Wall of Paine: Elusive Patagonian Wall Climbed, But Still No Summit
11/16/13 - British climbers Jerry Gore, Calum Muskett, and Mike "Twid" Turner, along with French cameraman Raphael Jochaud, reached the top of the southeast face of the South Tower of Paine, one of the world's great unclimbed walls, after about three weeks of effort. But ferocious winds on their final day of climbing prevented them from tagging the summit of the tower.
The broad southeast face of the South Tower is more than half a mile wide and 3,000 feet high, usually shady, and exposed to the nastiest Patagonian winds. (The southeast face is the equivalent of a northeast face in the Northern Hemisphere.) Moreover, a band of extremely compact granite spanning the middle of the wall yields few continuous crack lines.
In late 1999 and early 2000, Canadians Connie Amelunxen and Sean Easton climbed the sunny side of the southeast buttress, on the right side of the wall, via a 27-pitch route called Hoth (VI 5.10+ A4 WI2/3). "After seeing and hearing the winds blast around the edge from the south face, it is very clear to me why it is unclimbed," Amelunxen said in the American Alpine Journal.
Turner and Stuart McAleese had come closest to climbing the southeast face, climbing about 2,600 feet up the right side of the wall, left of Hoth, over four weeks. Their line, which they dubbed The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, stopped within a day's aid climbing of joining Hoth. Their retreat from the high point was epic, requiring pulling themselves down iced-up ropes against brutal winds.
This year the team headed to Chile in October, hoping for colder but calmer weather than they'd found later in the season. Over 11 to 12 days of climbing time, they followed the line of the 2006 attempt to the high point and then carried on to the top of the wall, which they reached on November 7. The team had climbed 18 pitches, "with many taxing A3+ pitches," and said only about 350 feet of "easy mixed climbing" remained to the summit.
"We got really high around seven days earlier," Turner said in an email. "But a really bad spell of weather and strong winds (150 kph+ / 93mph+) stopped us climbing. During this period we tried to climb each day, but each time got spat out. I'm no pansy when it comes to strong winds: seven trips to Patagonia, 13 to Alaska, and 20 years working in a Scottish winter—worse than anything! It was too strong."
With one day left in their schedule, the wind died a bit and they tried for the top. "I climbed another long pitch," Turner said. "It was pretty awful by then, and the winds pretty freaky. It was snowing hard. I was shivering while leading with all my warm kit on. To bivy would have been bonkers."
Turner said the team was satisfied to complete the wall, but of course unsatisfied they didn't reach the summit. "But," he added, "you don't ask all El Cap summiters, 'Did you really summit?'"
Date of ascent: October-November 2013
Sources: Twid Turner, Team Facebook page, American Alpine Journal