South America, Chile, Central Patagonia, Avenali Tower, First Ascent, Avenali Avenue
Avenali Tower, first ascent, Avenali Avenue. The Avellano Towers are a remote, recently discovered group just northeast of Lago General Carrera in Chilean Patagonia. They comprise several low but rugged granite towers. The rock ranges from excellent to choss and, due to their proximity to the Northern Patagonia Ice Cap, the weather can be trying. In March 2004 a group of climbers led by Dave Anderson and Nacho Grez, after a two-day approach from the north, did a route on the northernmost tower (“Avellano Tower,” AAJ 2004, pp. 307-308). The next year John Bragg, Wes Bunch, Angela Hawse, and Brenton Regan explored a southern approach from the small town of Bahia Murta. John broke his leg during the rugged approach, ending their attempt.
From our base at my new house on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Thom Engelbach and I used the Bragg approach in an attempt to reach the unclimbed, southernmost tower. We call this “Wild Patagonia” versus “Chamonix Patagonia,” the Chalten area, where there are some of the best climbs in the world but no exploration.
Taking advantage of weather more Sierra-like than Patagonian, we left our cozy base on the morning of January 21, 2008, and drove to the trailhead at Bahia Murta. Seven hours of gnarly hiking got us to base camp in a beautiful cirque 2,000 vertical feet below, and west of, the tower. The next day we made an exploratory hike to the col south of the tower, scoping out a line rising from just down and east of the col, before depositing our technical gear and returning to base camp. After luxuriating in atypical sunshine on the morning of the 23rd, we left camp for the two-hour approach to a bivy at the col.
The next morning we left before dawn on a clear, windless day, scrambled down, and started climbing the broad southeast ridge. The climb felt more like an excursion into Rocky Mountain National Park than a Patagonian first ascent. About 500m of climbing in 16 pitches had us on the virgin, windless summit of what we called Avenali Tower, for our mentor Peter Avenali who was my inspiration for going to the area. [Editor’s note: Some sources initially reported this as the tower immediately south of the northernmost tower climbed in 2004 (Avellano Tower), but it is actually farther south along the same group of towers (see photo). A natural barrier between Avellano Tower and Avenali Tower blocks the view from one tower to the other, and, though they are in the same chain of towers, they are approached via different valleys.] Our route, Avenali Avenue (V 5.11- R A0), has something for everyone. Rock ranging from sublime to shite, difficult routefinding, and some sketchy pro serve up climbing that will keep you on your toes. Eleven raps got us back to the col at midnight, culminating an 18-hour roundtrip.
This season, since Patagonian weather was so consistently good, I propose that all new routes receive an asterisk. They need to be done in more representative conditions before they get full value.
Jim Donini, AAC