Chilean mountaineers reach summit of iconic Patagonian peak

The team braved below-freezing temperatures and extreme winds to be the first Chilean team to complete the highly-technical ascent of Cerro Paine Grande in Torres del Paine.


María Paz Ibarra, Camilo Rada and Sebastián Irarrázaval made history last month as the first Chilean mountaineers to reach the peak of Cerro Paine Grande, the tallest mountain in Patagonia´s crown jewel, Torres del Paine National Park.

By Andean standards, the peak is relatively low — “only” 10,000 feet, or 3,050 meters — but the highly-technical ascent is made complicated by the extreme conditions in the southern tip of South America.

In 2010, the Chilean team came to within 300 feet of the peak, but were forced to descend when the weather suddenly turned stormy.

This year, the team scheduled their re-attempt during the relative calm of the Austral winter – always stormy – braving temperatures of -22ºF (-30ºC) and wind gusting up to 62 mph (100 kmh).

The ascent is so complex that only two mountaineering teams had ever summited the mountain before August 17: a group of Italians in 1957 and a French-Argentine team in 2000, according to Chilean daily El Mercurio.

And the next challenge for this pioneering Chilean team? Irarrázaval said the plan for 2012 will be Mount Sarmiento’s 7,369 foot peak (2,246 m), once described by British naturist Charles Darwin as “the must sublime spectacle in Tierra del Fuego”.

“The regions of Aysén and Magallanes are full of mountains that don´t even have names, which opens up a lot of options for this sport,” Rada told local media.

Irarrázaval added: “global mountaineering should concentrate on this place. While the peaks aren’t very tall, they are very complicated and require a lot of technique, which makes them a greater challenge for enthusiasts.”

This post is also available in Spanish