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Hard Free Ascent in Patagonia

© Ben Ditto

Nicolas Favresse, Sean Villanueva and Ben Ditto have made the first free ascent of the central tower of the Torres del Paine via the South African Route (5.12c/7b+ 1200m).

Commenting after the ascent, Nico said:

"Our ascent is possibly the third ascent of the route and the first free ascent of the east face of the central tower. We spent 13 days on the wall accompanied by our trusty mandolin, tin whistle and harmonica."

The route was extremely sustained at a high standard, "mostly in the 5.11 range almost never below 5.10+". Sean, Nico and Ben were extremely impressed with the first ascentionists, finding the route exceptionally clean with only two bolted anchors on the entire route and very few insitu pitons. They did however encounter a lot of abandoned fixed ropes, left behind by previous expeditions on the east face:

"We brought down as much as we could - a few hundred meters of ropes. It's a pity climbers trashed the wall like this. Most of the ropes we found were hanging on the lower slabs which shares the start with other routes so we are not sure who left them behind."

The team were at first sceptical as to the feasibility of their project route. Would it actually go free?

"We had heard of grades from A3 up to A4 and knifeblade seams so we were really not sure it would go entirely free. So we decided to leave our assumptions on the ground and follow our instinct..."

" ...We estimate the 2 hardest pitches around 7b+/5-12c. One of them is a very pumpy finger-tip enduro corner while the other is a face climbing boulder problem with a spectacular sequence using a crystalline pocket. We added one bolt to protect this free variation (away from the aid line). Another main free crux of the route is a mega sustained steep 5.11+ offwidth which was very run out with the only number 6 Camelot we had. 3 of the pitches were redpointed after the summit due to icy conditions."

Ben Ditto climbing  pitch 13, South African Route free ascent  © Sean/Nico
Ben Ditto climbing pitch 13, South African Route free ascent
© Sean/Nico
Climbing in Patagonia has moved on in the last few years. Tales of weeks wasted sitting in bad wether, missing the only available opportunities to climb have been replaced with stories of sport climbing, beer drinking and great trips with maximum success. North Wales based climber and mountaineer Adam Wainwright commented after his recent trip to Patagonia that:

"The whole area is so much more accessible now. It's like being in Chamonix. You can hang out in town, drink beer and go bouldering. Then you get a really detailed weather forecast from the internet and you head in to the mountains. No more sitting around for weeks on end in the snow."

The free climbing trio opted for a capsule style ascent over several days, sleeping on portaledges and hauling their gear. Sean and Nico, known as much for their legendary musical jamming talents as their ferocity on the rock said afterwards:

"Even though we never had very good weather we were disappointed that it wasn't worse as we were looking forward to do some portaledge surfing and long jamming sessions.  We were only trapped in our portaledges for two days, other days we were able to get at least one pitch in."

The Team is now taking some time to recharge the batteries with steaks, drinks and parties in Puerto Natales.

Watch videos of the guys having some fun!

More information is available on:


The team would like to thank the sponsors of this trip:

Patagonia, Black Diamond, Five Ten, Scarpa, Sterling ropes, The Belgian Alpine Club, Belclimb.net, Seeonee, Julbo, UPPM
and climb.be


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13 Feb, 2009
These guys are on some tour!! The Bugs, Yosemite, Indian Creak, Banfin Island? and now here!! (Thats since August) They've got some motivation and the stamina to keep cranking!! Impressive stuff!!
13 Feb, 2009
Awesome stuff
13 Feb, 2009
Fantastic set of videos, really enjoyed them. =o)
13 Feb, 2009
Awesome :)
13 Feb, 2009
I think these guys are making perhaps the most interesting new routes on the world stage at the moment. Their track record over the past 12 months is remarkable... Neil
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