Steve Schneider's Epic Solo Traverse
First Traverse of the Towers of Paine, Solo or Otherwise
Puerto Natales, Chile - February 24, 2002
Editor's Note: Thanks to Hans Florine of SpeedClimb.com, here's Steve Schneider's first-hand report of his solo traverse of the Towers of Paine, Torres del Paine National Parque, Chilean Patagonia, three weeks ago.
On February 16, 2002, I awoke in Campamento Japanese at 2am, got caffeinated, and departed camp at 3am. I was intending to make a solo traverse of the Towers of Paine.
With just over a week to go before my departure home to California, I knew this would be my final try. It was my intention to climb all three towers by their normal routes in as continous a push as possible. I started climbing up the North Tower via the Monzino route at 8:30am and summitted at 9:11am for a time of 41 minutes(two weeks earlier I had made the climb in 35 minutes). I roped up only for the initial 70 meters of the route.
After descending the North Tower, I began climbing the Central Tower via the Bonington-Whillans route at 9:55am, and summitted at 5:14pm for a time of 7:19 on that climb. On the start of the summit ridge, I encountered newlyweds Mike and Alison Pennings, who were on their way down after summiting a few minutes earlier.
Mike was the first person to climb the tower entirely free, leading every pitch onsight with no falls and reckoning the difficulties at about 5.11b. Alison seems to be the first woman to climb the Central Tower via any route.
A brief weather check on the summit revealed completely clear skies with a view to the Pacific Ocean, so I initiated the committing rappels down the South Face of the Central Tower. A 2000-foot descent down the Grupo Ragni route with 16 rappels and some downscrambling landed me on the big walkway that goes across the West face of the Central Tower at about 10:30pm. I hunkered down for the night in just my clothes. I do not think I slept, but I got some much needed rest.
At 7am on February 17, I got moving again under perfect skies. I continued my descent, pioneering a way down another 400-foot face that landed me in the large couloir between the Central and South Towers.
At 10:25am I started up the Asti route and summitted the South Tower at 7:50pm for a climbing time of 9:25. After 15 minutes on top, with the weather still holding, I began my descent and arrived at the bottom six hours later at about 2am. Four hours later I staggered back into Campamento Japanese at 6am for a round trip time of 51 hours from basecamp to basecamp.
Later that day a storm moved in and the weather window closed.
This was my fifth attempt to make the Tower Traverse. Along the way I climbed the North Tower four times, the Central Tower twice, and the South Tower once. I also endured three open bivoaucs, two full-blown epic retreats from near the Central Tower's summit, one life threatening rockfall, and an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. It is the first traverse of the Towers of Paine, solo or otherwise.
— Steve Schnieder, Courtesy SpeedClimb.com