American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Chile, Southern Patagonia, Bader Valley, La Espada, East Face, Under the Knife

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

La Espada, East Face, Under the Knife. During the months of January and February, Jimmy Haden, Sean Leary, and I completed the first ascent of the 900-meter east face of the Sword (La Espada) in the Bader Valley. This wall had seen two previous attempts.

After freeing ourselves from the luxury of Puerto Natales nightlife, we arrived in base camp on January 10. The Welsh Camp was still semi-erect and we set about the task of making it home. We spent the following week humping loads to the toe of a glacial-fed lake and established Advanced Base Camp. During this time, Spanish, Welsh, French, and Italian expeditions all showed up to climb La Mascara. We felt we must be lucky or crazy to have the Sword to ourselves.

We realized why no other team was going for the Sword when we got our first look. A large and quite dangerous snow ledge halfway up the wall, which looked like it could bury a small town if it slid, was a good deterrent. Fortunately, having traveled 6,000 miles and spent an equal amount of money to climb a virgin face, Jimmy, Sean, and I were not that easily swayed.

From ABC I, it was a quick one-hour hike through extremely loose boulders, then a quick jaunt over the glacier to the base. As the snow ledge terminated in a ridgeline that provided cover, we decided it to be in our best interest to climb on the extreme right side of the face.

The climb began with some low-angle mixed climbing that brought us to the mini- headwall and my first pitch, a splitter A1 beak crack. We spent four days fixing, then shoved off for our capsule-style ascent. During the previous two weeks we had had decent weather, and we hoped for the same on the wall.

A few beautiful nailing pitches interspersed with splitter golden-granite free climbing brought us to the summit. After a couple of days of rain and snow, we rappelled the same route down to the snow ledge, where we thought it would be easier to go straight down the slab than reverse the 200-meter ledge. Some dicey anchors and rappels through waterfalls brought us back to ground life, having completed the first ascent of the east face of La Espada via Under the Knife (VI 5.10+ A4) in eight days of climbing. One point of special interest for future parties was that we did not have even a light breeze on the wall. We could hear the wind and see it blowing at the base but experienced ZERO wind on the Sword!

We went back up a few days later and each carried 100-plus pounds of our gear, trash, and supplies back to base camp. We learned that on La Mascara, the Italians were too busy chopping down trees (to make a nice hut) to climb more than four pitches. As for the French, they bragged how fast they could drill holes and even claimed to have established an A4+ route on La Mascara with just small nuts and bathooks. Unfortunately, the French also shit all over base camp, including three feet from the river, and left 3,300 feet of trashed rope at the base. It was sad to see the once-pristine Bader Valley reduced to a Euro playground. Jimmy, Sean, and I ask that anyone going into the Bader Valley respect this last refuge in the Paine for future generations.

Russel Mitrovich, unaffiliated

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.