North, Central, and South Towers of Paine, solo link-up. On February 16, 2002, I awoke in Campamento Japanese at 2:00 a.m., got caffeinated, and departed camp at 3:00 a.m. I intended to make a solo link-up of the Towers of Paine. With just over a week to go before my departure to home in California, I knew this would be my final try. I planned to climb all three towers by their normal routes in as continuous a push as possible. I started climbing up the North Tower via the Monzino route at 8:30 a.m. and summited at 9:11 a.m., for a time of 41 minutes. (Two weeks earlier I had made the climb in 35 minutes.) I roped up only for the initial 70 meters.
After descending the North Tower I began climbing the Central Tower via the Bonington- Whillans route at 9:55 a.m. and summited at 5:14 p.m., for a time of 7:19. On the summit ridge I encountered newlyweds Mike and Allison Pennings, who were on their way down after summiting a few minutes earlier.
A brief weather check on the summit revealed completely clear skies, with a view to the Pacific Ocean, so I began the committing rappels down the south face of the Central Tower. A 2,000-foot descent down the Grupo Ragni route, with 16 rappels and some scrambling, landed me on the big walkway that crosses the west face of the Central Tower at about 10:30 p.m. I hunkered down for the night in just my clothes. I do not think I slept, but I got some much- needed rest. At 7:00 a.m. on February 17 I got moving again under perfect skies. I continued my descent, pioneering a way down a 400-foot face that landed me in the large couloir between the Central and South towers.
At 10:25 a.m. I started up the Asti route and summited the South Tower at 7:50 p.m., for a climbing time of 9:25. After 15 minutes on top, with the weather still holding, I began my descent and arrived at the bottom six hours later at about 2:00 a.m. At 6:00 a.m I staggered back into Campamento Japanese, for a round-trip time of 51 hours from base camp to base camp.
This was my fifth attempt to make the Tower Traverse (or link-up). Along the way I climbed the North Tower four times, the Central Tower twice, and the South Tower once. I also endured three open bivouacs, two full-blown epic retreats from near the Central Tower’s summit, one life-threatening rockfall, and an emotional rollercoaster. It is the first traverse/link-up of the Towers of Paine, solo or otherwise.
Steve Schneider, AAC