Good morning and happy Friday! September is always a tough month for me to keep up with my climbing reading and research — my preferred way to relax. September is probably the busiest month of the year at my job in Peaklessburg where there are more deadlines, planning for the new fiscal year and monitoring and controlling the work of my teammates; the effort needed to succeed involves a lot of energy and some steady nerves. Add baseball’s pennant races to the mix and I’m usually spent by the end of the week.
Still, as I recently explained to one regular reader, my mind has been drifting to the mountains of Patagonia. I expect to be posting on them for a bit before I return to writing more about Alaska, British Colombia and other parts of North America.
If you read the climbing magazines and blogs even occasionally, you know that Cerro Torre was featured in nearly every one. They covered the shock and celebration (take your pick) at Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk’s fair means ascent of the Compressor Route where they knocked off a quarter of Cesare Maestri’s bolts. It also covered what happened days later on the same route, where David Lama freed the vast majority of the route — the first to do so. Lama’s accomplishment also followed his own controversy on Cerro Torre in the previous years.
While Cerro Torre is iconic in Patagonia — a sharp spire neighboring other distinguished peaks like Fitz Roy and Poincenot — it’s immediate neighbor, Torre Egger (8,809 ft./ 2,685m.), might be easily overlooked. In 1993 Alan Kearney wrote in his history Mountaineering in Patagonia that while Patagonia is a common destination for many climbers and hikers, there are places that are less traveled and still seem like old, remote Patagonia, and the minor neighbors of major peaks are often a way to find that experience. I recall Jim Donini, who later became an American Alpine Club President (2006-09) by the way, writing in an issue of Climbing that even today Torre Egger remains one of the most challenging climbs in the Americas.
Torre Egger was named for Maestri’s partner, Toni Egger, who died while descending Cerro Torre. He fell with their only camera, leaving the alleged proof that Maestri claimed they mad the first ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959.
The mountain spire was first climbed by American alpinists John Bragg, Jay Wilson and Donini, whom I mentioned before. Their ascent was made in the southern-hemispheric summer of 1975-76. Their route creation was frequently interrupted by the famously bad Patagonia weather with its harsh winds referred to as the broom of God. For these reasons, the work stretched from mid-December to late February.
The first winter ascent was completed only recently in 2010. Swiss climbers Stephen Siegrist and Dani Arnold (Arnold also recently made a fast and furious ascent of the Eiger Norwand) and German climber Thomas Senf. A fourth was part of the team, Austrian Mario Walder, but knee trouble held him back from reaching the top. After some load ferrying to the base of the wall a weather window opened and allowed them to the summit in a three-day ascent. Like everything in climbing, nothing is certain until you’ve made the accomplishment and are safely in basecamp. According to Alpinist.com’s report, the team had their doubts even in their last bivy; would the weather window close and thwart their hopes. The weather held and they navigated the ice and cracks to the top. After three days they arrived on top in calendar winter.
The story that has drawn me to this mountain, however, was the new route put up by the late Bjorn-Eivind Artun and his climbing parnter Ole Lied over Christmas day and December 26. The route on the south face was called “ephemeral” in PlanetMountain.com and the climbers named it Venas Azules (6b+ A1 AI6, 950m). It earned elevated attention of the judges for the 2012 Piolet D’Or who gave it an honorable mention. What gets me the most about this climb is Artun. I’m sorry we lost him too soon, evidently hit by rockfall earlier this year. Artun sought challenges that were ambitious and pure — long, hard, and in a beautiful, minimalist style.
I called Baffin Island my Patagonia recently, and in many ways it is. But Patagonia is unique. So is Torre Egger and its stories.
Thanks coming by once again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter if you haven’t already because I believe climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.