Patagonia / Argentinia
A PART OF ME
Words: Thomas Huber
There are mountains an alpinist wants to climb, and the experience enriches their life. And then there are mountains that one wants to climb, that change your life!
One of these mountains inspired me, it filled me with desire. From my perspective, it is located at the other end of the world. It is a mountain like a flame, full of character... an Argentinian mountain, or rater: a 1500 meters tall granite spire. Passionate, challenging, surrounded by storms: Cerro Torre.
This name is a declaration of love, if you are talking to an alpinist. I am one of those, and for more than ten years, I have felt a close connection to this mountain. This connection guides me, makes me dream, shows me my limits, makes me fail and motivates me to take the next step!
Ten years ago, I had the idea to climb the Torre over a crazy line: my goal was not the direct route to the summit, it was the most beautiful line, and also the longest that I had chosen: Along the ridge, or rather the skyline. Up and over Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger up to the summit of my freedom, Cerro Torre.
My first season in Patagonia was in 2005. At first, we were alone with our idea. Together with Andi Schnarf, a young Swiss alpinist, I got quite far: we reached Torre Egger. The usual stormy weather forced us to retreat. But I got addicted and wanted more, I wanted her, the Traverse, but also the Patagonian lifestyle.
Pretty much every year, I experienced adventures in Patagonia, sometimes small, sometimes big. A painful moment came when an American-Argentinian team became the first to climb the Torre Traverse. The idea is a part of me, and thus it doesn't matter whether I am first, second or third or whatever to do it. I want to experience the moment, I want to arrive!
It's been ten years that I travel to this land, and the Traverse still eludes me. Instead I summited Cerro Standardt three times, Torre Egger and Punta Herron twice, and Cerro Torre (in winter), Fitz Roy, La Silla, and Saint Exupéry once. I also ate several asados with Don Gerra, found many new friends, and experienced Patagonia!
It is now 2015 and just like ten years ago, I am climbing with Andi Schnarf; Tommy Aguilo from Argentina completes our team. Different weather models predict a decent chance of finally completing the Traverse. Motivated by the forecast, we head up at night, to the jammed block atop of Col Standardt, where our intended route starts. Seven hours later, we reach the summit of Standardt and during our rappels to the Col Sueno, the winds picks up.
We rappel to the more sheltered East face, where we find an icy ledge for an uncomfortable bivy. Above us, around the summits of the Torres, the storms rages with full force. From the icy tips, the fist-sized ice chunks keep bombarding our bivy, and soon enough, the rain comes. Perfect, what a night!
In the morning, the wind dies. The dawn of the day swallows the stars. Calm. Finally. We sleep an hour, until the first sun rays motivate us. We continue and climb as fast as we can! Three hours later we stand on the summit of Punta Herron, and at three o'clock, on the summit of Torre Egger.
The wind picks up again, just like the day before. The rappels to the Col Conquista turn into a stormy nightmare. It's toilsome to keep the ropes under control. The gale force winds make it impossible to bivy here, not to speak of climbing up the North face. We rappel, again to the sheltered East side, and we soon agree that our adventure has to come to an end here.
At six in the morning we arrive back in camp. The Torre glows in the most perfect morning light. High up on the mountain, everything looks calm, but neither of us pursues the question... yes, maybe it could have worked!
We get into our sleeping bags and fall asleep. Around noon, we wake up and see the first clouds clashing with the Torre. Hours later, the mountain is no longer visible. We now know: The decision last night was the right one. Andi and I exchange a look and tell Tommy how ten years ago, we experienced something very similar.
LUCK, CHANCE, SKILL?
After our winter ascent - together with Dani Arnold, Tibu Villavicencio and Stephan Siegrist – a journalist interviewed me...
It's been 14 years since the Cerro Torre has been summited in winter. Why? What makes this mountain so particular, and so particularly difficult?
