Highlights from Patagonia's summer climbing season: new routes, linkups, paraglides and BASE jumps

Posted on: May 21, 2020


A Patagonian skyline. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian BuhlA Patagonian skyline. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian Buhl

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Despite characteristically capricious weather and relatively brief weather windows, this past summer season in Patagonia proved to be an exciting one for climbers, paragliders, and BASE jumpers alike. February was bookended by several notable ascents and descents, including Brette Harrington, Quentin Lindfield Roberts and Horacio Gratton's first ascent of Marc-Andre's Vision, a difficult plumb line on the east face of Torre Egger that was first sighted by the late Marc-Andre Leclerc. Alex Honnold and Colin Haley's main objective was stymied by weather, but the two completed some impressive linkups and Honnold soloed Thaw's Not Houlding Wright. Nico Fravresse and Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll had a very productive season, completing two new first ascents and one free first ascent before March. Meanwhile, Fabian Buhl became the first person to climb and paraglide off the summit of Cerro Torre and, in Chilean Patagonia, Silvia Vidal completed a new solo aid line on Cerro Chileno, spending 33 days on the wall. By the time Vidal finished her climb on March 10, most of the world was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic and the park was closed on March 15, with the town of El Chalten following suit on March 18.

But these are just a few highlights. Read on for more.

Much of the following information has been collected from Rolando Garibotti's website PATAclimb.com and his Patagonia Vertical Facebook and Instagram pages.

Climbing on the Ragni Route, Cerro Torre. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian BuhlClimbing on the Ragni Route, Cerro Torre. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian Buhl

Notable Ascents

New line on Cerro Peineta—Despierta y Lucha (5.11 A1, 400m)
Right at the start of the season in early February, Australian climber Sebastian Pelletti and Chilean climber Cristobal Vielma put up a 400-meter 5.11 A1 route on Cerro Peineta, just left of Capicua Pastor. According to the Patagonia Vertical Facebook page, Pelleti and Vielma named the route Despierta y Lucha ("Rise Up and Fight"), as both a nod to the committing line and as a call to action for Chileans in the current political climate.

New line on Cerro Piergiorgio—Scrumble de Manzana (AI5, M5/6)
Also in the first week of February, Alessandro Bau and Giovanni Zaccaria put up a new four-pitch route on the east face of Cerro Piergiorgio, which they named Scrumble de Manzana after a clearly unforgettable apple crumble they had at Piedra del Fraile. The line starts via the classic Cara Este and climbs right into an icy corner with thin protection (WI5 and M6) before converging with the route Esperando la Cumbre and summiting a pinnacle on the north side of the summit ridge.

New line on Torre Egger—Marc-Andre's Vision (VI 5.12 or 5.11+ C2, 500m)
Brette Harrington, Quentin Lindfield Roberts and Horacio Gratton completed the first ascent of Marc-Andre's Vision on February 11, a plumb line on the Lower East Pillar of Torre Egger that links up with Titanic, which the late Marc-Andre Leclerc had envisioned two years ago.

On the first ascent of Marc-Andre's Vision. [Photo] Courtesy of Brette HarringtonOn the first ascent of Marc-Andre's Vision. [Photo] Courtesy of Brette Harrington

Leclerc had spotted the line in 2016 while completing the first winter solo of Titanic, which is also on Torre Egger. The crack and flake system he saw would link up to Titanic while avoiding much of the route's rotten ice. Leclerc made plans with Harrington, his life and climbing partner, to come back for the route. Unfortunately, Leclerc died in an accident in 2018 along with Ryan Johnson on the east face of the Mendenhall Tower in Alaska.

Last season, Harrington teamed up with Roberts to complete Marc-Andre's vision on Torre Egger. They were able to free the lower half of the route at mid-5.12. This year, however, the cracks were filled with ice and the team was obligated to use some aid. They ultimately completed the 13-pitch, 950-meter route to the summit (VI 5.11+ C2) in a four-day round trip. "It took us one day to climb The Lower East Pillar, one day to rest, one day to climb to the summit and make half the rappels, and a half-day to finish the rappels," Harrington told Alpinist. According to an interview with Rock and Ice, Harrington suspects it will not become a "classic," per se. [This information has been updated to correct previous inaccuracies.—Ed]

From left to right: Brette Harrington, Horacio Gratton and Quentin Lindfield Roberts. [Photo] Courtesy of Brette HarringtonFrom left to right: Brette Harrington, Horacio Gratton and Quentin Lindfield Roberts. [Photo] Courtesy of Brette Harrington

New free route on Aguja Standhardt—El Flechazo (7b WI5+ M3, 850m)
Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll took advantage of the season's first weather window to complete a new 14-pitch free route on the southeast pillar of Aguja Standhardt. The route begins to the right of Motivaciones Mixtas, climbs up onto a steep 300-meter pillar, into a beautiful overhanging corner, and then joins Exocet to the summit. (According to Garibotti on the Patagonia Vertical Facebook page, to spice up this classic route, Villanueva O'Driscoll reenacted the infamous all-points-off ice-tool dyno from the movie "Vertical Limit" on lead.) Favresse and Villanueva O'Driscoll report high quality climbing with five pitches of 5.12. The name is a reference to Cupid's arrow.

