Riders On The Storm
Mayan Smith-Gobat // Photography by Franz Walter & Thomas Senf
‘My fingers bit hard into small, wet edges as I brought my feet up beneath me. Suddenly my hands fired off the slippery holds and my body started peeling away from the rock; slowly tipping away from the anchors which, after 40 tense metres of run-out slab climbing, were finally within reach. My hands failed, seeking desperately to reconnect with the rock, but I knew it was too late. I was falling. My body accelerated down the slab, crashing into small ledges for what seemed an eternity until finally the rope came tight, jerking me to a halt. Excruciating pain seared through my left heel, but at least I was still in one piece.’ – Mayan Smith-Gobat
On February 6th, Ines Papert and Mayan Smith-Gobat, accompanied by their photographer friends Thomas Senf and Franz Walter, summited Torres Central, in Torres del Paine National Park (Chile) via the extremely difficult east face. Twenty-five years after the first ascent of this historic route, this was only the fifth known successful ascent of ‘Riders on the Storm’. This region is famous for its unstable weather conditions, making it a very challenging place to climb.
In Sidetracked Volume Seven, Mayan tells her story of the expedition. Here’s a clip from the expedition filmed by Thomas Senf and Franz Walter. A longer version is planned to be screened at international film festivals in winter.
‘We reached the top of the fixed lines as the first rays of sunlight hit the wall. We huddled together on a small snow patch, quietly watching the sun’s shimmering fireball rise over the endless Argentinian plains. No words were spoken, none were necessary, and we slipped back into our routine, working together as a team. It was my lead and time was limited, so with a deep breath I pulled on my rock shoes, peeled off my down jacket and gloves, and launched into the difficult opening sequence. The thin, sharp crack bit into my instantly frozen fingers; my toes felt like blocks of wood on the tiny footholds. I had to simply trust they would hold as all sensation was lost within seconds. Both Ines and I had been close to climbing this pitch the day before, so I knew what to expect. But it was difficult, especially in frigid conditions, and we only had one chance to climb this pitch before the ice above began to thaw and send a waterfall down the steep wall.’
My fingers, already barely held together by tape, were torn open in new places as I twisted them into the crack. However I couldn’t feel a thing and buried them deeper, seeing the small patches of blood that I left on the rock become rivulets as I progressed up the crack. My focus narrowed – all that mattered was climbing.
‘We had made the summit; we could have descended with all our gear and departed successful. However, our goal was to free climb the entire route and we still had several pitches to finish. Lying in base camp listening to the wind roaring, we gathered our strength, determined to finish our objective, yet with some trepidation – the danger was still very real. We could only hope that our luck would hold and we would not be caught in the wrong place whenever the next rock came plummeting down. When the storm passed, we ascended our ropes again, digging them out from under two meters of snow. The slabs now looked more like skiing terrain than a route we had climbed just a few weeks previously.’
Riders on the Storm pushed me to new limits and opened my eyes. Climbing this incredible peak, I had to pull together every scrap of my experience, and trust in my partners when I was lacking. We shared everything and worked together, combining our strengths and laughing at our weaknesses, and although we didn’t free the entire route, we managed more than any other team and left with the knowledge that free climbing this route is now possible.
Read the full story in Sidetracked Volume Seven
Mayan’s passion for climbing and the mountains runs deep. Born at the foot of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mayan’s early childhood was spent living in the outdoors. After an extreme skiing accident left Mayan with a broken jaw and two broken feet, Mayan to turn her boundless energy toward climbing exclusively – She never looked back.