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Interview #5 Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll

April 27, 2017

Interview #5 Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll

Sean Villanueva, Nico Favresse and Siebe Vanhee recently climbed El Regalo de Mwono, a 1200-meter high route in Torres del Paine, Patagonia.  First climbed in 1991-1992 and originally graded VI 5.10 A4, now it passes for a  5.13b. The climb is considered as one of the hardest big wall free climbs in the Patagonia range.

1. Sean, we and of course the whole climbing community are impressed with what you guys managed to climb. Tell us a bit about this adventure in Patagonia.
It was awesome! Two great friends, good vibes, spectacular rock climbing, great scenery and proper Patagonian (bad) weather making the whole thing very challenging. We only barely managed to pull it off, it was a proper battle.
2. How was the climb itself?
    There really are some spectacular pitches on really good quality rock. Ice, snow, wetness, and the cold temperatures made some of the climbing very challenging! Most days we would only manage to do one pitch. On the best days we would manage 3 pitches before having to rush back to our portaledge to take shelter from the bad weather and warm up our frozen bodies. There are two crux pitches. The first consists of some amazing stemming in a flaring dihedral, at first we were convinced that it wouldn’t go free. It took a lot of imagination. The second crux pitch consists of technical, beta intensive face climbing on small crimps with protection in a thin seam.
    3. The last days you ran out of food. Did the climb take longer than expected or you didn’t plan to be so hungry? If you would have been forced to stay longer on the wall, which one of you do you think would have been eaten first?
      We prepared 15 days of food for this climb, thinking that was going to be plenty. In the end we spent 19 days on the wall so the last few days we had to ration and we had little to eat. We all lost a lot of weight. The climb took longer than expected because of the bad weather. I suspect the other two were contemplating in eating me first… but they were close to getting frostbite on their toes so maybe we could have started off with eating their toes first… Actually I would probably rather starve that go near their smelly toes!
      4. We heard that the nettle soup saved your stomach. What is the emergency recipe?
        One of our favorites! The nettle powder is great because it weights little, you can put it in everything and it’s very nutritious. The last days we would have about 4-5 nettle soups a  day, just to camouflage the hunger. The emergency recipe was a big spoon of nettle powder with a pinch of salt in a cup of hot water. The last three days we ran out of salt, so we would either have nettle tea (just nettle powder and hot water) or we would add a spoon of Chicken Tikka Masala (knowing there would be a spoon less for dinner). The preferred recipe was nettle powder, a pinch of salt, add some butter or coconut oil, some dried mushrooms, dried tomatoes and dried seaweed. We didn’t have that luxury for the last few days on the wall.
        Check out Seans recipe and instructions for making cranberry tea up on the wall:
        5. While you were on the wall, you turned a year older, oooops, wiserHow did you celebrate? Any gifts?
          I was very touched that my friends had been so thoughtful! We had a birthday party in the portaledge with popcorn and jamming.  My friends gave me a present of a sexually enhancing powder-mix called “four in a row, panty breaker”. Not really very useful on a big wall… However it contained some gluten, so I could not eat it (it’s the thought that counts). But when we ran out of food they both had it, so you’ll have to ask them about the effects…. Maybe an idea for LYO?They also gave me some marijuana tea, which was actually just green tea with hemp seeds, so no THC or any strange effects on that either. I love having my birthday way up there on the wall, such an incredible place!
          6. How do you prepare your body for such an expedition? Do you do a specific training or you just climb all the time?
            You have to be a very well rounded climber; strong in bouldering, endurance and volume. Also your granite climbing technique is very important. Besides working those things I like to run for my basic endurance, and I do some basic power exercises, mostly body weight exercises like push-ups, pull ups, rings etc. I’ve also found that stretching and being flexible and having good mobility helps a lot, you just waist less energy and get less cramps when trying to bring your foot up on an edge for example. But the most important thing of all for these type of expeditions is being mentally strong, and ready to suffer!
            7. What about nutrition? Do you have a special diet?
              I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease two years ago so I avoid even the smallest traces of gluten! Besides that I am very careful with what goes into my body: I eat  real foods, avoid processed food, avoid processed sugar like it’s poison, and for the moment I mostly eat a low carb diet because it works well for me.
              8. You actually started climbing in a climbing gym and nowadays you’re climbing big walls in the middle of nowhere and mostly in harsh conditions. You say that suffering is part of the experience and it seems like you enjoy it Some would say this climbing style is quite masochist. Was there any time during your adventures that you felt tired off this?
                No. Over the years I have really learned to appreciate every moment of being up there. I can honestly say that I was never tired of being up there. That doesn’t mean that I never will or never have before, just during this ascent I was never tired of it. I could have stayed up there for 20 more days if had had some more food. Some might argue that I just have forgotten, that it’s mostly what they call “type 2 fun”. Not for me, or else I have a really bad memory and a vivid imagination.
                9. What do you do when you’re not climbing?

                  What? There is something else to do too???

                  10. Let’s talk now about music. Since when are you playing the flute and how important is music for you?
                    I started playing the flute when I started traveling and going on expeditions about 15 years ago. Mostly to join in with Nico who plays guitar since he was six and would always bring it along on our travels. I play by ear and I never took any lessons or anything so my learning curve was very slow.Playing music on expeditions is awesome, it is something to do instead of waiting and it puts you in connection with the present moment and helps to let go of any tensions the climbing might bring.
                    11. Should we expect a new music hit from Patagonia?
                      Yes! It will blow off the charts!Well actually the tune we probably played most on this trip was a cover of a Patagonian band called “Siete Venas” the song is called “Homenaje”.
                      12. Any projects ahead?
                        No, I don’t do projects.

                        Thanks for the interview!




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