New route on Aguja Standhardt—Il Dado e Tratto (7b A1)
On the other side of Aguja Standhardt from Favresse and Villanueva O'Driscoll, climbers Matteo Bernasconi, Matteo Della Bordella and Matteo Pasquetto put up a new line on its north aspect. The name Il Dado e Tratto is a reference to the Julius Caesar quote, "Alea iacta est," which means, "The die is cast." (It's also a play on words, as dado means both "die" and "nut/stopper" in Italian.) It begins to the right of Desarmada (Scud) and crosses the Exocet ramp before climbing up into a steep headwall via an overhanging fist crack to finish on Festerville at the top of the north pillar. Of the 600 meters that the three climbed, they estimate 400 to 450 meters are new. Sadly this and another climb (see below) were to mark Bernasconi's final trip to Patagonia, as he died in an avalanche while ski-mountaineering in Italy on May 12.

New route on the West Face of Aguja de l'S—Raja Roja (6c, 350m)
Climbers Matias Korten and Agustin Mailing took advantage of the brief weather window in mid-February to open up a new route on the upper west face of Aguja de l'S. They started on Thaw's Not Houlding Wright to climb to the base of the headwall before summiting via an obvious red streak in the granite, hence the name Raja Roja.

New route on the West Ridge of Aguja Rafael Juarez—GBU-57A (6a+ C1, 395m)
Kiff Alcocer and Jordon Griffler also managed a mid-February first ascent on the south face of the west ridge of Aguja Rafael Juarez. Their new 15-pitch route climbs 12 pitches before following the ridge itself, then goes up a squeeze chimney before finishing on The Anglo-American. The name refers to the GBU-57a Massive Ordinance Penetrator, or the Bunker Buster bomb.

New route on the South Face of Aguja Saint-Exupery—Mir (7a+ A3 70, 700m)
A new line by Luka Krajnc and Luka Lindic on Aguja Saint-Exupery completes a route first attempted by Marcelo Galghera and Horacio Gratton in 1998. (Galghera and Gratton placed the bolts on the lower six pitches before backing off.) The route begins and finishes on Petit Prince, but deviates left to climb through a crack system and steep overhang. Both Krajnc and Lindic believe that the majority of the route ought to go free at around 8a/5.13b, with the exception of the A2 section on Petit Prince. They bivied twice and climbed 15 new pitches for a total of 700 meters at 7a+ (5.13a) A3, finishing on February 22. The route name, Mir, means "peace" in Slovene.

New Route on Colmillo Oeste in Torres del Paine—El Tambor (5.10+, 230m)
Sebastian Pelletti and Javier Reyes put up a new on the west face of the Colmillo Oeste in Torres del Paine. The approach is through one of the least visited areas of the park, on the eastern edge of Glaciar del los Perros, going through the Valle del Frances and the "gully of the Irishmen" to the col between Aguja de los Quirquinchos and Colmillo Oeste. The route itself is around 5.10+ and 230 meters. Its name refers to hollow blocks on the route, which sounded like drums when tapped on.

New route on East Face of Colmillo Este—Colmillos de Barro (M3/5 75, 300m)
Taking advantage of the brief weather window between February 20 and 22, Agustin Burgos and Tad McCrea opened up a new route on the east face of Colmillo Este by climbing an obvious couloir and then moving left before the col. They then ascended the north face to the summit.

Aguja Poincenot—first free ascent of Historia Interminable (6c, 800m)
Not content with simply putting up El Flechazo on Aguja Standhardt earlier in February, Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll also managed the first free ascent of Historia Interminable on the southwest face of Aguja Poincenot. The route was first completed in a siege style in 1987, according to PATAclimb.com. The team fixed a portaledge camp high on the wall and an additional 250 meters of rope above that, where they encountered a wide crack that forced them to descend and borrow more gear. A haul bag was lost amid the heavy wind and snow on their way down, and while they ultimately completed the line, it waited until now for an integral ascent. Freeing this route wasn't the original plan, Favresse told Rock and Ice. He and O'Driscoll were hoping to attempt a new route to the right, but upon reaching the base, they realized the line would be too ambitious for the limited gear they brought. They noticed the crack system of Historia Interminable and started climbing without knowing what it was, passing bits old detritus from 1987. Favresse took two hours to fight his way up the wide crack with one large tipped-out cam.

