South summit of North Tower of Paine, Maury the Jewish Tapeworm; Central Tower of Paine, Bonington-Whillans Route first free ascent; South Tower of Paine, Andrea Oglioni. This was a season of prolific activity in Patagonia, in both the Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy massifs. As Timmy O’Neill put it, it was Camp 4 South. Slack lines and alcoholism enhanced rest days, just as Yosemite-style techniques added bold, fast, and free alpine ascents to the history of these amazing mountains. This generation of climbers was inspired by accounts of early ascents in Patagonia. While these accounts have fueled a quest for enlightenment in the mountains, this generation has added their own elements of style: fast, clean, free, and most important, fun.
Shortly after returning from South America I was at Whitney Portal talking to fishermen who had ventured up to see the sights. My partner mentioned I had just come back from two months in Patagonia. “Oh, rich parents, huh?” was the response. I find it indescribably admirable and enlightening, not to mention admirably irresponsible, that people living on less in a year than some people’s monthly car payments can scrape together the means to provide an experience that will last a lifetime. I guess you can explain it as willingness to sacrifice material need for spiritual necessity. Maybe that’s part of the reason for the new style. Can’t afford ropes? Bring just one. Can’t buy pitons or bolts? Climb without them. Luckily, promotional credit card rates abound, and airfare is cheap.
This was the story for Zack Smith and I, who, lacking rich parents, were forced to explore the less-agreeable alternative of menial labor for pittance wages. Still, we rolled our dice and won—left LAX on January 10, 2002, and summited the North, Central, and South towers of the Torres del Paine by the 17th. Our first climb was a new route to the south summit of the North Tower. We took a line just to the left of Cornwall up a fantastic system reminiscent of the Enduro Corner on Astroman. Four pitches of offwidth, finger, and hand cracks deposited us on the South Ridge, which was about 1,000 feet of mostly easy climbing to the summit. We named the route Maury the Jewish Tapeworm (IV 5.11) in honor of Zack’s ravenous parasite. Our second was the 2,500-foot Bonington-Whillans (V 5.11) on the Central Tower. This was the first route to the summit, full of history and wooden pitons. Thanks to warm, windless weather, a late start, and Drum cigarettes, we accomplished the first free ascent of the route and of the formation. Instead of a thin nailing roof midway, we took a 5.11 face variation to the left. Although definitely the trade route, the Bonington-Whillans features impeccable granite and an amazing locale. Two days later we climbed Andrea Oglioni (VI 5.11-), the ultra-classic 3,000-foot north ridge of the South Tower. All pitches were climbed onsight in blocks, with some short-fixing and lots of simulclimbing. The North Tower took three and a half hours, the Central four and a half, and the South six. A testimony to splitter weather: we were able to roll and smoke on every summit. You know you’re trad when you smoke the topo.
After an interim including lots of chess, box wine, and a basecamp asado, Zack and I attempted a free variation to Adrenalina Vertical on the North Tower. Unfortunately, Zack violated the first rule of trundling (do not trundle on yourself) and injured his hand. Consequently we were forced to retreat to the comforts of base camp and the med kit. A few days later Brittany Griffith and Annie Overlin joined me in the French Valley, and we climbed the standard route up the Shark’s Fin (V 5.9). It was their third day in Chile.
Lots of talented climbers made good use of this sunny season, and I’m sure our efforts will be lost among a multitude of ascents. However, there is one important issue I want to share. As climbers we gain an amazing reward in our pursuit of mountain adventure. Ideally, this is a pure nature experience in which we push our physical and emotional limits for a brief glimpse of our connection with the earth, while pacing our creativity to the rhythm of mountain processes. This requires a special interest in the natural world and a heightened awareness of its environs. What I’m trying to say is this: We get a lot out of being in the wilderness, and this, like everything else in nature, must result in an ebb and flow, a constant recycling of energies and balance. We are lucky to see nature unclothed but must also be aware of our role as its stewards. It is up to us to carry out our trash, remove fixed ropes and unnecessary gear. Become aware, and act appropriately. There are too many mounds of shit and wads of toilet paper adorning base camp forests. Take a small shovel, bury your waste, and burn your toilet paper. If you must fix ropes, remove them when you leave. This is an appeal that benefits us all. We must show respect if we are to be respected. Preserve the experience for others and help our world maintain its natural balance.