One step closer to the Central Tower of Torres del Paine! The American Alpine Club has award Amy and I with a $1,000 grant to make our return trip to Patagonia for the winter of 2015. We had attempted establishing the second free route on the 4'000 foot East face of the Central Tower in 2013, but a storm had beat us back, leaving us stranded 2'000 ft up for eight days out of 12. Thanks for the support American Alpine Club and Friends.
Going for a Wander- The East Face of the Central TowerTorres del Paine, Patagonia
February 27- March 11, 2013
Amy Ness and Myles Moser
As I write this, snow falls onto our portaledge for the eighth straight day. The wind sounds like a locomotive as it rips over the crest and bends around the wall, relentless and bone-chilling. Snow flurries from hundreds of feet above break free from the four-thousand foot Goliath and slam upon our golden pyramid at all hours of the night. Our tiny capsule which sits, open and exposed on "The Shattered Pillar" is slowly being buried by the snow, forcing an early rise each day to begin the excavation process. In these eight days of sitting and waiting for a break in the weather, we have seen the sun for just two hours. Each rise of temperature and glow of heat, we crack the frozen zipper of our tattered, tapped and glued rainfly, shoving our heads out to check the sky, only to be disappointed. Like clock work, by late afternoon, the storm hides as the nonexistent sun shifts to the westside of the cirque, leaving us in the frigid shadow waiting for what's to come. The upper dihedrals begin to thaw with the remaining light, dropping sheets of verglas which turn to daggers as they explode, whizzing past us to the left and right, somehow missing the one spot we chose to hang. The weather from the Central Tower attacks with a vengeance as it tries to rid us from its flanks... We are caught in the worst storm of the season.
Our goal was to establish the second free route on the east face of Torre Central, or as we like to say, "go for a wander". Fully equipped with battered lines, twenty days of rations, seventy pounds of water, a full El Cap rack and a portaledge hanging on hope, we stormed the Tower. We lived in our Advanced Base Camp for three days, three nights; our ledge hung four feet off the ground, 15 minutes from the wall on a small formation called the "Lunatic". By the second day we had climbed five pitches of fantastic free climbing allowing 300 meters of rope to be strung up the wall. By the third day we were committed, moving capsule-style. We established Camp One in an area which, by morning, we designated unsafe. Moving one pitch higher under a giant roof, we created Camp Two. Staying there for two nights, we continued to fix lines to the top of the Shattered Pillar. Once again, finding great climbing with easy protection.
Day four, we hauled to the Pillar's end and set Camp Three. The next morning (day 5) we awoke to a fire in the sky, the most impressive sunrise either of had ever seen. We were itching to rope up for what looked to be the first crux... The pitch was wild! Clean cracks to an airy, flowing traverse brought me to an extremely strong stemming operation with a classic RP finish. The bolt was dropped in and the piton was slammed, we called it 5.11.
Amy immediately jumped in the portaledge for warmth. Her feet were frozen blocks from belaying. I guess I hadn't noticed the temperature change that occurred while climbing and swinging the hammer. Something was brewing, but we couldn't see it. Ames followed the pitch to the belay and jumped on the reins. Ropes were stacked and she was on her way up the next killer looking section, pitch 13. That's when the ceiling dropped and the cold became quite present. The mud she was about to dig out of the seam was freezing and the snow had begun to fall. We decided it best to let the system pass. So, from sixty meters up, we headed back down to our high camp. By dark, to quote Steve Schnieder, "the Patagonia Tempest" was rocking our world. At first, the storm was a relief, as our water supply was running low. That would soon change.
Two, three, four days crept by. We would wait, we had the supplies and the excitement. By day six, we were captives of the Giant. We did the calculations and the rationing began. White-outs and blizzards all day and night were bombarding us. Several times the skies cleared and the stars were ablaze. We would tuck into our sleeping bags telling each other "Tomorrow we press on! It will be clear!" Then, as if it knew what we were thinking, it would hit us even harder. Day seven, a week. We managed to keep our heads, but the six foot by three foot portaledge was twisting our spines and the lethargicness was making us weak. It was time to make a move, we could not afford another storm higher on the wall.
With a break in the freeze I jugged to our high point to retrieve the equipment and pull our fixed line. Meanwhile, Amy shuffled items in the ledge for the pack job. Just like before, the Giant decided to keep us. For twenty hours the wind roared like we had not heard before and the flurries broke once again. We resumed our crammed positions for one more night.
Day eight of the storm and the twelfth day on the wall, we cut open the frozen water jugs and sent the mondo ice chunks soaring. We sat waiting, with all the stuff-sacks packed, intermittently taking turns to do chores outside. By late afternoon we had our bags ready for the toss and watched as they flew to the glacier 1,500 feet below. One landed under a hanging serac, the other was safe, the portaledge... a direct shot into a crevasse.
We did a total of six rappels to escape the tower, four of which were 300 footers. Each time, we dodged the frozen, steel cable of a rope as it came flying past. Once on the ground we recovered both haulbags and easily fished the ledge from the ice. No fixed lines were left and only pre-existing rappel anchors were maintained. Hastily crossing the terrible, crevassed glacier covered with false snow bridges, we returned to our Base Camp at Campamento Torres in the dark. We were greeted excitedly by the Guadalaparques who had been watching the show and had become worried when the thermometer in camp dipped down to negative five degrees Celsius.
We were taught many things from this expedition- from tactics to equipment changes. We now realize that March is a little late in the season for Torres del Paine and have come to respect the validity of the saying "Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morn, sailors take warn!" We have also learned what it is like to have a vendetta with a Giant, making us climbers walk "A Fine Line of Insanity."