The Torre is a special mountain. Everyone who has stood below the Torre knows why.You don't need words for that. From all sides, the mountain rises vertically for a thousand meters. It is difficult to climb, but with today's means and the skills of many alpinists, it's doable. The only aspect that is often difficult to control is the Patagonian weather. Storms that come out of nowhere and bring 130mph-winds are common.
Why did it take 14 years? Maybe because nobody wanted to climb the Torre during the coldest time of the year.
What did you do better than the expeditions that failed? Luck, chance, skill?
We were lucky, we were fast, we were a great team. Everybody worked for the team, we all focused on the same goal, together: make the best use of the weather and reach the summit of Cerro Torre.
Stephan had summited once before – did the expedition benefit from his experience?
Every expedition benefits from the know-how of individuals. Helped by the experience that we all have when it comes to climbing in Patagonia, we managed to reach the summit in three days, counting from El Chaltén.
The nights during the Patagonian winter are very long and cold. How did you deal with these long periods of cold?
We did not only train specifically for this project, we also took great care when choosing the gear that we need. We had sleeping bags and good, warm clothing. Had we been cold for more than 12 hours every night we bivied, we could not have performed well enough during the day.
You talk about a "fairy tale landscape of unreal ice formations", the "amazing Ferrari Route", the fantastic views and a perfect team - that sounds like a mellow walk through a dreamscape. That can't be the case?
Cerro Torre is no walk in the park. Especially in winter, every meter is a challenge. But this mountain, and especially this route is unique in all the world and it is a gift to climb up the ice mushrooms in good weather.
You climbed the last meters to the summit unroped - isn't that risky despite there being no wind?
Everything is risky if you are not aware of the danger. Moreover, the last few meters are really no problem.
By the way, how does one come up with the idea of climbing the Torre in winter, considering the risk is higher than in summer?
Winter alpinism in Patagonia is something very special. That is Patagonia to me, and I am sure this wasn't the last time. Maybe the risk is lower than in summer, because the cold reduces the risk of rock fall when the sun comes out to pretty much zero.
What was better: Reaching the summit, or the joy about the bread, salami and beer that your local friends Hector and Luis brought to you on your way down?
Everything! Because everything, every moment, is connected. It starts at home... packing, the flight, the excitement, the unknown, the drive to Chalten, the anticipation, the climbing, the summit, the endless trek to the Marconi and the first beer... simply everything! It was great to have a fantastic time with good friends, via the Torre.
Can you compare this winter ascent with other routes/landscapes, was it something special for you? You were without your brother - is there something missing when climbing then, because you know each other so well? Do you have plans which mountain (summer/winter) you will attempt next?
Every mountain, every adventure has its unique flavor. Whether it is Baffin, the Karakorum, Yosemite, or Antartica. Every expedition was special and perfect. But Patagonia stands out for me. Patagonia, to me, is today what Yosemite was for me eight years ago. I have never failed in Patagonia, even though I sometimes came back home without having reached a summit. I've always had a great time that made me evolve.
Alexander had an other plan this summer. We will climb together a lot in the future, but every once in a while, we each do our own thing. That's the way it should be, and where we are heading next? Maybe... just wait a little longer to find out, we have many plans, and if we stay healthy, we might make it up another summit or two ((-;
Monte Fitz Roy (also known as Cerro Chaltén, Cerro Fitz Roy, or simply Mount Fitz Roy) is a mountain located near El Chaltén village, in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in Patagonia, on the border between Argentina and Chile.
First climbed in 1952 by French alpinists Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone, it remains among the most technically challenging mountains for mountaineers, on Earth.
Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno first saw the mountain on 2 March 1877. He named it Fitz Roy, in honour of Robert FitzRoy, who, as captain of the HMS Beagle had travelled up the Santa Cruz River in 1834 and charted large parts of the Patagonian coast.