Alex Honnold + Colin Haley
Alex Honnold and Colin Haley managed a productive season despite the fitful weather windows. Most significantly, the pair linked up Cerro Pollone, Cerro Piergiorgio, and Domo Blanco during the February 20-22 weather window, calling it the Crystal Castles Traverse. While Cerro Pollone and Domo Blanco are both relatively easy for climbers of Honnold and Haley's caliber, their ascent of Cerro Piergiorgio is only its third ever complete ascent. "In spite of the challenging climbing," Garibotti noted on the Patagonia Vertical Facebook page, "it was a reasonably safe outing, as no paparazzi, reporters, red carpets, or Oscar statuettes were found along the way."

Honnold was able to get out and do what he does best, soloing Thaw's Not Houlding Wright on Aguja de l'S a week or so before Matias Korten and Agustin Mailing hopped on the same route to begin their first ascent of Raja Roja.

In the last weather window of their Patagonia season together, Honnold and Haley went up to retrieve gear on Piedra Negra before simul-soloing Cerro Electrico Oeste—which was also a possible first ascent. From there they continued on to the top of Aguja Guillaumet.

Haley told Alpinist that they are most proud of, however, is a one-day traverse of Guillaumet, Mermoz, and Val Biois. The linkup is a large portion of the Care Bear Traverse, which both men had done before but not in a day, which was their goal on this occasion. Conditions were not as good as they'd hoped, however, so they cut it short and tagged the top of Val Biois as a consolation, still happy to have covered so much terrain in a push. You can read more about their trip on Haley's blog.

New route on Aguja Poincenot—The Beggar's Banquet (7a, 400m)
Truly maximizing their weather windows, Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll put up a third route in Patagonia. Their new route goes up the east face of Aguja Poincenot, starting on the Whillans ramp and going right to climb a 400-foot fissure right next to Desperate Patagonians. The fissure was full of ice and included a lot of wide climbing; the pair named the route with a nod to all the borrowed gear they used to put up the route, as well as the Rolling Stones album.

First free ascent on Aguja Poincenot—40 Gruppo Ragni (6c, 800m)
Finally, before the COVID-19 pandemic reached critical heights and caused the park to close, Matteo Bernasconi, Matteo Della Bordella and Matteo Pasquetto managed the first free ascent of the 40 Gruppo Ragni route on the north and west face of Aguja Poincenot. (Their FFA was also the route's second ascent.) The upper pitches had already been free climbed in 2015, but the lower pitches were first opened in 1986 by the Ragni di Lecco ("the Lecco Spiders"), Paolo Vitali, Mario Panzeri, Marco Della Santa and Daniele Bosisio. They first named the route in commemoration of the group's 40th anniversary. Della Bordella is also the climbing group's current president, making the FFA all the more poignant.

New route on Cerro Chileno, Chilean Patagonia—Sincronia Magica (6a+ A3+, 1180m)
Between February 7 and March 10, Catalan alpinist Silvia Vidal, in her usual fashion, soloed a new route on Cerro Chileno, which she named Sincronia Magica (6a+ A3+ 1180m). She told Alpinist that she was "totally isolated" without a phone, GPS nor any kind of communication device for a month and a half. Thus, she was unaware of the COVID-19 pandemic that had unfolded across the world in that time until she returned from her climb.

Silvia Vidal's new route Sincronia Magica (6a+ A3+ 1180m) on Cerro Chileno, Chilean Patagonia. [Photo] Silvia VidalSilvia Vidal's new route Sincronia Magica (6a+ A3+ 1180m) on Cerro Chileno, Chilean Patagonia. [Photo] Silvia Vidal

Vidal hauling on Sincronia Magica. [Photo] Silvia VidalVidal hauling on Sincronia Magica. [Photo] Silvia Vidal

In total, 16 days were spent shuttling loads to and from the climb, with some help from a few locals. Vidal fixed the first 180 meters before committing to the wall and continuing capsule style for 33 days.

Vidal wrote:

It's a complex wall, difficult to progress, not just because of the difficulty of the climb, but because of the amount of maneuvers that are necessary to move around that terrain; many roofs, traverses, pendulums ... to link cracks and slabs.... There is 330 meters of vertical terrain, with much vegetation that prevents [enjoyment of] the climbing in that section.... To climb vertical cracks, full of vegetation, I used crampons and an ice axe. [There was little] or difficult protection....

She also encountered some clean offwidths and chimneys, and moss on the slabs that was only slippery when wet.

Considering the area that is, I had quite good weather, although it rained 50 percent of the days (usually it's more), she wrote. There were two big storms of rain and strong wind. When it's windy, being on the wall is dangerous. The wind is not usual, the rain is.... The rappels took 4 entire days, and I had to fix the pitches before rappelling...with the haulbags....

