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South America, Chile, Southern Patagonia, Torres Del Paine National Park, Central Tower of Paine, South African Route

Central Tower of Paine, South African Route. A team of six Mountain Club of South Africa members—Alard Hüfner, Mark Seuring, Michael Mason, Dermot Brogan, Marianne Pretorius, and Voitec Modrzewski—spent December 2003 and January 2004 climbing the South African Route on the Central Tower of Paine. The east face of the Central Tower was first climbed in 1973/74 by a South African team of Paul Fatti, Mike Scott, Art McGarr, Mervyn Prior, Roger Fuggle, and Richard Smithers. At the time it was one of the largest rock faces ever climbed and a milestone in big-wall climbing. This route stayed unrepeated for 30 years. The route follows the obvious corner just right of the center of the tower, and is graded 5.10 A3. We free climbed the slabs of the first 400m and then aided most of the way to the shoulder, where we could free climb again.

Our first day on the rock was December 15, and we reached the summit ridge on January 13. During this period 15 days were spent actually climbing and the rest of the time was spent hauling gear and food or waiting for better weather.

We fixed lines most of the way, to about 250m below the summit of the 1.2km-high face. Ropes were cleaned on descent, but sections snagged on flakes, so we had to cut and leave them. It was fascinating to find sections of iced-up rope and old gear left by the pioneers 30 years ago. Mark, Marianne, Voitec, and I topped out on the summit ridge of the Central Tower. Dermot and Mike were unable to be with us, due to injuries and early flights home. Marianne was the first woman to climb the east face of the Central Tower. We reached the summit ridge at 19:00 in howling winds, gusting mist, and light snowfall. Due to these conditions and the long way back to the portaledges, we decided it was not safe to continue to the summit [only a few easy pitches remained to reach the summit—Ed.]. The joy of finally standing on the top of the South African Route was overwhelming. For 20 minutes we savored our excitement, as wind would clear the mist, revealing breathtaking views of beautiful scenery below.

Alard Hüfner, The Mountain Club of South Africa