Torres del Paine’s South African Route, Free-Climbed Again

Yesterday, American Tyler Karow was texting on a bus to El Chalten. A few hours earlier, he had stepped off one of the most impressive faces in the world, the central peak of Torres del Paine.

“To our genuine surprise, Cedar, Ima, and I managed to pull off a free ascent of the South African Route,” he wrote.

He, Cedar Christensen, and Imanol Amundarian spent 10 days on the face, plus two previous days fixing ropes from the ground, to accomplish the feat.

“We managed to summit on day eight in perfect weather and sent the final crux on day nine in the rain,” he said.

The team will detail the climb when they have time. So far, Karow has shared just two photos of the crux pitches.

Climber dealing with the idening crack on a completeley smooth granite wall, in the fog.

This 5.11+ offwidth is one of the cruxes of the South African route on Central Torres del Paine. Photo: Imanol Amundarian


“The first is a 5.11+ offwidth that almost didn’t go down [the image above] and the second [the lead image in this story] is a 5.12+ enduro finger crack that I sincerely think is the best pitch of rock I’ve ever climbed in my life,” Karow said.

The wicked 1,200m-long, 30-pitch direct line to the summit of Paine’s Central Tower was first climbed in 1973-74 by South Africans Michael Scott and Richard Smithers, using aid climbing up to A4/5. They were part of a bigger team and were on their second attempt. They summited in 32 days, Desnivel reports.

First free ascent

It took the genius of Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Nico Fabresse, and Ben Ditto to free-climb it in 2009. According to PlanetMountain, the Belgian trio spoke of some of the “most amazing passages of their whole climbing career.” If free-climbed, difficulties reach up to 7b+/5.12c.

Karow, Christensen, and Amundarian’s is the second free-climb of the route and just the third complete ascent. A second South African team repeated it in 2004, but they stopped at the summit ridge without reaching the summit. Notably, the current team completed the route in three days less than O’Driscoll, Fabresse, and Ditto.

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.