It was only possible because of the prayer flags, a gift from a wise Alaskan couple for our expedition. They were to bring us luck, which they certainly did. We were lucky. Lucky for the weather, lucky for all the disasters that didn't occur but so easily could have, and most of all, lucky to be here today to tell the tale...
This was our first international expedition. At home in the Sierra we had climbed many big-walls together, putting up our own routes on walls of much higher elevation, but this adventure was different. We were going to climb the biggest walls either of had ever attempted in a place full of unknowns, full of mystery. The only thing we knew for certain was to expect the unexpected- Torres del Paine in Patagonia was going to be a wild ride!
After months of planning, we finally arrived, with hundreds of pounds of rope, food, and equipment in tow. With the help of a porter and horses, we established base camp after a week of hiking loads in the never-ending rain. It was days before we even saw the towers because of constant white-outs. We heard horror stories from our fellow climbers: bad weather, rock fall, and mazes of glaciers would all have to be overcome. We immediately chose to go for a new route on the east face of the north tower. Many teams opt for routes on the west side because they are smaller and more user-friendly. But for us, when looking at the giants, it only seemed proper to go from bottom to top, capsule style, up the largest face possible. After months back home getting ready for this trip, we convinced ourselves that this first excursion would be our practice run , preparing us for the next three months...we had no idea!
We hoped to put up a moderate 5.9/5.10 free route...we ended up with a grade VI, 5.12,C1, 20 pitch route that took 15 days on the wall to complete. We lived off two instant soups, two bags of tea, and a handful of instant mashed potatoes for our last three days. The portaledge rain-fly cannot be used again due to the amount of rock and ice fall it endured, our 4 ropes are trashed, the haul bags we had to throw off in order to escape the clutches of the wall are destroyed, and our souls are diminished. The climbing transformed from okay, to good, to great. We were gifted by the weather, even though we did encounter freezing rain, gail-force winds, and moments of complete whiteness.
We learned a lot. Although sun is a welcome, warming friend in the wee hours of the morning, the melting of snow and ice that plummets down from above must be noted. Rain is an entirely different component than snow. Helmets are great, even at night when you sleep. Quitting mid-route from frustration and then later choosing to continue means you have to ration food, which is never fun when you are starving! Using new equipment for the first time on a big-wall is a bad idea. And, accepting and changing tactics is always welcome.
We summited by the skin of our teeth. We were trapped in the ledge the entire day afterward due to a white-out. Now, we are skinny, tired, and ready for the comforts of town. We will recharge and go back at it with some new methods. There are still two more towers to be climbed...
VI, 5.12, C1, 20 pitches
Amy Ness and Myles Moser
Jan. 9-23, 2013