Patagonia: Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll Tames Monster Offwidth

The offwidth between pitches 2 and 10 of the la Chaltelense route. Photo: Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll

There he goes again: Shortly after stunning the big wall climbing community with his solo Fitz Roy Traverse — already considered the hardest solo ever done in Patagonia — Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll and partner Jon Griffin have opened what O’Driscoll considers the “King Line” up the south face of Fitz Roy. It’s 500m, up to 7a (5.11c/d) whose features include a nerve-wracking, eight-pitch offwidth. The pair onsighted it with no bolts.

This line on Cerro Chaltén shares its first two pitches with the Colorado Route, but then instead of deviating toward more human terrain, it continues straight up a vertical crack 13 to 15cm wide, with a few short chimney sections, according to Patagonia Vertical, which first announced the feat.

La Chaltenense, the new King Line by Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll and Jon Griffin. Photo: Brette Harrington/Topo Patagonia Vertical

The admittedly flamboyant O’Driscoll brought his tin whistle with him but couldn’t play it on top because it was too windy. Not to worry, though: He carried speakers and played music for most of the climb. So for a fully immersive read, click on the video below before continuing this article.

Besides the intrinsic difficulties of each pitch, the environment itself created very hard conditions. As a south face (which, in the Southern Hemisphere, is the equivalent of a north face in the Alps or North America), they enjoyed sunlight just briefly twice a day, in the morning and just before sunset.

Both climbers ended up with mild frostbite and ragged clothes, shoes, and packs from the abrasive rock in the offwidth. They finished the climb in one day plus part of the night, summiting at 3:40 am. The pair rested as well as they could in their one sleeping bag, then descended at first light.

“There were some desperate moments,” Villanueva recalled, “where I would slip down a few centimetres, get completely out of breath, try to find some way of jamming some part of my body, either a foot, a knee, a leg, an arm, chest…get a really bad lactic acid build-up in some muscle I had never felt before, try and catch my breath, stop my mind from wanting to give up, recover and then get back at it!!! and try and recover those few cm I had lost…”

Often, Villanueva had to lead pitches with no protection between belays. Photo: Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll

As noted by Patagonia Vertical, the offwidth could only be protected with #6 Camalots, and the climbers had only two, so Villanueva would shuffle them. Often, he had no protection at all between belays.

Villanueva believes that this is the most obvious route up Cerro Chaltén. In a Facebook post in Spanish, he said, “Most of the south side routes are named after the first climbers’ places of origin (California, Washington, Colorado, Canada). Since Jon and I have been living in El Chaltén for over a year and feel so much at home here, mainly thanks to the amazing people in town, we dedicated this line to you guys and named it “la Chaltenense.”

Summit celebration for Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll (left) and Jon Griffin.

Last but not least, here is the complete playlist that accompanied the climb:

Simon & Garfunkel: El Cóndor Pasa

Rocky Road to Dublin (traditional Irish song version by The High Kings)

Stick Figure: Weight of Sound

Nathan Evans: The Wellerman (a 19th Century sea shanty)

Degiheugi: Koltaka

Fidel Nadal: International Love

Jahneration: Reggae love

The new line, pitch by pitch (including playlist).

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Don Paul
Don Paul
1 month ago

Running it out 150 feet at a time on 5.10/5.11 offwidth cracks, especially in alpine conditions makes this a very hard route, and explains why no one climbed it before. It looks like it goes on an on, over 1000 feet with no handholds or hand jams. There are techniques I guess but it’s mostly just squirming up and jamming your body into it. I’ve always gotten torn up trying to do it, and would destroy a down suit before I figured out the technique.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
1 month ago

RunOut #57: Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll and the Story That Needs to be Told
https://runoutpodcast.com/index.php/2021/03/09/runout-57-sean-villanueva-odriscoll-and-the-story-that-needs-to-be-told/

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