Patagonia: ‘Riders on the Storm’ on Torres del Paine Finally Free-Climbed

After 18 days on the sheer face of the Central Tower of Torres del Paine, four elite climbers have finally made the first free-climb of Riders on the Storm. Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Nico Favresse, Siebe Vanhee, and Drew Smith succeeded 33 years after a German team first opened the legendary route.

The climbers summited on Feb. 9, after free-climbing the whole route by the Mayan variation, first opened in 2016-2017, Siebe Vanhee wrote on social media.

The team, climbing in capsule-style, persevered through long days of bad weather on the wall, stuck in their portaledges “reading, playing music, and eating popcorn,” Favresse reported.

“The only days we could climb, we had to clean ice from the holds and fight with cold fingers and toes to free-climb in sub-zero temperatures,” he added.

History with the route

Two of the climbers had a long history with the route. O’Driscoll and Favresse had done the second ascent of Riders on the Storm 18 years before, together with Mike Lecomte and Favresse’s brother Olivier.

“At the time, we were only 23-25 years old and coming mostly from a sport-climbing background,” Favresse wrote. “We freed most of the route except for a few short sections and a pendulum which seemed impossible to free.”

Since then, the pair has regularly returned to Torres del Paine and free-climbed a series of hard routes there, but Riders on the Storm remained top of mind. Siebe Vanhee attempted it last year, with Brette Harrington of the U.S. on her second attempt and Jacopo Larcher of Italy.

Kurt Albert, Bernd Arnold, Norbert Baetz, Peter Dittrich, and Wolfgang Guellich first opened Riders on the Storm in 1991, after six weeks on the wall. The route goes directly up the middle of the East Face of the Central Tower of the Torres del Paine group. It was graded as VI 5.12d (European 7c), A3 and tagged as exposed, due to frequent falling rock and ice.

Riders on the Storm route topo.

Route topo. Photo:

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.