She acknowledged that her route description makes it sound "like a hell of a place." She wrote:

It's not. The place is amazing, beautiful and intense, and what I lived there is summarized by the name of the route.... To return from an expedition in which you have been alone and isolated requires some time and acclimatization to the "civilization".... But this time the whole planet has changed....

Notable Descents

This season was full of firsts for BASE jumpers and paragliders, who were able to take better advantage of the brief weather windows.

Fabian Buhl's paraglide flight off the summit of Cerro Torre. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian BuhlFabian Buhl's paraglide flight off the summit of Cerro Torre. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian Buhl

Fabian Buhl's Cerro Torre "Climb & Fly"
On February 7, 29-year-old German climber Fabian Buhl was the first person to climb and paraglide off the summit of Cerro Torre.

Buhl and his teammates Laura Tiefenthaler, Raphaela Haug, Christoph Ogier, Jean Baptiste Tapie and Matthieu Perrussel were the first up the Ragni route, clearing the winter accumulation of rime and effectively re-opening it for the season.

Managing conditions for this historic flight required that Buhl take off around dawn to avoid wind. Despite a tangled line that he was unable to straighten during his run off the tower, Buhl reported a smooth flight. According to an Instagram post by Patagonia Vertical, he wished that he could have stayed airborne for longer "but his hands got quite cold (the freezing line was at 2000m)." Buhl landed 17 minutes later on the Torre Glacier. A video can be found here.

A safe landing after paragliding from the summit of Cerro Torre. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian BuhlA safe landing after paragliding from the summit of Cerro Torre. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian Buhl

Buhl's flight from the summit was not the first, however. In 1988, Matthias and Michael Pinn attempted the climb and flight by way of the Compressor Route, four days after successfully climbing and paragliding off Cerro Fitz Roy via Supercanaleta, but poor weather made flight impossible. A week later, the brothers along with Uwe Passler hitched a ride on a helicopter and paraglided off Cerro Torre anyway. Their flight (and helicopter ride) was repeated in 1991 by Roman Tschurtschenthaler.

Buhl is an accomplished alpinist, having put up a route The Big Easy on Choktoi Ri in Karakoram with Alexander Huber in December 2018, to name one example, but he has only been paragliding for a little over a year. He told Rock and Ice that paragliding equipment is still too heavy to take on difficult alpine routes, but he's excited to explore more opportunities to fly off the top of easier routes. "But I take the glider everywhere," he says, "it is always in my hand-luggage. You never know!"

Fabian Buhl. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian BuhlFabian Buhl. [Photo] Courtesy of Fabian Buhl

Pablo Pontoriero's Cerro Fitz Roy Paraglide
On the subject Matthias and Michael Pinn's 1988 paraglide flights off Cerro Fitz Roy, their feat was repeated by IFMGA mountain guide and tandem flight pilot Pablo Pontoriero during the last weather window of the season on February 21; Pontoriero is the third person to achieve this. Like the Pinn brothers over 30 years ago, he and his partners Quique Clausen and Kico Cerda also climbed Supercanaleta. Pontoriero lost his GoPro during an attempt to find favorable wind conditions, but his partners managed to get great footage of his takeoff and his 30-minute flight. He touched down near the Rio Electrico bridge.

Claudia Molestine and Jose Cobo's Aguja Guillaumet Paraglide
During that same weather window as Pontoriero's flight, another paragliding repeat occurred on Aguja Guillaumet.

Claudia Molestina and Jose Cobo from Ecuador climbed the Guillot Couloir to the summit and took off in their paragliders. They are the second and third people to paraglide off Aguja Guillaumet's summit, after Fabrizio Maffoni made the first descent in December. The perfect paragliding weather conditions also afforded them a 30-minute flight. They landed in Piedra del Fraile, Chapeau.

National Geographic Adventure Film BASE Jumps Off Mojon Rojo and Aguja de l'S
As part of a National Geographic Adventure film slated for release this June, three "paralpinists" Pierre Sancier, Arnaud Bayol and Alban Alozy from the Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne spent five weeks scouting Patagonia for BASE jump exit points—that is, flight paths for BASE jumps. Their hard work paid off and the team was able to make two jumps, one off the west face Mojon Rojo on January 26 and another off the west face of Aguja de l'S on February 8. They had hoped to jump the north face of Aguja Poincenot, but according to a translation on their site a brutal east wind made the jump impossible in their fragile suits.

Russian BASE Jump off Cerro Torre
The three-person Russian team Boris Egorov, Vladimir Murzaev and Konstantin Yaermurd BASE jumped the Valery Rozov exit off Cerro Torre. Rozov was the first BASE jumper to establish the exit, which is near Banana Crack on the seventh pitch of the southeast ridge, in 2008. Egorov, Murzaev and Yaermurd are the first to make the jump after Rozov did it more than a decade ago.

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