Historical: First free ascent of Riders on the Storm (1200m, 7c+)

Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva, Nicolas Favresse and Drew Smith make climbing history: In Patagonia they succeed in the first free ascent of Riders on the Storm (1200m, 7c+) on the east face of the Torre Central.

Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva, Nicolas favresse and Drew Smith free the historic route in Patagonia Riders on the storm (1200m, 7c+) and thereby solve a challenge that the best climbers in the world have faced over the past 33 years.

Riders on the Storm is one of the legendary Alpine big wall routes that was first climbed by Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Bernd Arnold, Norbert Bätz and Peter Dittrich in 1991. The Kingline leads over 41 pitches up to 7c+ through the middle of the 1200 meter high east face of the Torre Central.

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We are very pleased that we can further advance the vision of our climbing heroes who opened this extraordinary route by taking the final step towards free ascent.

Nicolas favresse
Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva, Nicolas Favresse and Drew Smith free Riders on the Storm. Image: Drew Smith
Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva, Nicolas Favresse and Drew Smith free Riders on the Storm. Image: Drew Smith

The path to completely free access

The Belgian-American rope team fulfilled their dream of the first free ascent of Riders on the Storm after 18 days on the wall on February 9, 2024. Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva, Nicolas Favresse and Drew Smith took turns leading each pitch on their team free ascent.

During their free ascent, the quartet climbed a variant that was discovered and equipped by Mayan Smith-Gobat and Ines Papert in 2016. This avoids the difficult technical climbing over five pitches and the large pendulum along the bare wall in the infamous 16th pitch.

  • Riders on the Storm Patagonia route history
  • Topo Riders of the Storm

Full size topo.

Riders on the Storm: The name says it all

Heavily loaded with climbing equipment and food, ready to be self-sufficient for a month, Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva, Nicolas Favresse and Drew Smith set off to their base camp at the base of the wall on January 15, 2024. During the first nine days they were able to climb for a day and a half and made it to the 13th pitch.

On January 24th, a short window of good weather with little wind opened up, which the four climbers didn't miss. “In the following days, despite the harsh conditions, we managed to climb the new variation including the 7c+ Crux quite quickly,” says Siebe Vanhee.

In the rose roof on the 26th pitch of Riders on the Storm. Image: Drew Smith
In the rose roof on the 26th pitch of Riders on the Storm. Image: Drew Smith

On the sixth day on the wall they reached the 26th pitch, the famous rose roof. From there, only a good day of climbing should separate them from the summit. But the route is called Riders on the Storm for a reason.

As the weather window closed, the heavens opened. Seven days later we still hadn't gotten over the roof.

Siebe Vanhee

The only progress was Nico Favresse's redpoint ascent of pitch 23, during which he free climbed in icy conditions while brushing snow off the ledges.

We spent most of our time reading, playing music, having popcorn parties and melting snow. Several times invisible trains raced past us at 140 kmh - you can rely on the Patagonian winds.

Siebe Vanhee

On their 14th day on the wall, they managed to get over the roof and continue their free climb. "When night fell, only 6 'easy' pitches separated us from the summit, severe spindrifts paralyzed us for another two days," says Nicolas Favresse. On February 9th they were finally able to complete the first free ascent of Riders on the Storm.

For me, the key to this success was a great team: because we were able to encourage each other with positive energy, we were able to give more than usual and climb freely in conditions that I would normally consider impossible.

Nicolas favresse

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Credits: Cover picture Drew Smith

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