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South America, Tierra del Fuego, Chilean Patagonia, Cerro Mascara, The Magic Carpet Ride

Cerro Mascara, The Magic Carpet Ride. During the months of January and February, 1999, Conny Amelunxen and I completed the first ascent of the 800-meter east face of The Mummer (Cerro Mascara) in the Bader Valley of Torres del Paine in Chile. This major Patagonian prize had been attempted at least three times previously with no success. We arrived in Chile on January 7. After sorting out permits and buying food in Puerto Natales, we left for Torres del Paine National Park to arrange horses to carry the majority of our equipment to Campo Welsh, 45 minutes shy of Base Camp. The next two weeks involved humping all of our gear from there to Base Camp and eventually onto an advanced high camp at the edge of the glacier an hour from the face. In between carries, we managed to fix the first four pitches. With two weeks of hard work (and one rest day) behind us, we committed to the face capsule-style on January 27 in typical unsettled Patagonian weather, armed with three haul bags full of the necessities required to live on a wall for two weeks.

The route primarily involved direct aid with very little free climbing. Due to the difficulty and our long pitches, we operated on a pitch-a-day speed until we neared the top, where more free climbing opportunities presented themselves. The wall took 14 days to climb and descend; however, four of these were stuck in our portaledge as continuous storms caused serious slough avalanches and dangerous ice bombardments. Spontaneous rock fall occurred frequently to our right in the scooped face, but our pillar was somewhat protected. It was the wind that caused the most anxiety, as it threatened to shred our portaledge fly and cut our ropes. The cold temperatures that we experienced wreaked havoc on our bodies: our fingertips cracked painfully, our feet suffered from trenchfoot and we were always wet and cold at night due to the constant decline of our sleeping bags as they became more and more soaked from the endless condensation and puddles in the portaledge.

On February 6, we switched plastic boots for cold, tight rock shoes and cruised the last five pitches to a point three meters below the actual summit. These last moves we left unclimbed because they involved a 45° slab carpeted in a layer of thick, black lichen, which was surprising, since there had been no vegetation on the entire route until the summit ridge. Now that we were on the ridge, exposed to the 100-kilometer-per-hour westerly winds blowing off the ice cap, the final moves seemed too sketchy, so we called it good and began the rappels back to our portaledge. That night, yet another snow storm blew in, keeping us trapped in our hanging tent for two days before we could safely descend the rest of the route to the ground.

We named our route La Alfombra Magica (“The Magic Carpet Ride,” VI 5.10 A3+) after one particularly scary episode on the wall in which the tie-down that secured the bottom of the portaledge came undone, causing us to hover and bounce violently in the air for what seemed like an eternity. Of the route’s 17 pitches, only one was particularly loose, with the rest ascending beautiful straight-in cracks and perfect comers on solid granite. We rapped the route off bomber anchors: piton/nut anchors higher on the mountain, then mainly two-bolt (3/8") stations. This was the third new route on the mountain after Dave Cheesemond/Phil Dawson’s first ascent in 1976 and John Merriam/Jonathon Copp’s one-day ascent of Duncan ’s Dihedral last year. Acres of unclimbed granite remain on The Mummer as well as on the other equally impressive formations of this rarely explored valley.

Sean Isaac, Canada Supported by a Canadian Himalayan Foundation grant