The Avellano Towers are an incredible place in the Patagonian wilderness of Chile. Taking Jim Donini up on his offer of, “something a little different”, 5 years ago is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
We made some brilliant first ascents, both with and without Jim that trip. We also made a lightweight attempt on the huge South Avellano Tower. We basically flailed around at the bottom, finding very smooth, low friction granite combined with some quite green cracks. Retreating at lunch-time, we spent the afternoon staring up at the monolith we’d just tried to climb. I’d never seen such a beautiful unclimbed, and I believe, un-attempted piece of rock. I came around to the fact we weren’t going to manage it that trip, but it was some pretty large unfinished business!
Dave and myself returned 10 months later with a pair of strong climbers: Andy Reeve and Will Harris. We made good progress on the obvious central line, before a cold storm blanketed the wall in snow and unfortunately never cleared in time.
Layed to rest for the last 4 years, this trip came around kind of by accident. Will (Sim), Paul and John were already keen to find a rock objective in Patagonia. I showed Will the pictures, without putting too much thought in to it and before I knew it plans were been put in place. My girlfriend, Ruth, agreed to come along and before we knew it all 5 of us were on route.
Getting there is quite a big adventure, involving the crossing of a big rough lake, in a little overloaded boat; horses and Gauchos to take your things 30km up a beautiful valley; then multiple load carries through freezing cold rivers and rain forest. Base Camp is idyllic with running water and plenty of wood. A well-built lean to, by Will and John, made for extra comfort and cooking lessons from Ruth made for good eating.
After lots of poor weather in December, it gradually improved the closer we got and by the time basecamp was fully established the wall was ready to climb on, although still wet. We made quick progress on my original line, setting ropes to the halfway ledges over the 1st 2 days. Poor weather threatened by the end of the next day, so we made the decision to “go for it”. We gained the top of the fixed ropes by daybreak and attacked the headwall in 2 pairs. The rock became more varied, with some loose flakes and areas of exfoliating rock. There was some really high quality climbing and amazing positions, particularly where we had to avoid a big wet corner for a couple of pitches. One particular pitch, Paul Swail quested up really stands out. It looked so unlikely! But after managing to place a peg in a very awkward position, he made steep moves through a roof and in to an outrageously exposed traverse. Almost to my disbelief we found a way up the wall and topped out late that afternoon. Ruth traced our progress from basecamp, with radio contact throughout and even made us pumpkin curry and cheesecake for our return!! It began to rain half way through our descent.
Ruth Bevan and John Crook established another line together on a new face. Chicken Run (650m, E2 5c) takes the obvious clean face of a pyramidal peak. John told UKC:
'We made a sit start all the way from steep jungle, involving some of the best green climbing I've done! Above the gardens the face was stepped and alpine in nature with a brilliant crescendo on the headwall: five pitches of incredible climbing, involving cracks, flakes and lots of chicken heads. We descended off the back.’
Will sent in the following account of their climbs:
'The route had been about 900-1000 metres long and every pitch had gone free. E5 seems about right, give or take a grade. We were all in disbelief that our main objective had been achieved after only three days of effort, we had half expected it to take us up to ten - taking in to account bad weather - and had come equipped with portaledges to give us options. I think the fact that we knocked off the South Tower so fast was partly due to the luck of the weather changing for the better just when we were ready to launch. But also due to the groundwork that John, Will Harris, Dave Brown and Andy Reeve had made in the previous attempts. Thanks boys!
With two weeks of food left in basecamp, and high spirits it was a nice feeling to know that anything else we climbed was a bonus, yet there were plenty of plums for the picking.
Once our bodies had recovered from the south tower, John, Paul and I made the first ascent of a beautiful route on an attractive mountain we got to know as "Cerro Squareface" (actual name unsure?). The climax of this fantastic route was a dream splitter crack that felt about E5 6b and was too good to be true. We strolled around on the windless summit for a few minutes in Patagonian perfection before beginning the descent.
Our last climbing of the trip was spent trying to repeat our own route up the south tower's East Face, but going even more direct in a place we'd spotted a crack with binoculars. Unfortunately it wasn't to be as the heavens opened on us halfway up the wall. It was the only day of the trip that the forecast was wrong, but we couldn't complain given the trip we had had.
We reversed the load carrying of the approach and met up with Louis and his horses for the walk out to the lake. Hunger had well and truly set in now that we had exhausted nearly all of our provisions, but we didn't care, we'd just had 3 weeks of dream climbing in a barely explored Patagonian paradise.’
We even had plenty of time for a few days climbing on El Pyramide, Cerro Collorado. A 150m-200m high columnar basalt tower in the middle of the desert, described by Jim as, “the Devil’s Tower on steroids”! Development has been rapid over the last 5 years, since Dave Brown and myself were lucky enough to be able to climb some of the peach lines here. The boys certainly climbed a couple of great new lines, while Ruth and myself are waiting for confirmation on another.
Will and the expedition was supported by: Edelweiss, Grivel, Montane Alpine Club Grant, Rab, Scarpa and Sea To Summit Also thanks to Jim Donini and Angela Goodacre for their unlimited hospitality.