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An Epic Big Wall Climb 60 Years Ago

A British and Italian team raced to the summit of the Central Tower of Paine in 1963

Climbing the world’s most remote big walls required an expedition-sized effort back in the 1960s. The Central Tower of Paine had never been climbed before 1963, but a huge effort by a strong team over several months changed that. The video below documents their historic ascent.

In Oct. 1962, a group of strong British climbers sailed from Liverpool, U.K., to Punta Arenas, Chile, on a trip that took over a month. The team included Barrie Page, Chris Bonington, Vic Bray, Ian Clough, John Streetly, Derek Walker and Don Whillans.

After making progress on the north ridge, they were hit but nearly six weeks of bad weather. During the downtime, a team of Italian climbers arrived to attempt the same route. Thankfully, the British had built a wooden hut at camp two, which gave them a head start when the weather cleared in February. After an epic climb, Whillans and Bonington became the first people to reach the summit on Feb. 9, 1963.  The Italians summited soon after.

In 1964, Clough and Whillans wrote about the climb in the American Alpine Journal, saying, “Eventually, across a small gap a hundred feet away, I saw what was undoubtedly the summit of “Big Ned”, our nickname for the Central Tower. I slid into the gap, climbed the other side and soon was standing on the summit block. Together we yelled, “Big Ned is dead.” Far, far below the sound reached the ears of our friends as they descended to the hut.”

1963 on Tower of Paine