“February 9th, 2024, we stood there again, on the summit of Torre Central (2460m) of the Torres del Paine. Two days after Sean’s 43th birthday, 7 years after the first free ascent of ‘El Regalo de Mwono’, 18 years after Nico and Sean climbed Riders on the Storm for the first time. We stood there, wind in our faces, after having done the first team free ascent of Riders on the Storm in capsule style spending 18 days on the wall.”

‘Riders on the Storm’ is one of the legendary alpine big wall routes first ascended by Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Bernd Arnold, Nobert Bätz and Peter Dittrich in 1991. This obvious king line of 44 pitches, climbs 1300m up the center of the East face of the Torre Central. In the last 33 years this masterpiece has never been entirely free-climbed. One of the major hurdles was the hard aid climbing and big pendulum across a blank face on pitch 16. In 2016 Mayan Smith-Gobat, Ines Papert and Thomas Senf discovered a possible 5 pitch variationat R13  that would make the route go entirely free. Mayan returned in 2017 with Brett Harrington and Drew Smith aiming for an all free ascent. Unfortunately, they were pushed back by the intense Patagonian weather.

“Riders on the Storm was still waiting to be freed. With a possible free variation already discovered it was a super attractive objective.” – Siebe

However extreme weather conditions are often the biggest challenge for free climbing in Patagonia.  In 2023 Siebe teamed up with Jacopo Larcher and Brette Harrington to try. Like Mayan and Brette, they got shut down by wind, rain and snowstorms. This year Siebe came back with Sean, Nico and Drew Smith.

“It was as easy as one single message; ‘Hey guys, I want to try Riders, psyched for a second try?’” – Siebe

On the 15th of January we walked into the park with heavy loads of climbing gear and food. We prepared for 1 month of autonomy. Without porters, we shuttled our fat pigs to basecamp, Campo Torres, and the base of the wall. During the first 9 days in the park we managed to climb two half days making it to the top of the pillar at pitch 13, where we would set up our portaledge camp several days later. On the 24th of January a great one day window without too much wind gave us the chance to commit to the wall in capsule style. We hauled all the haulbags up and set up camp, barely beating the storm that rolled in at 7pm. It was game on! In the first days we managed quickly we managed to freeclimb the new free variation in harsh conditions and made it to pitch 26, the famous ‘Rosendach’ roof, on day 6 on the wall. We only needed one good day to go the summit.

But it’s not called “Riders On The Storm” for nothing and with all the windows closed the Doors began to sing. Seven days later we still hadn’t gotten passed the roof. Several attempts were made to climb but they were shut down by freezing temperatures and rime covered rock. The only progress made was Nico red-pointing pitch 23, a mega struggle in icy conditions, cleaning the snow off the crimps while freeclimbing. Most time was spent reading, playing music, having book-discussions, popcorn parties and melting snow. We also got several visits from 140km/h invisible trains hitting us day and night. Patagonian wind never disappoints.

“You have to be a little bit masochistic to put yourself on this wall” says Nico.

On day 14 we made it through the roof and continued free-climbing all the difficult pitches to then be shut down at nightfall by snow and heavy spindrift avalanches (for us simple rock climbers) only 6 (easy) pitches from the summit. Another 2 days were spent at our local bookclub “the flying carpets”.  Finally on the 9th of February we crawled out of our tumble-drier and climbed the remaining pitches to the summit.

Besides being an indispensable member of the team, Montana hard man Drew Smith managed to capture not only the pain, struggle and glory of the ascent, but also the sobbing. More to come.

This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the kind Chileneans!

Jorge Ruiz, Seba Rojas, Hernan Jofre, Hernan Rodriguez, Seba Pelleti, Yonatan Araya, Nico Secul, Ocho and Ruth of the Redpoint Hostel and all the guardaparques at Campo Torres.


Thanks to our sponsors:

EDELRID, The North Face, La Sportiva – Siebe
Patagonia, Scarpa, Petzl – Nico and Sean
Totem Cam, Lyofood, LMNT Salts – The whole team

© Foto credits: Drew Smith