First Ascent of Striking Spire in Wild Patagonia

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The stunning southern pillar of Cerro San Lorenzo rises at least 3,500 feet high. Colin Haley and Rob Smith climbed Aguja Antipasto, in lower left, on November 21. Photo courtesy of Colin Haley.

The stunning southern pillar of Cerro San Lorenzo rises at least 3,500 feet above the glacier. Colin Haley and Rob Smith climbed Aguja Antipasto, in lower left, on November 21. Photo courtesy of Colin Haley.

12/10/14 - Colin Haley and Rob Smith did the first ascent of a 14-pitch granite needle in remote northern Patagonia—a consolation prize after poor conditions prevented them from attempting the unclimbed southern pillar of Cerro San Lorezno, the second-highest peak in Patagonia.

12,159-foot San Lorenzo rises along the Chile-Argentina frontier, just north of Perito Moreno National Park, and far to the north of the well-traveled climbing hubs around Fitz Roy and the Torres del Paine. It took Haley and Smith three days of ferrying gear just to get settled in base camp. During the three weeks they spent in the area, Haley said, it stormed nearly every day and “we didn’t see another human.”

San Lorenzo has been climbed by several routes, but the enormous east face of the massif is essentially untouched, in part because the wall is guarded by a gigantic serac band spanning the top. At the south end of this wall is a huge, unclimbed rock tower, rising at least 3,500 feet above the glacier.

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Rob Smith rewarming his legs after one of 19 frigid river crossings. Photo by Colin Haley.

“I think it is quite likely the most difficult unclimbed mountain in Patagonia,” Haley wrote at his blog. “The northeast face is at least 1,000 meters tall, and I would guess more like 1,300 meters…. The downside is that the rock is much lower quality than in the Chalten [Fitz Roy] massif.” The tower was attempted two years ago by an Argentinean team that made it eight pitches up the main face before turning back because of poor rock.

Haley and Smith had hoped to climb this formation, but when they finally got a weather window to make an attempt on November 20, via a gully on the right side, they decided it was too warm to safely climb the route. Instead, a day later, in deteriorating weather, they climbed a subsidiary needle at the foot of the spire’s southeast side.

Colin Haley leads a slushy mixed pitch on the first ascent of Aguja Antipasto. Photo by Rob Smith.

Colin Haley leads a slushy mixed pitch on the first ascent of Aguja Antipasto. Photo by Rob Smith.

Leaving their bivouac around 2 a.m., they followed steep snow to the foot of the tower and then climbed a roughly 1,500-vertical-foot mixed route to the top, with moves up to 5.10 in crampons and time-consuming loose rock near the top. They descended mostly by the same line. Haley said the round trip from their bivouac took 22 hours, with 17 to 18 hours on the route itself. They had run out of food before reaching the summit, and they didn’t get anything to eat until they returned to base camp aorund 24 hours later. Though a substantial ascent, it was dwarfed by the larger spire next door, and so Haley and Smith called their spire Aguja Antipasto (Appetizer Needle); the route was Romance Explosion (5.10 R M5 R).

Date of ascent: November 21, 2014

Sources: Colin Haley, Colinhaley.com, Pataclimb.com