First Free Ascent of the South African Route (5.12c/7b+), Torres del Paine, Chile

The South African Route (5.12c/7b+), Torres del Paine, Chile. Photo courtesy of xpedition.beClick here to see a photo gallery from this expedition.

We (Nicolas Favresse, Sean Villanueva and Ben Ditto) have just returned from Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, where on the 2nd of February we summitted the Central Tower via the South African Route. Our ascent is possibly the third ascent of the route and the first free ascent of the east face of the Central Tower (1200m). We spent 13 days on the wall accompanied by our trusty mandolin, tin whistle and harmonica.

The South African Route is a striking line, which follows a huge dihedral that literally cuts trough the middle of the east face. It's such a beautiful and obvious feature that we had to come back to Torres del Paine for it.

We had heard of grades from A3 up to A4 and knifeblade seams so we were really not sure it would go entirely free. So we decided to leave our assumptions on the ground and follow our instinct.

We encountered some amazing free climbing pitches with very sustained climbing mostly in the 5.11 range almost never below 5.10+. We estimate the two hardest pitches around 7b+/5.12c. One of them is a very pumpy fingertip enduro corner while the other is a face climbing boulder problem with a spectacular sequence using a crystalline pocket. We added one bolt to protect this free variation (away from the aid line). Another main free crux of the route is a mega sustained steep 5.11+ offwidth which was very run out with the only number 6# Camelot we had. Three of the pitches were redpointed after the summit due to icy conditions.

Favresse on the mega sustained steep 5.11+ offwidth. Photo courtesy of

The team hauling bags up the route. Photo courtesy of

Even though we never had very good weather we were disappointed that it wasn't worse as we were looking forward to do some portaledge surfing and long jamming sessions. We were only trapped in our portaledges for two days, other days we were able to get at least one pitch in. After one day of fixing ropes we left the ground on the 24th of January, 2009, with 15 days worth of food. We moved on the wall in capsule style making two portaledge camps: one on top of the shattered pillar (pitch 10) where we stayed 7 days and the second was at Boeing ledge (Pitch 17) where we stayed another 6 days.

The route was first climbed in 1973/74 by a South African team and it was the first route on the East Face of the Central Tower. As far as we know it had only seen one repeat in 2004 by other South African climbers.

Nice conditions. Photo courtesy of

While climbing the route our respect for the first ascensionists grew. We found it very impressive how clean the line was left with so few bolts and fixed pitons. There are only two bolted anchors. However we did find a lot of old fixed ropes left behind by previous expeditions on the east face (not just on the South African Route) and we brought down as much as we could (a few hundred meters of ropes) . It's a pity climbers trashed the wall like this. Most of the ropes we found were hanging on the lower slabs which shares the start with other routes so we are not sure who left them behind.

The Team is now taking some time to recharge the batteries with steaks, drinks and parties in Puerto Natales.

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Thanks to our sponsors: Patagonia, Black Diamond, Five Ten, Scarpa, Sterling ropes, The belgian alpine club,,Seeonee, Julbo, UPPM and

Click here to see a photo gallery from this expedition.



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