On February 7, 2021, Belgian climber Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll turned 40 years old. In the days following his birthday, O’Driscoll hit a milestone in his climbing career as well: a solo ascent of the Fitz Roy Traverse in Patagonia. And unlike first ascensionist Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold who climbed the Fitz Traverse in 2014, O’Driscoll climbed the route in reverse.
The Fitz Traverse follows the skyline of Cerro Fitz Roy and its six satellite peaks. (For those not familiar with the iconic mountain range, it is the emblem for the clothing company Patagonia). The traverse consists of 13,000 feet of vertical gain over the four-mile span of the massif.
“Thank you all for the birthday wishes!” O’Driscoll wrote on FaceBook. “To celebrate my birthday I had myself the SEVEN cakes, some with icing, and a couple of extra side dishes!!!!”
Colin Haley—distinguished alpinist and aficionado of Patagonian climbing—was first to break the news on Instagram, in a much less ambiguous fashion than O’Driscoll’s “SEVEN cakes.” Haley wrote:
“Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll has just made the 2nd ascent of the Fitz Traverse (and the 1st ascent of the Reverse Fitz Traverse)... solo! There is no doubt that this is the most impressive solo ascent ever done in Patagonia, and I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t simply the most impressive ascent ever done in Patagonia in general.”
O’Driscoll began sport climbing in Belgium at age 13 and progressed into trad and free big wall climbing. He grew an affinity for mammoth objectives and virgin walls in remote and harsh locations: Patagonia, Pakistan, Baffin Island, Greenland. O’Driscoll’s remarkable grit and vision is accentuated by his lightheartedness in the mountains—you can always find him playing the Irish flute on his downtime during expeditions.
O’Driscoll received a Piolet d’Or for a 2010 expedition to Greenland along with his partners Nicolas Favresse, Oliver Favresse, and Ben Ditto. The team established nine new big wall routes, most of which were started from a sailboat dubbed “Dodo’s Delight.” In 2014 the team returned to the Arctic again on the trusted ship and established 10 new routes while making the sensational climbing film Adventures of the Dodo.
O’Driscoll is also a musician, featured the music video “Done in R1.”
Though the news of O’Driscoll’s solo ascent of the Reverse Fitz Traverse just broke and details are scant, we do know this: He climbed with only a rope, a penny whistle, and some birthday cake.
O’Driscoll’s trip report reads: “Really good whistle acoustics on those peaks.”