The Hand of God

1982. On April 2, Argentine forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands (aka Las Malvinas), and the next day South Georgia, British islands that Argentina considered its rightful territory. Just three days later, Britain dispatched an expeditionary force to take back what had been a British colony for over a century. In the end, British aircraft carriers and Harrier jets prevailed, and after nearly a thousand people died, the islands returned to British control. History doesn't record if the king penguins and elephant seals inhabiting South Georgia were consulted about which country they'd like to live in. Given how humans have treated other species from time immemorial, it seems unlikely.


1986. On June 22, Argentina and England were playing in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in Mexico City. The match was still goalless when, a few minutes into the second half, Diego Maradona leapt for the ball that had been cleared towards the English goalie. However, instead of heading it into the net, he nudged it in with his fist instead. The English furiously protested but none of the referees saw what had happened. Afterwards, Maradona quipped that he scored the goal "a little with his head, and a little with the hand of god". Argentina went on to win the match and the World Cup.


The low December sun was starting to skim the shoulder of Epaulette Mountain across the valley. As I paid out the rope, I watched blue shadows creep upward from the depths. For now, though, I was still in sunshine, warm enough to belay bare handed. Less and less of the seventy-metre rope remained at my feet until, when there was only a metre or two left, I removed the belay screws and scrambled up behind the pillar. I was standing there, tools at the ready, when I finally heard a distant shout that might've been "secure".

Five days earlier Diego Maradona died of fast living. My climbing partner grew up in South America, where Maradona was god. As a kid, like most other boys his age, he had wanted to be a football star. On the long drive home, we talked about the infamous goal that some had seen as revenge for the Falklands. The route practically named itself - all the more so since one or two holds at the crux might have been improved a little with the pick of an ice tool, and a little with the hand of god.

Overhanging limestone to hanging ice, a classic Rockies combination.

Juan following the second pitch on our first attempt.

It was a blustery day, and waves of spindrift washed over us repeatedly. We stuck in the bolts we needed so we wouldn't have to bring the drill again, and rapped and ran down to the warmth of the car.

We came back a week later on a clear but cold day. With Juan bundled up at the belay in puffy jacket and pants, I started up the second pitch wearing as many layers as I thought I could still reasonably climb in. Fortunately, while we were still struggling to stay warm in cold shade, the crux third pitch was already bathed in glorious sunshine. Photo: Juan Henriquez.

From my belay behind a skinny pillar atop the third pitch, Juan stretched the rope to the top of the climb. The intense solar radiation made for comfortable belaying and soft ice, but also meant I pulled out some of Juan's screws by hand.

In the Rockies, the December sun never rises high above the horizon, but it was noticeably sinking toward Epaulette Mountain across the Mistaya River valley by the time it was my turn to follow the pitch.

"Goooal!" Juan Henriquez celebrates at the top of the route in the rays of the setting sun.

The Hand of God (135 m, M7 WI5)

FA: Juan Henriquez and Raphael Slawinski, December 1, 2020

This route climbs the obvious dagger a few hundred metres left of Cosmic Messenger. It’s been suggested that it might’ve been climbed in the nineties by Serge Angelucci, but we didn't find any evidence of previous traffic. If it were indeed climbed back then, it’d be an impressive and futuristic ascent, before M-climbing and power drills.

Approach as for Cosmic Messenger. Once above the narrows in the drainage, angle left across snow, scree and small ice steps to the base. 1.5 hours.

Gear: A dozen draws, a dozen screws, cams from #0.1 to #1 Camalots, 70 m ropes.

Pitch 1 (25 m): Scramble up an ice shield and some cracks above. Mantle awkwardly onto a ledge below a steep wall and traverse left to a bolt and gear belay.

Pitch 2 (25 m): Drytool the right-facing corner above the belay past a fixed pin. From where the corner peters out, trend right past bolts to a 2-bolt belay below the dagger.

Pitch 3 (15 m): Crank over the roof above the belay using some long reaches. Continue up the dagger to a small cave behind a free-standing pillar. This pitch is entirely bolt protected but the belay is from screws.

Pitch 4 (70 m): Swing up the vertical pillar to a lower-angled ice hose on sun-affected ice to the top of the cliff. Ice screw or slung block belay.

Descent: Make a long double-rope rappel from a v-thread back to the cave behind the pillar, then a shorter one to the ground.

The line of The Hand of God.


  1. Hi again Raphael,

    I have finally read Chuck Pratt's essay. I got hold of it in the anthology The Games Climbers Play ( It is a phenomenal compilation of climbers' writing. I still have the majority of them to read, but the famous essay by Tejada-Flores that inspires the title of the whole anthology is one of my favourites ever. 

    I was compelled to write under this entry - rather than replying to the previous thread - to congratulate you for this FA, choice of name for the route and writing. I too was strangely moved by the passing of Maradona a few weeks ago - I too grew up in a Spanish-speaking country, which probably has something to account for. Your account of a hold or two being improved a little by the pick and a little by the hand of god is genius!



  2. Hi Silverio,

    Good to hear from you again. And thanks for locating Pratt's essay in that classic anthology. I'll have to get hold of it.

    As for the name of the new route, it was Juan's suggestion, though I didn't need much convincing. Like you, I liked the fact it worked on more than one level.

    All the best, I hope you're getting outside,



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