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TORRES DEL PAINE — "Travesía Doble M"

A traverse across the skyline of the four Paine Towers.

By Rolando Garibotti, 12/03/2024.

- Versión en español

[This article is copyrighted. Please do not reprint this article in whole or part, in any form, without obtaining written permission.]

On Thursday, February the 22nd, Seán Villanueva O'Driscoll walked to Campo Británico in the French Valley. It rained all night. In the morning his sleeping bag, rope and other gear were wet. He had a slow morning drying things out, and around midday started hiking into the De Agostini valley.

The forecast predicted four days of stable weather, but it was cold and there was a decent amount of ice and new snow from the previous night’s deluge. Not quite the type of weather window that suggests a lot of climbing, but Seán has never been short in poetic faith, the ability to suspend disbelief and allow oneself to, against all preconceptions, walk forward, one step, move or pitch at the time. The dream of traversing the four Paine Towers spurred him on.

While a number of traverses have been done of the Towers, only on one occasion the skyline had been followed, and none had included the fourth tower, La Peineta. In discussing options with a friend, they concluded that a southwest to northeast traverse is what made the most geographic sense, starting via the west ridge of Torre Sur, to then tackle the south faces of the Central and North towers, and Peineta. And so off he went, hiking deep into the De Agostini valley, between La Fortaleza and La Espada.

As his first climb, he had set his sights on “Il Lungo Sogno” (900m 60˚ 5.10 A2), a beautiful climb that initially tackles a prominent corner on the north side of the west ridge of Torre Sur. He climbed two pitches to a recess, and another up the corner, and rappelled back down to spend the night. The freezing line was quite low, therefore the ice and snow from the previous night, did not melt out. Conditions did not improve in the morning. A steep, ice-up section, which normally would be free-climbable, required aid using a Pecker and a few micro-nuts. After a few more pitches he reached the crest of the ridge, where conditions improved, allowing him to make faster progress. The climbing was high quality and never trivial. He belayed every pitch, and followed with a heavy pack carrying a light tent, food for five days, two gas canisters, two light ice-tools, crampons, a light sleeping bag and a good bit of clothing. He reach the summit of Torre Sur in the evening, and quickly started rappelling the “Aste” route along the north ridge. Two thirds of the way down he turned on his headlamp and continued to col Condor, at the base of Torre Central, where he set up the tent and slept for a handful of hours.

In the morning of Sunday the 24th, the “Kearney-Knight” route (850m 5.10 A2) on the south face of Torre Central beckoned —a climb that has only seen a few ascents. The original topo was unclear, so it took sometime to identify the start, and more time to find the splitter that provides passage through the steep middle headwall. Here the climbing was challenging and on two pitches he resorted to aid. In the upper third he made faster progress, scrambling his way up to reach the summit. Without delay he tackled the descent to the north, via the “Bonington-Whillans.” Three parties bivied partway up were surprised to see their favorite bearded bard descend upon them from the heights.

He reached Col Bich when night had already fallen but, aware that the new day would bring partially marginal weather, he climbed on, up the “Monzino” route (200m 5.10b) on the southwest side of Torre Norte, to bivouac one pitch below the summit. He only slept two hours and with the first light tagged the summit, down-climbed to the north, tackled the north summit and descended “Spirito Libero” to the base of Peineta, the fourth Tower.

The best bit of climbing on this lengthy traverse turned out to be the last. “Puro Filete” (300m 5.11 A1) follows a striking splitter on the south face of Peineta, a queen line. He started up it without delay, doing the seven pitch route in four long pitches. The climbing is challenging, with two cruxes, a thin crack in the lower part and an off-width near the top. He aided the lower crux and French-freed two moves elsewhere. At the top of Peineta, with clouds already covering most summits, he could finally take a short break. After a quick chat with two climbers that were there, he traversed north, along the ridge, and descended northwest, partially down the “Via dell’Agordino”, making several steep rappels to reach a ramp that lead back to the base.

Out of a weather window that was far from promising, with challenging conditions, in spite of tiredness from the 18 days spent on the east face of Torre Central free climbing “Riders on the Storm”, and while still recovering from a broken elbow in November, he navigated a seemingly endless rollercoaster of golden granite, entering the park via one valley and exiting via another at the opposite end. It had taken two hours shy of three days to ride the longest and most thorough traverse of the Torres yet.

At the outset, success had seemed implausible, yet, every dream begins with the same spark: a willingness to push doubt aside, a leap into the realm of poetic faith, and Seán sure knows a thing or two about that.


Photos (click to enlarge)

Travesía Doble M. Click to enlarge.

Travesía Doble M. Click to enlarge.

Summit Torre Sur. Click to enlarge.

Summit Torre Central. Click to enlarge.

Torre Norte. Click to enlarge.

End descent Peineta. Click enlarge.

The W Traverse. Click to enlarge.

The Skyline Traverse. Click enlarge.


Times & statistics

23rd Started climbing up Il Lungo Sogno (900m 60˚ 5.10 A2) on the west ridge of Torre Sur at 6 pm, climbing until 9 pm. Slept 6hs.

24th Continued climbing at 6:40 am, reaching the summit of Torre Sur at 6:30 pm, rappelling the Aste (800m) to reach Col Condor by 11 pm. Slept 5hs.

25th Started climbing the Kearney-Knight (850m 5.10 A2) on the southwest face of Torre Central at 6:30 am, to reach the summit at 7:40 pm, rappelling the Bonington-Whillans (600m) to Col Bich, and climb part way up the Monzino (200m 5.10b) on Torre Norte. Slept 2hs.

26th Started climbing around 5:45 am, reaching the summit of Torre Norte at 6:25 am, and the north summit (100m 5.9) at 7:37 am, to then rappel Spirito Libero (450m) to the col below Peineta. Next was climbing Puro Filete (300m 5.11 A1), reaching the summit to then traverse northeast, and rappel northwest, partly down the Via del Agordino (250m), reaching the base at around 4:30 pm, 1.5hs shy of three days since he started.

Previous traverses

The “W traverse” reaches Col Bich from the west, climbs the Monzino on Torre Norte, descends back to the col, climbs the Bonington-Whillans on Torre Central, descends the Kearney-Knight on the southwest face to col Condor, climbs the Aste on the northeast ridge of Torre Sur, descending back to col Condor. Steve Schneider completed it in 2002, taking 51 hours round-trip from base camp, 36 hours from the summit of Torre Norte to the summit of Torre Sur. It has been repeated a number of times.

The “Skyline traverse” climbs Spirito Libero on the north side of Torre Norte, to the north summit, then onto the main summit, descends to col Bich, climbs the Bonington-Whillans on Torre Central, descends the Kearney-Knight on the southwest face to col Condor, climbs the Aste on the northeast ridge of Torre Sur, and descends the southeast buttress via the Hoth route (850m). Pedro Cifuentes completed it in 2013, taking 29 days. In 2015, Iñaki Coussirat, Cristóbal and Juan Señoret repeated most of it, but instead of descending Torre Sur to the south, they rappelled back down the Aste Route. This mix between the “W” and “Skyline” traverse took them 56 hours.

The “Travesía Doble M" that Seán completed enchains all four towers, and does so following the longest and most obvious skyline, from the west tip of Torre Sur, to the northeast, past the summit of Peineta. The name is a reference to other traverses and hikes of the area, which are named after their appearance: the O loop around the massif, the popular W hike, and the W traverse of the towers.


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This article is copyrighted. Please do not reprint this article in whole or part, in any form, without obtaining written permission.


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