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South America, Chilean Patagonia, Torres Del Paine, Various Activity

Torres Del Paine, Various Activity. On December 12,I arrived in Patagonia for what was to be a three-month stay. The weather had been bad for the last month with no recorded climbing activity. Amidst the usual foul weather patterns were occasional windows of nice weather. December 16 and 17 found decent climbing conditions, as did December 29-January 2 and February 1-3. During February 9-23, a two-week spell of mostly perfect weather settled in on the Towers. But along with warm temperatures came melting couloirs and vastly increased rockfall that made approaching the normal routes of Torre Norte and Torre Central a suicidal proposition. Afterward, a 30-year flood hit the park, which was closed to all trekking activity. Climbers were left scrambling to save their tents from rapidly rising floodwaters, and the hut in Camp Japanese had a high water mark of six inches inside the structure.

On El Escudo, Chileans Rodrigo Fica and Dario Arancibia were unsuccessful in pioneering a new route up the south ridge. Based in a snowcave during the bad weather of January, the pair only managed two pitches.

Americans were especially active in the Paine. Steve “Shipoopi” Schneider climbed the 500-meter west face of Torre Norte three times. Via Giorgio Giannicci (V 5.10 A2) with Peter Mayfield, on December 17, was especially entertaining as their ropes became hopelessly wedged in a fissure on their second rappel, and they were forced to descend with just two 50- foot ropes for the remaining 1,300 feet in gradually deteriorating weather. Taller del Sol (V 5.10+) fell to Schneider and his wife, Heather Baer, on February 10. This route, established two years ago by Americans Paul Butler and Eli Helmuth, is a great all-free route up the west face, as well as being the best descent route down the west face with good anchors every 45 or 50 meters. Both of these climbs were second ascents. Ultima Esperanza (V 5.10 A1) received its fourth ascent from Schneider, Chilean Andreas “Chili Dog” Zegers, and American Sean Plunkett on February 23.

On nearby Peineta, on February 14, Heather Baer and Schneider made the first free ascent (second overall) of Duraznos para Don Quijote, finding the crux section to be mid-5.11.

On the west face of the Central Tower, Schneider, again partnered by Andreas Zegers, made the second ascent of the Italian (Defrancesco-Manica-Stedile) route in 22 hours, 45 minutes, summiting at 1 p.m. on February 19. The route (VI 5.11 A3) features more than 400 feet of wide cracks from four to ten inches. Schneider, lacking a number six friend, made a mandatory 25-foot runout on a 5.11 offwidth section of pitch 5, and was “glad for every inch of offwidth I'd ever done.” It was the first on-sight push of a Central Tower route besides the normal route. Near the top, the pair was bombarded, without injury, by a huge rockfall that swept the entire approach couloir to the North and Central towers. Tragically, Basque climbers Antxon Alonso and Gaizka Razkin, who were beginning to descend the couloir, were swept 3,000 feet to their deaths. Alonso and Razkin were attempting to repeat a line just established by their countrymen Gerardo Tellechea, Andoni Areizaga, Josetxo Rodriguez, and Martin Zabaleta. Their new route, Anton eta Gaizka (VI 5.10d A2) is a 12-pitch direct to the Bonington-Willans. The foursome summited on February 18, and placed two bolts with fixed carabiners at every anchor, probably making this the easiest descent from the Central Tower’s summit.

Steve “Shipoopi” Schneider