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Watch Film about Riders on the Storm: Big Patagonia Route that Almost Went Free

On February 6, top free climbers Ines Papert and Mayan Smith-Gobat summited Torres Central, in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. They climbed the big east face. 25 years after the first ascent, for only the fifth known time up of Riders on the Storm. This area of South America is famous for its unstable weather conditions, making it a very challenging place to climb.

Riders on the Storm was first climbed by Wolfgang Güllich, Kurt Albert, Bernd Arnold, Peter Dittrich and Norbert Bätz in January 1991 in 15 days over a five-week period. The climbing is varied and demanding, ranging from delicate and runout face climbing to wide cracks and roofs, which were often entirely iced up. Originally graded 5.12 A3, it now goes free with minimal aid up to 5.13.

A decade ago, the strong Belgian team of Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse , Séan Villanueva and Micke Lecomte attempted to free the wall. Here is what Nico Favresse said after their ascent in 2006: “We’re really psyched because we just succeeded on Riders On the Storm. We did it in big wall style over an 11-day push on the wall. We freed everything except for three pitches (and two others we didn’t redpoint). Sometimes ice was a big obstacle but we were able to get past these cruxes.

“Everything we deemed freeable for us except one pendulum. However we discovered a three-pitch variation to the right of the original line that might go free, but would be very hard, perhaps 5.13. The Portaledge was really nice to have. In one storm we flew in the air in the portaledge for many long seconds without touching the wall. After we tied it down, it was better. Time and weather conditions kept us from freeing everything. Three pitches are around 5.12d or harder. I redpointed one of them. It was an exceptional route, as good as the quality found on El Cap, and steep too.”

Mayan Smith-Gobat writes about her and Ines Papert’s climb on Riders on the Storm in the June/July 2016 issue of Gripped magazine.