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South America, Chile, Torres del Paine, Cerro Paine Grande (3,050m, 2,884m GPS), First Winter Ascent

Cerro Paine Grande (3,050m, 2,884m GPS), first winter ascent. On August 14 María Paz Ibarra (Chile) and I summited Paine Grande, the highest peak in the Torres del Paine Group. This was the third overall and first winter ascent.

With Sebastian Irarrazabal we established base camp on August 4 at an altitude of 70m, close to the shore of Lago Grey, west of Paine Grande. On our first attempt, in July 2010, we followed the Italian route to the plateau and climbed five pitches up the final pyramid before retreating. This time we took the same route and on the 7th, despite deep snow, managed to set up Camp 1 at 1,491m (GPS).

Strong winds then pinned us down. Although the wind in Patagonia is generally weaker in winter, and in 2010 and 2011 we certainly experienced more calm days than in summer, when it got wild the winter winds seemed every bit as strong as winds I’ve experienced in summer. Access to the plateau is by a couloir that normally has several sections of blue ice in winter. This time we found the couloir partly covered by hard snow, making for faster progress than in 2010. On the 12th we three made Camp 2 at the 2,311m col between Cumbre Central and Punta Bariloche (south summit).

Next day we set out at 5 a.m., reaching the final pyramid in two hours. After three pitches up the south face, Irarrazabal felt unwell and descended. Ibarra and I lowered him to the bergschrund, then resumed the climb, more or less following the same line as Rolando Garibotti and Bruno Sourzac during the second ascent in the summer of 2000. At 3 a.m. on the 14th we reached the summit, having completed eight pitches of very hard ice of 60-90°. [Garibotti and Sourzac climbed this section in six very long pitches, up to WI5.] The last couple of pitches involved unconsolidated snow/ice on the summit mushrooms. Our GPS registered an altitude of2,884m.

Meanwhile, once back on the plateau Irarrazabal’s health improved, and he climbed to the Central Summit (2,730m)—the first winter ascent—reaching the top at 5 p.m. on the 13th. At noon on the 14th we were together at Camp 2 and began the descent next day, reaching base camp on the 17th.

Generally we experienced typical Patagonian poor weather, including heavy snow at the start and strong winds. However, our summit push was favored with perfect conditions: little wind, low temperatures (extrapolating from National Park records, possibly approaching -30°C), a full moon, and no cloud cover until midnight of the 13th, when a small cloud surrounded the summit and produced localized snowfall.

Camilo Rada, Chile