Free Climbing Tour de Force in Patagonia - Climbing Magazine

Free Climbing Tour de Force in Patagonia

Free climbing on Cerro Catedral, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Climbing on Cerro Catedral. Photo courtesy of Merlin Didier

Those amazing Belgian big-wall free climbers have been at it again, this time in Patagonia, where three Belgians did the first free ascents of a pair of routes in Torres del Paine National Park (Chile), and then two of them went on to free a huge new route on Fitz Roy in Argentina.

In the Paine region, Merlin Didier, Stéphane Hanssens, and Seán Villanueva O'Driscoll completed free ascents on the east faces of Cerro Catedral and Cerro Cota 2000. Climbing capsule-style, the trio climbed the 3,250-foot east face of Cerro Catedral in eight days, starting up La Escoba de Dios, an American route dating from 1992, and then branching left along a line attempted by an Angl0-American team in 2010. The cruxes went at 5.13a, and there were many 5.12 and 5.11 pitches.

They then moved to the smaller east face of Cerro Cota 2000, where, despite generally poor weather, they managed to free the 1993 Italian Route on the right side over six days. Again, the crux was 5.13a.

Persiguiendo el Avión, Fitz Roy, Argentina

Persiguiendo el Avión climbs new ground to the Gran Hotel midway up the face. The Belgian climbers then followed existing routes to the summit. Photo by Rodrigo Diaz, courtesy of

In early March, Hanssens and Villanueva returned to El Chaltén in Argentina (where the Belgians had warmed up with several ascents, including Cerro Torre, before heading to Chile). The two men had just a few days to spare before their flight home, and they made the most of them, free-climbing a new line on Fitz Roy.

The two started shortly after dawn at the foot of Fitz Roy's northwest pillar and found their way up a steep, previously unclimbed line, with difficulties up to solid 5.12, to reach a huge ledge halfway up the 6,000-foot face. With no time for a bivy, they kept climbing through the night, following El Flaco con Domingo and the Afanassief Route to the summit, reaching the top at 2 p.m. They freed every pitch and onsighted all but one of them.

The two then rappelled the north pillar through the second night of their fantastic voyage, reaching the foot of the wall around 6 a.m., just under 48 hours after starting the climb. After a quick nap, they raced toward town and caught the 6 p.m. bus toward the airport. Appropriately, the new route is called Persiguiendo el Avión ("Chasing the Plane").

Dates of ascents: February-March 2013

Sources:, Merlin Didier, Patagonia Vertical (Facebook)  

The following film documents the 2010 Anglo-American attempt at free-climbing Cerro Catedral's east face:

Los Fabulosos Dos - Cerro Catedral '10 from Pete Rhodes on Vimeo.