Cerro is a Spanish word meaning hill, while Chaltén comes from a Tehuelche (Aonikenk) word meaning "smoking mountain", due to a cloud that usually forms around the mountain's peak. Fitz Roy, however, was only one of a number of peaks the Tehuelche called Chaltén.
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Cerro Torre is one of the mountains of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in South America. It is located in the border between Argentina and Chile, west of Cerro Chaltén (also known as Fitz Roy).
The peak is the highest in a four mountain chain: the other peaks are Torre Egger (2,685 m), Punta Herron, and Cerro Standhardt. The top of the mountain often has a mushroom of rime ice, formed by the constant strong winds, increasing the difficulty of reaching the actual summit.
CLIMBING HISTORY OF CERRO TORRE
Cesare Maestri claimed in 1959 that he and Toni Egger had reached the summit and that Egger had been swept to his death by an avalanche while they were descending. Maestri declared that Egger had the camera with the pictures of the summit, but this camera was never found. Inconsistencies in Maestri's account, and the lack of bolts, pitons or fixed ropes on the route, have led most mountaineers to doubt Maestri's claim.
In 2005, Ermanno Salvaterra, Rolando Garibotti and Alessandro Beltrami, after many attempts by world-class Alpinists, put up a confirmed route on the face that Maestri claimed to have climbed. They did not find any evidence of previous climbing on the route described by Maestri and found the route significantly different from Maestri's description.
Maestri went back to Cerro Torre in 1970 with Ezio Alimonta, Daniele Angeli, Claudio Baldessarri, Carlo Claus and Pietro Vidi, trying a new route on the southeast face. With the aid of a gas-powered compressor drill, Maestri equipped 350 m of rock with bolts and got to the end of the rocky part of the mountain, just below the ice mushroom. Maestri claimed that "the mushroom is not part of the mountain" and did not continue to the summit. The compressor was left, tied to the last bolts, 100 m below the top. Maestri was heavily criticised for the "unfair" methods he used to climb the mountain.
The route Maestri followed is now known as the Compressor route and was climbed to the summit in 1979 by Jim Bridwell and Steve Brewer. Most parties consider the ascent complete only if they summit the often-difficult ice-rime mushroom.
The first undisputed ascent was made in 1974 by the "Ragni di Lecco" climbers Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri.
In 1977, the first Alpine style ascent was completed by Dave Carman, John Bragg and Jay Wilson (USA). They took a week to summit Cerro Torre, which had taken the Italian group two months to summit. In 1980 Bill Denz (New Zealand) attempted the first solo of the Compressor Route. Over a five-month period he made 13 concerted attempts but was driven back by storms on every occasion. On his last attempt in November 1980 he got to within 60 metres of the summit.
In January 2008, Rolando Garibotti and Colin Haley made the first complete traverse of the entire massif, climbing Aguja Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre together. They rate their route at Grade VI 5.11 A1 WI6 Mushroom Ice 6, with 2,200 m (7,200 ft) total vertical gain. This had been "one of the world's most iconic, unclimbed lines", first attempted by Ermanno Salvaterra.
On 16 January 2012, American Hayden Kennedy and Canadian Jason Kruk made a "fair-means" ascent of the controversial Compressor Route even if they actually used some of Maestri's bolts, removing many of the bolts during their descent. There has been much discussion concerning the removal of bolts from the compressor route by Kennedy and Kruk.
In contrast to the first free ascent of David Lama (January 2012, together with Peter Ortner), Kennedy and Kruk used bolts (although not Maestri's) during their 'fair' means ascent. Lama estimated the difficulties of his free ascent (which followed a new line cirumventing the bolt traverse and in the upper headwall) as grade X- (hard 8a but mentally highly demanding; e.g., climbing on loose flakes, long runouts). Lama stated that a free repetition of the original Compressor route is virtually impossible (particularly the rock of the last pitches comprise no climbable structures).
ca. 3100 m
ragni route - west face
600 m, 90º, M4
Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri