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Turner Endures: First Grade VII Solo
Posted on: February 4, 2008
The east face of Cerro Escudo (2450m), Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile. Over thirty-four days Dave Turner climbed a new route (VII A4+, 1200m) on this overhanging wall to make the first ever solo of a Grade VII route. This photo was taken by John Middendorf in 1993, before the wall had seen an ascent. [Photo] John Middendorf
Dave Turner, noted for his solo climbs in Yosemite, now also will be known for his improbable success in Chilean Patagonia: the world's first to solo a Grade VII route; the longest time any single climber has stuck out a big wall in Chile successfully; a new route that is one of the country's most difficult big-wall lines. After thirty-four days alone on Cerro Escudo's overhanging east face, climbing capsule-style, in late January he finished the 1200-meter climb, Taste the Paine (VII A4+).
Cerro Escudo (2450m) is a tower located about two miles west of the Torres del Paine (The Central Tower of Paine is featured in Alpinist 18), Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile. Its overhanging east face is a serious undertaking, successfully climbed twice before via The Dream (no summit; VII 5.10 A4+, 4,000', Breemer-Jarrett-Santelices, 1994-5), which some consider Chile's most difficult big-wall route. According to initial reports Turner's line follows "bomber granite" left of The Dream.
In December Turner made eleven trips ferrying his gear to the base of the wall, located twelve miles from the road. Rather than set up permanent camps and attack the wall siege style, the minimalist brought two 70-meter lead lines and one double-length, static haul line. He never fixed more than three pitches at a time and climbed capsule style, preferring "not to use [semi-permanent] fixed ropes or any other steps back into the style of the past." He drilled a number of bolts when necessary (quarter-inch and hangerless) but used as much clean pro as possible.
A 130-meter slab (5.6 R A3) led to the ca. 1000-meter headwall. "Pitch after pitch of sustained, thin overhanging cracks never ended," Turner wrote on supertopo.com, "and the climbing was on excellent rock in a stunning location." Many of the ropelengths were A3+ to A4+, and the crux involved a committing aid section that required a dozen or more continuous beaks, all questionably solid. Turner made the top after thirty-three days of continuous climbing, scrambling over the rotten shale ridge to tag the summit in late January.
Despite the arduous journey upward, Turner considers his descent "one of my proudest pushes ever." He rappelled the entire wall in eighteen hours, fighting against "desperately windy conditions." On his last rappel, the lines in sad shape from moving heavy loads up and down so frequently, a rope nearly ripped through, exposing two meters of core. Other mishaps included stolen gear in Buenos Aires and rockfall early in his climb that cut through half of his harness' swami and destroyed his mini-traxion and many aiders, daisy chains, and carabiners.
His "training" in Yosemite—including first solo ascents of Block Party (A4+), Atlantis (A4+) and Dawn Direct (A4)—and Peru's Cordillera Blanca (read the August 13, 2007 NewsWire) prepared Turner for this "climbing dream of six years," which was supported by an American Alpine Club Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award. Recently having secured a Mugs Stump Award, he aims to return to Patagonia in September to attempt another Grade VII solo, this time in winter on the South Tower of Paine.