Words by: Ines Papert | Photos by: Thomas Senf & Franz Walter
Arc’teryx athlete Ines Papert just returned from her expedition to Patagonia. She describes her big-wall experience with her climbing buddy Mayan Smith-Gobat from New Zealand:
On February 6, 2016, Mayan, our friend and photographer Thomas Senf and I summited Torres Central, in Torres del Paine National Park (Chile) via its extremely difficult east face. We succeeded in achieving the fifth known ascent of Riders in the Storm, 25 years after the first ascent of this historic route. Known for its unstable weather conditions, this region proved itself a very challenging place to climb.
Riders On the Storm was first climbed by Wolfgang Güllich, Kurt Albert, Bernd Arnold, Peter Dittrich and Norbert Bätz in January 1991 in 15 days of climbing over a five-week period. This stunning line on the sheer 1300m east face of Torres Central line went at 7c, A3. The climbing is very varied and demanding, ranging from delicate and runout face climbing to wide cracks and roofs, which were often entirely iced up. As yet, there have been no free ascents of this route, though many strong climbers have tried.
RIDERS ON THE STORM
Route: Riders on the storm
Location: Torre Central, east face, 2800m
Torres del Paine national park, Patagonia, chile
38 pitches – with the new free variant, 1300m route length.
Grade 7c+, 2 pitches which haven’t been free climbed yet
Ines and Mayan free climbed all but 4 pitches of the entire route.
Ines Papert, Mayan Smith-Gobat and Thomas Senf there from 16 Jan – 20 February
Climbing days: 15
Summited at 12:48 on the February 6th 2016
Fifth known ascent of Riders On The Storm
Our goal was to free this route and due to weather, we didn’t complete our mission. We did, however, make significant progress towards this goal. We succeeded in free climbing the upper two pitches, which had previously not been freed, and we found a new 5 pitch “free variant” to avoid the other section of aid.
We had to be creative and use several innovative techniques and combine our individual strengths to succeed as a team.
“Finger and hand jamming directly against ice proved to be a new and very unpleasant challenge,” remembers Mayan. “I strongly dislike climbing with no feeling in either hands or feet, yet on this route this was mostly a distant dream. It forced me to pull on all my climbing knowledge to push past pain and succeed in freeing the difficult 29th and 30th pitch with no sensation and profusely bleeding fingers.”
And for me, it was overwhelming and offered many new experiences too. Never before would I have considered deciding to climb wearing my rock shoe on one side and my ice boot with crampons on the other foot! But on the 18th pitch, a 7b+ off width, there didn’t seem to be any other option than to use this new technique. Additionally, using ice axes, both for climbing with and as protection.
“Never before would I have thought of deciding to climb wearing my rock shoe on one side and my ice boot with crampons on the other foot. But on the 18th pitch, a 7b+ off width, there didn’t seem to be any other option than to use this new technique. Additionally using ice axes, both for climbing with and as protection” – Ines Papert
Our trip began with incredibly stable weather and with the knowledge that in Patagonia, a good summit day is rare. We quickly decided to make the most of the stable weather conditions and focus on making it to the summit before investing time into free climbing the difficult lower pitches. This tactic worked, and on the last really good day, and after three weeks on the wall, we made it to the summit. We reached the top of Torres Central at 12.48 on the 6th February on a (rare) perfect day.
However, our success was dampened that night when we were awoken by a huge rock falling past the portaledges. A piece of our fly was torn open when a rock fell and narrowly missed us. We were shaken but determined to finish the route. We returned to work on free climbing the lower pitches.
After our perfect summit day, the weather deteriorated, becoming truly ‘Patagonian’, which made it nearly impossible to climb. We had no other choice than to leave the two crux pitches of our variation without an ascent.
During the entire time we spent on this wall, our nerves were constantly tested by the weather, rock, and ice fall. Early in the trip, a piece of ice hit my helmet, cracking it in half. On the last day, I jumared up a fixed rope which was nearly cut through by rockfall. These incidents caused me to decide that I have had a lot of luck on the wall. Even though the prospect of coming back is very tempting, I have decided the level of risk is not worth it.
Mayan, however, is motivated to return and try this route again, and for this I wish her all the luck in the world.