On December 22, 1999, Sean Easton and I arrived at the entrance of Torres del Paine National Park with four porters. In three days, with the help of the porters, we managed to move most of our gear to our chosen Advanced Base Camp at the base of the glacier.
Sean and I continued moving gear up the glacier to the base of the South Tower of Paine. With all our equipment at the base of the wall and one pitch fixed, we descended for the New Year’s celebrations. The day we went back to Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park, the weather turned and storm after storm started coming in. When we returned to the park a week later, one of the transfers had to negotiate two and half feet of water over sections of the road.
After another week of waiting at Base Camp, the weather improved marginally, allowing us to reach our Advanced Base Camp. Four days of impeccable weather followed. We climbed to our first wall camp site over two days, then returned to the ground, leaving five 60-meter lines fixed. After a day of hauling, we blasted, pulling up our ropes. As we went up the fixed lines, we watched an enormous storm materialize around us. The storm lasted four days. Originally we left the ledge only to accommodate bodily functions. On the last several days, we didn’t even leave the ledge for this. Five days later we rappelled. We had eaten a third of our food without advancing and had to go down for more.
On January 25, we committed ourselves to the wall. The afternoon looked promising; however, on the two-hour hike from ABC to our fixed lines, the temperature dropped more than 25 degrees to -15° C. We jugged iced ropes, skidding all over verglas. Over the next two weeks, the temperature might have risen above freezing once or twice.
Within the first five days, we fixed and hauled the next three pitches to establish Camp II. The weather went spiraling downward quickly. The inverted spindrift avalanches imprisoned us in our portaledge, where we were hammered by ferocious gusts of Patagonian wind. With our supplies being steadily depleted, we were forced to climb through conditions that were less than hospitable.
Thirteen days later, the alarm went off and I peeked outside. Thinking I was dreaming, I went back to sleep. When I woke an hour later, the day was calm and cloudless. I started up the first fixed line at 9 a.m.; Sean followed shortly after. When he finished the last aid pitch, we screwed together our ice tools and changed to alpine mode. We were on the summit of the South Tower of Paine at 7:40 p.m.
From the summit, we were able to see the Patagonia ice cap, Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the never-ending pampas disappeared into the east. Seven rappels later we were at the top of our fixed lines. It was dark. The wind had picked up again. Over the next four hours, we battled for our lives to get down those fixed lines. The first two got stuck when we tried to pull them. We had no option but to go down. The next pair got hung up. We were forced to rap our last two ropes to camp and wait for better conditions. At 2 a.m. we arrived at CII, exhausted. Hour upon hour, the wind persisted and our paranoia mounted. Our last two ropes were fixed above us, being tormented by a wind that is famous for cutting ropes. The next evening the wind slowed. Without wasting a moment we jumped out of the ledge to rescue the lines. We had climbed the entire route in 60-meter pitches. Our dilemma was that one of the last two ropes was only 50 meters. Although we had to make several extra rappels, the descent went smoothly. After rescuing our haul bags from a few crevasses, we were in town on February 12, having established Hoth (VI 5.10+ A4 WI2/3, 1100m, 27 pitches) on the southeast buttress of the South Tower of Paine in 24 days, including 19 nights in a portaledge, in a capsule-style ascent of the wall with an alpine-style summit push.
Conny Amelunxen, Canada