From the Estancia Cerro Paine, take the trail that leads first south, then west up the Rio Ascencio valley to the base camp used by the Italians in 1963 during their first ascent of the South Tower. From here one must shuttle loads up the valley past the linga trees, and then up a giant moraine to the glacial lake below and to the east of the Towers. Hike up a snow gully to the left of the cliffs at the head of the lake. A long and sometimes steep slog up the glacier leads to campsites on top of a 900' rock outcropping below the East Face of the South Tower.
The route starts by snow climbing up and left 800' to where one can climb up toward the ridge of rock that extents from the Southeast Buttress. A 250' pitch ( 5.8, A1 ) followed by another 250' pitch ( 5.7, A1 ) leads to the ridge crest. 5.6 and 3 rd class lead up the ridge to the base of the Southeast Buttress. 5.1o face and a tension traverse leads right ( 300' ). A 175' pitch of 5.7 leads up to the left edge of the snow ledge easily visable from below. From the high point on the snow ledge, climb a knifeblade crack ( A3 ) followed by A1 and a sling belay. Pitch 8 involes A2 knifeblades and a 5.4 traverse. Pitch 9 ( 5.7 ) and 10 ( 5.9, A1 ) are short pitches. Pitch 11 is 150' and climbs a flake ( A3 ) and a roof to a sling belay using everything from hooks and knifeblades to large Friends. Pitch 12 is A3 with a pendulum right to hooks. Pitch 13 nails an A3 seam using knifeblades, copperheads and hooks. Pitch 14 is also A3 ( knifeblades and hooks to 2 bolts ) followed by a pendulum right, more nailing and a second pendulum right to a sling belay. Pitch 15 - A4 nailing is followed by a tension traverse left and nailing ( rurps ) to a sling belay. Pitch 16 - A3+ nailing up a seam and 4 bolts leads to a roof traverse right using knifeblades and rurps. Pitch 17 - climb an A1 ramp. Pitch 18 lead thru / up an icewaterfall ( 5.6, A2+ - bring hooks and Goretex ). Pitch 19 and 20 are short moderate free and occasional A1 and lead to a good belay in the main corner.
This is as far as we got before bivying for the night and my unfortunate accident. However, the " In The Eye of the Hurricane " route climbed by Swiss climber Michel Piola and French climber Vincent Sprungli in January 1992 joins our route on our routes pitch 16, and continues to the summit on the line we were following. Follow that route ( see the " In The Eye of the Hurricane " route ) to the summit. See the 1986 American Alpine Journal ( pages 87 - 95 ) for more information on the East face / Mala Pata route, and the 1993 American Alpine Journal ( pages 189 - 194 ) for more information on the " In The Eye of the Hurricane " route finish. Or - follow the new route " Self Right to Suicide " to the summit, done by Chris Belczynski, Bodziu Kowalski and Wojtek Wiwatowski in 2004, by going left under the roof on pitch 16 instead of to the right.
Note that " Mala Pata " means bad leg and is a slang term for bad luck - quite appropriate in my case!
Full A4 big wall rack - rurps to 1 1/2" angles, hooks, 2 - 3 sets each wired stoppers and 3 - 4 sets cams. Ice gear.
The South Africans Dave Davies, Johnathan Gordon and I attempted the first ascent of this route in 1984/85. A big thanks to Dave and Johnathan for a splendid rescue of my sorry broken ass from 1700' up this wall. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you two! Also, a big thanks to my Chilean friends Luis Oyarzun ( and family ) and Juan Pedro Cuevas Kalafatovic ( and family ) of Punta Arenas. Instead of being alone with a broken leg 8000 miles from home, you made me feel welcome and a part of your families. Sometimes clouds do have a silver lining!
I was curious as to whether the climbers Michel Piola and Vincent Sprungli had seen any of our gear when they climbed their " In The Eye of the Hurricane " route on the East Face in January 1992. So I wrote Michel and he was kind enough to reply. This is a translation of his letter in French:
Hello, I'm really sorry to have responded so late to your e-mail about Patagonia. I especially wanted to send you some pictures of the route we had in common, and until now I haven't been able to master the web very well........ as for the South Tower of Paine, we really relived your adventure and accident with a lot of emotion, because we could still see your fixed ropes to the left, and I can tell you that your perseverance was fantastic - you really had overcome all those problems on the face, and you weren't really that far from the snowy ramps area which lead to the summit, too bad!
When we arrived at the foot of the face, we wanted to do our own route, and so we attacked on the right. After a steep pedestal, we climbed straight up to a snowy little ledge that's visible in the picture, then we reached the left edge of a big blank spot. Then the route was more or less striaght up big blank slabs that were gradually stepped ( the route was new until there ), then - what a surprise - we suddenly came across your line, I think after the spot where you must have had to make your big pendulums toward the right. There was then an aid pitch that was beautiful and rather difficult where there were some bolts from your attempt, then another pitch and a belay where there was still lots of your stuff. Then, I don't remember if there were still one or two pitons, then nothing more and we arrived at some large cracks that led us up the ramps to the summit. So, we can actually say that your route exists on the South Tower of Paine as our finish was the same as yours!
We were really lucky to hit on this path because after having to hammer in anchors over 4 days for fixed ropes in fairly rotten weather ( until the level where our route joins yours ) we left in a snow storm, thinking we wouldn't be able to do more than one or two pitches, then suddenly the weather was gorgeous and we got to the top late in the evening, with exceptional conditions.
Please give our regards to your team.
Best wishes, Michel Piola
The Paine Epic Option