Jim Donini and Thom Engelbach have made the first ascent of the southernmost Avellano Tower, a group of remote granite spires northwest of Lago General Carrera in Chilean Patagonia. “The rock [in the Avellano Towers] ranges from excellent to choss, and due to the proximity to the North Patagonian Ice Cap the weather can be trying,” Donini said. But not this January, when the two men enjoyed beautiful conditions for their first ascent.
Base camp was a home that Donini has built on the shores of Lago General Carrera. From there, a short drive and seven hours of “gnarly hiking” got the two men to a beautiful cirque below the peak. The next day they climbed to a col south of the tower to scope a route along the southeast ridge; they dropped their technical gear and returned to their high camp. On January 23, after basking in the unusually warm sun around camp, they made the two-hour hike back to the col for a bivy, and the next morning they started climbing before dawn “on a clear, windless day, [when] the climb felt more like an excursion into Rocky Mountain National Park than a Patagonian first ascent,” Donini said. After 16 pitches, they had completed Avenali Avenue (V 5.11- R A0), named after “our mentor,” climber and conservationist Peter Avenali. They were back at the col at midnight, after an 18-hour round trip.
The Avellano Towers from the northeast. Jim Donini and Thom Engelbach made the first ascent of the leftmost tower, near the left skyline (southeast ridge). The highest tower was first climbed in 2004. Photo by Nacho Grez, courtesy of Dave Anderson
Donini and Engelbach had hoped to complete a new route on Fitz Roy’s North Pillar that they had tried twice before, but an injury to Engelbach’s hand kept them off such a committing climb. A route in the same vicinity was completed to the top of the pillar in January by Bean Bowers and Rolando Garibotti.
The first climbers explored the Avellano Towers in 2004, when a group led by American Dave Anderson and Chilean Nacho Grez bagged the highest tower during a 27-day expedition. Anderson and Jamie Selda also attempted the tower’s northeast pillar, climbing about 1,000 feet before a storm forced them down. Grez returned twice and finally completed the direct route up the northeast face in 2006, with Nacho Morales.
Date of Ascent: January 24, 2008
Sources: Jim Donini, Dave Anderson, Climbing.com, Alpinist.com