our attention on route possibilities in the Bader Valley of Torres Del Paine National Park. The Bader Valley is virtually untouched, and only a few routes exist on the wind-sheltered east-facing walls. In early February, we were blessed with a rare spell of sunny weather lasting for almost three weeks.
Darrell and I spent some time scanning the east face of La Mascara (a.k.a. the Mummer), finding several route possibilities. We chose a wandering line that ran directly up the east buttress. It required awkward nailing on expanding flakes (A2+?) with only a small amount of free climbing (up to 5.10). Disappointed that our line was so time-consuming and lacking in the free climbing that we hoped to find, we abandoned our efforts after only a few pitches. Simultaneously, on the other side of the valley, our friend Fletcher Yaw, fresh off of Aconcagua, soloed what is probably a new route up the west face of El Almirante Nieto. The route follows a snow couloir for a couple thousand feet until it turns to a small ice runnel that winds through the final headwall.
We then focused our attention on climbing a new and hopefully easy route up the low angle northeast face of Cuerno Principal. We hoped to climb the granite quickly and easily so that we would have time to complete the last hundred feet of hideously rotten slate that makes up the summit. Our bad luck returned early on the day before our scheduled climb when a large rockfall wiped out our proposed route. Plan B was another “easy” looking line 100 meters to the right. High winds blew rocks down on us as we simulclimbed approximately 300 meters of easy terrain with occasional moves of 5.9. Later, as we began to belay individual pitches, I pulled a suitcase-sized flake off, which missed Darrell by inches and caused him to slide off the belay ledge. The flake landed on our rope, cutting it in several places. Again, we were forced to retreat.
Our luck finally improved as we climbed stellar crack systems terminating at the rotten metamorphic layer on the east face of Cuerno Este. The route roughly follows Penning and Tague’s Vuelo del Condor (III 5.11 Al), but unfortunately did not allow for a summit. Knowing our weather window could end any day, we pushed our timetable up, traded our shredded ropes for a packhorse, and headed up the Rio Ascencio Valley to the ever-popular Japanese camp occupied by a large Spanish team, a Brazilian team, and the lone American, Steve Schneider. Steve gave us a topo for an all free route up the west face of Torre Norte called Taller del Sol (V 5. 10+). The next day Darrell and I climbed the spectacular 500-meter dihedral system in 24 hours, base camp to base camp. The experience was special not only because of the high quality of the route, but also because it was the only summit that Darrell and I would stand on in Patagonia. The feeling was bittersweet, though: Only seven hours after Darrell and I descended the couloir below the North Tower, a huge rockfall from the summit of the Central Tower fell 1000 meters, killing two members of the Spanish team in an avalanche of rock and snow in the adjacent couloir (see below).