Torres del Paine: New Attempt to Free Climb ‘Riders on the Storm’

The first free climb of Riders on the Storm on the central tower of Torres del Paine is one of Patagonia’s most coveted challenges. The feat is yet to be achieved, despite repeated attempts from a handful of cutting-edge climbers. Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Nico Favresse, Siebe Vanhee, and Drew Smith, all veterans of the route, are currently on their way for another round with the 1,300m granite face.

Vanhee revealed the plans a month ago in a short Instagram video:

The climbers showed up in Puerto Natales (Chile) last weekend, ready to go as soon as the weather allowed. And that may be the problem: Climbers in the area report relentless bad weather this season, Carlos and Victoria Garranzo of the Alpymon blog told ExplorersWeb.

IG story showing the climbers around a table in a restaurant.

Sieve Vanhee, Favesse, O’Driscoll, Smith and friends in Puerto Natales.

First ascent in 1991

Riders on the Storm is named after the song by The Doors, but also goes well with the vicious Patagonian weather. It was opened in 1991 by a legendary team of German climbers: Kurt Albert, Bernd Arnold, Norbert Baetz, Peter Dittrich, and Wolfgang Guellich. They spent six weeks on the wall to complete the line. It 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 falls of ice and rock.

The line in red marks the route uo to the tower's east face.

Route map by Franz Walter, on the Alpymon blog.


After 25 years and only three repetitions, it was two women who first attempted to free climb the route, in addition to bagging the first female climb. Ines Papert of Germany and Mayan Smith-Gobat of New Zealand managed to free all but four pitches. They did a new variation with difficulties up to 7C+ (5.13a).

A close call

Papert had a close call when a falling rock cracked her helmet in two. She decided that she had had enough of Riders. However, Smith-Gobat returned the following year with Brette Harrington. They fought for weeks against very bad weather and eventually retreated. But as Planet Mountain points out, they were convinced that the challenge was doable: “The crux pitches go free for sure.”

Check here the film by Drew Smith on the attempt by Mayan Smith-Gobat and Brette Harrington in 2017:


Of the current climbing team, Sean Villanueva and Nico Favresse completed the third repetition of the route in 2006, together with Olivier Favresse and Mike Lecomte. At the time, they managed to free some of the previously aided pitches.

The climbers about to depart El Chalten for Torres del Paine.

The climbing team, ready to go. Instagram story by Siebe Vanhee


Siebe Vanhee again attempted Riders on the Storm last year, with Brette Harrington of the U.S. on her second attempt and Jacopo Larcher of Italy. Again, Patagonia’s notoriously bad weather beat the climbers.

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.