I'd wanted to visit the famous bigwalls of Patagonia for several years. I dediced the summer of 2017 was the time, regardless of the weather - which can be really bad. Together with two of my Belgian friends Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll and Nicolas Favresse we organised an expedition towards Torres del Paine, Chile.
Sean and Nico had been in Patagonia several times before so they came up with the objective of our trip: to make the first free ascent of an old aid climb called 'El Regalo de Mwono' which is graded VI/5.10/6a/A4. This stunning line follows an obvious, but thin weakness through a fairly steep part of the east face.
It was first climbed in 1992 by a British team consisting of Paul Pritchard, Simon Yates, Sean Smith and Noel Craine. At the time, the first ascensionists climbed the whole line without placing any bolts using only removable aid gear, a style our team really appreciated.
However, the crack looked very thin and with supposedly a lot of knife-blade nailing it was very unlikely that we'd do it free. But the only way to be really sure, was to take a look and put our nose right up against the wall.
We'd wanted to get onto the wall with the portaledges as soon as we could, but because of the weather we were forced to spend three days fixing ropes on the lower slabs, which were often wet or snowy.
When we finally made it onto the wall with the portaledges, our first camp was above a comfortable ledge at pitch sevn. A few days later we moved to an impressive hanging camp at pitch 13, right above the two crux pitches of the climb. The unstable weather, the wind, the cold temperatures, the snow and iced-up cracks made the free climbing very challenging and on the days that we actually managed to climb we'd only be able to do one to three pitches, before racing back to the portaledge for shelter and getting the blood circulating again in our fingers and toes. A lot of time was spent inside the portaledges reading, playing music, meditating and doing yoga. One memorable moment was Sean’s birthday party which was celebrated with popcorn and music.