It has been several years now since I have wanted to visit the famous bigwalls of Patagonia. Since a year ago I knew the Patagonian summer of 2017 would be the moment, good or bad weather, I would go. Together with two of my Belgian friends Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll and Nicolas Favresse we organized an expedition towards Torres del Paine, Chile.
Sean and Nico have been in Patagonia several times now so they came up with the objective of our trip, to make the first free ascent of an old aid climb called 'El Regalo de Mwono' which is graded VI 5.10 A4. This stunning line follows an obvious, but thin, weakness through a fairly steep part of the eastface.
It was first climbed in 1992 by a British team consisting of Paul Pritchard, Simon Yates, Sean Smith and Noel Craine. At the time, the first ascensionists climbed the whole line without placing any bolts, using only removable aid gear, a style our team really appreciated.
However, the crack looked very thin and with supposedly a lot of knifeblade nailing, it was very unlikely that it would go free. But the only way to be really sure, was to go take a look and put our nose right up against the wall.
We wanted to move on the wall with the portaledges as soon as we could but because of the weather, we spent three days fixing ropes on the lower slabs, which were often wet or snowy.
Next we committed to the wall in capsule style with portaledge. Our first camp was above a nice comfortable ledge at Pitch 7. A few days later we moved to an impressive hanging camp at Pitch 13 right above the two crux pitches of the climb. The unstable weather, the wind, the cold temperatures, the snow and iced-up cracks made the free climbing very challenging and on the days that we managed to climb we would only manage one to three pitches, before racing back to the portaledge for shelter and getting the blood circulating again in our fingers and toes. A lot of time was spent inside the portaledges reading, playing music, meditating and doing yoga. One memorable moment was Sean’s birthday party which was celebrated with popcorn and music.
We had to postpone a summit push until our 15th day on the wall, regardless several earlier attempts in harsh Patagonian weather. In fact, food-wise we were only prepared to stay 15 days on the wall, but descending didn't feel like and option - L 13 still had to be freeclimbed in order to reach our goal of freeclimbing the entire route!
On our fourth extra day on the wall, during a weather window of two hours, barely good enough to freeclimb, we managed to freeclimb the last cruxpitch.
Hungry but incredibly satisfied we descended the wall in rainy conditions. After 19 days on the wall, rationing and experiencing bitter cold we were excited to be on the ground, uncontrolled and wably our legs brought us back to our cave!
Although we didn't expect such an outcome a month earlier, we are happy and satisfied to have freeclimbed 'El Regalo de Mwono' at a grade of 5.13b (8a). The whole climb went free on removeble, but thin, protection. This way we respected the ethics of the first ascentionists 25 years earlier, which is also a style we like.
Although all of us have never been so skinny, the team is all good and healthy enjoying the comfort of civilization while working on putting some fat on our bones.