The highest rock wall in the world?
There are several claimants to this title, and according to Wikipedia (so it must be true) the highest is probably the Rupal face of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan at 4600m. However, for a combination of inaccessibility, difficult weather and un-interrupted sheerness, an equally serious challenge has to be the Central Tower of Paine in Chilean Patagonia. Exodus’s Phil Normington reports…
This incredible needle of granite rises to 2460m (8100ft) and was first climbed in 1963 by Chris Bonington and Don Whillans.
Patagonia has a magical attraction: the combination of brilliant clear air, with wide-open empty landscapes fringed by incredible mountains and glaciers is unique, and a strong draw for trekkers, mountaineers or those who just want to sit and stare. In a region of superlatives, the Towers of Paine stand above all the others – three rock fingers pointing skywards – if you haven’t seen them for yourself, you would think they were the product of a mountain geek’s imagination.
Daywalks to the Towers have been a regular feature of Exodus trips to Patagonia for many years, but now we are re-introducing one of the classic treks of the world, a complete circuit of the massif of Paine, and this is what we were setting off to do – by a new route which promised even better views of the peaks. The trek is based at the Eco-camp, an excellent comfortable fixed camp which is run on strictly eco-friendly lines. Igloo tents with wooden floors, plenty of warm water all generated by solar panels, superb food, and best of all, a magnificent panorama of the Paine massif from your tent door, including some absolutely outrageous sunrises if you happen to need to get out of your tent at first light.
The new route takes us around the north side of the massif, but well away from the mountains so the views are excellent. It’s an easy trail, but a long day at the start, culminating in a crossing of the Dickson River by zodiac. This is followed by a rest day with an optional walk towards a remarkable peak called El Cubio – The Cube – the name says it all. Then over the next couple of days we climb gently to the watershed at the John Garner Pass, and gaze in awe at the vast Grey Glacier, which marks the western limit of the Paine peaks. The circuit is completed by following a rough path alongside the glacier and the Grey Lake for a couple more days, then a boat trip across Lago Pehoe brought us back to the Eco-camp. Magnificent views all the way, including Paine Grande, the highest peak, and the jagged summits of the Cuernos del Paine – the Horns of Paine.
A superb trek, with excellent organisation throughout by the Chilean staff. But they did say we had been lucky with the weather….