Torres del Paine : “Riders on the Storm is the absolute best for the big wall climber.” says Siebe Vanhee

L26, dans l'immense toit Rosendach. ©Drew Smith

On February 9, 2024, after 18 days spent on a 1300-meter face, Sean Villanueva, Nico Favresse, Siebe Vanhee, and photographer Drew Smith stand atop the Torre Central del Paine in Patagonia. Delighted yet physically drained, they have just completed the first free ascent of the legendary “Riders on the Storm” (1,200m, 7c+) on the east face of the tower. Spearheading this expedition, big wall climber Siebe Vanhee shares the story with us.

Let’s set the scene. Opened by Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Bernd Arnold, Norbert Bätz, and Peter Dittrich in 1991, Riders on The Storm stands as a king line comprising 38 pitches that, over 33 years, had never been freed.

Following an initial repeat, without freeing the route, by Czech climbers David Stastny and Jan Kreisinger in 2002, the team consisting of the Favresse brothers, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, and Mike Lecomte became the fourth party to reach the summit of the route in 2006—four years after the ascent by French climbers Arnaud Boudet, Martial Dumas, Jean Yves Fredericksen, and Yann Mimet.

In doing so, they planted seeds of hope among generations of climbers to free the line. The goal: to climb each pitch without aid, including certain sections rated A2.

One of the obstacles among many: a daunting pendulum on the sixteenth pitch. Despite their efforts, the team came up empty-handed! It became apparent that climbing this section was impossible; a solution had to be found.

A variation
that allows for dreaming

Rider on The Storm route on