The Torres del Paine ( Towers of the Blue Sky ) are some of the most outragous and wildest rock climbs in the world. Located about 160 kilometers south of the Fitzroy / Cerro Torre group and 400 kilometers north of the Straits of Magellan, Paine National Park is also one of the most beautiful places one can visit. Guanacos ( a smaller cousin to the alpaca and llama ), rheas ( large fast birds, like an ostrich ) and condors are just some of the local wildlife to be seen. Torres del Paine National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Situated east of the Southern Patagonia Icecap, this area also receives some of the worst weather in the world. In fact, when I was there in 1984 / 85, the locals liked to say that Patagonia was one place you could experience all four seasons in the same day, and the local joke was - " if you don't like the weather just wait a minute " - it can change that fast!
While there are many interesting and difficult climbing objectives in Paine National Park, the three Towers are the most famous. Of the three Towers, the South Tower is the tallest and hardest to get to. The elevations are - Torre Norte del Paine ( North Tower ) - 7415 feet, Torre Central del Paine ( Central Tower ) - 8071 feet and Torre Sur del Paine - 8204 feet. Don't let the Towers lack of elevation fool you - these are up to El Capitan size climbs lashed by 100+ mile an hour blizzards that can last a week!
There are currently ( as of 5 - 26 - 2004 ) six routes on the South Tower ( if you count our 1984 / 85 route which now can be followed to the summit by either of the two new East Face route finishes ).
There are several ways to get to Paine. Fly to Santiago, Chile, then fly to Punta Arenas on the Straits of Magellan. From there one can take a bus to the closest town and jumping off point for Paine - the beautiful town of Puerto Natales on the shore of the Ultima Esperanza sound. Another way one can reach Puerto Natales ( I went this way ) is to fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina, then take the domestic flight south to Rio Gallegos. From there one can take a wild bus ride west to Puertu Natales.
From Puerto Natales, there is a bus to Paine National Park, or inquire in town as to private guides which, for a small fee, will drive you to Paine with all your equipment and pick you up at a per determined time if desired. They can also be quite helpful in finding local supplies.
Once in the Park, it is necessary to either drive or, if the road is flooded ( quite possible in late spring ), hike ( after getting a park guard to ferry you via boat ) to the Estancia Cerro Paine. From here a trail 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 ( for the eastern routes on the South Tower ). For the original " Normal " route on the South Tower, continue to the Rio Ascencio valley around to the west side of the Towers.
Special permission is required for climbing, and should be requested from the Chilean embassy in your country. Or one can write to - El Director, Ministerio de Fronteral y Limites Del Estado, Santiago, Chile. They will want the following information - names, age, address, passport number, the marital status, occupation and climbing experience of the expedition members. In addition, if you belong to any mountaineering clubs or organizations they will want to know that too. Medical information may be required, but i don't believe any fee is currently required ( except to enter the park - about $ 14.00 per person ). Sending a letter in Spanish is recommended. Allow at least 3 months.
NOTE - this add by member CharlesD on Jan. 12th, 2005 - " getting into Chile requires a $45 'reciprocity fee' for folks from the USA " i please be advised!
When To Climb
October ( spring ) through February. Blizzards and week long storms can happen any time during the summer months. I don't know if climbing is possible during the winter months or not, but the weather can be miserable enough during the summer. I personally witnessed the wind pick up a 75 pound haul bag and toss it several feet, along with all three of us being knocked off our feet on the glacier. The most fun is to lean into a 50 m.p.h. wind with a 70 lb. pack on your back, knowing if the wind stopped you'd be flat on your face! 100 mile per hour winds aren't uncommon in Torres del Paine.
There are several excellent camp sites at the Torres del Paine base camp in the Rio Ascencio Valley, and at the glacial lake below the Towers on the east side. Water filtration is a must, and some sort of pre - filter is needed at the lake to keep your filter from choking on glacial rock flour. Good tents are an absolute necessity to keep the rain out. Good weather averages maybe 2 days out of seven ( if you're lucky )!
Higher up camping at an advanced base camp can be problematic. In 1984 when we attemped a new route on the East Face of Torre Sur, we quickly discovered that a tent set up on the glacier or nearby rock outcropping would easily be blown away in a matter of days, if not hours. Our solution was to dig an snow cave 5 minutes from the base of the wall and set the tent up inside. We camped like this for approximately 5 weeks. Some good books and food are about the only things that will keep one from going stir crazy under such conditions ( and shuttling loads from base camp )!
Quite a few food items are available locally to make your snow cave stay a bit less tedious. Our favorite was to make pancakes from scratch with flour and baking powder and put canned berry jam on them! Kills a lot of time too ( with blizzards lasting five days you'll have lots to kill )! Other than some freezed dried food, we were able to get everything we needed in Puerto Natales.
We brought an MSR multi fuel stove and used easily available kerosene. White gas was difficult to find and expensive, so we used a small amount of that for priming the stove.
Excellent information can be found in Alan Kearneys book Mountaineering in Patagonia ( ISBN # 0938567306 ). Heed the section regarding partners - one must be able to sit out long periods of bad weather together. Patience is a virtue most needed when climbing in Patagonia.
CNN weather report for Puerto Natales
In case of emergency, the regional hospital in Punta Arenas provides excellent care at a very reasonable rate, which I unfortunately can personally vouch for. And watching the sun rise over Tierra del Fuego and the Straits of Magellan from your hospital room is a nice bonus.