First all female free ascent of Cerro Torre
I have been going to Patagonia for three seasons now and it is a place I really love for the great mountains and the remoteness you can still feel when you go out on a big mission there. But not only that, also for all the nice people who got my friends here. Coming back felt for me like coming home.
I came with a big dream: To climb the West face of Cerro Torre. Two years ago I tried this with my french friend Laure Batoz and we had to turn around just 2 pitches before the summit. Since then the mountain stayed in my mind and the motivation was big to go back to reach its mushroom summit. Last year I spent two month in el Chalten without any good weather window to try Cerro Torre. This is the patagonian reality, you depend on the weather and you never know how it is going to be.
And this year I was much more lucky. Just some days after arriving in el Chalten I climbed Claro di Luna, a wonderful granit route up St Exupéry with my slovenian friend Nastja Davidova, which was so much fun.
Then back in town the challenge looking at the weather forecast started again, it wasn’t obvious, looked strange and we couldn’t say how would it develop. To be ready to attack whenever we want to we packed our packs and then continued checking the weather, coached by Rolo the guidebook author who is very experienced in the area. And then it looked like enough days without wind to give it a try.
The first day we walk until la playita, a nice and sheltered spot just beyond Paso Marconi. The wind is too strong to walk over the pass that day. The next day we start walking in the dark, we walk all up the Marconi glacier over the pass and along the big inland icecap. Me and Christina Huber are completely alone in this enormous space of ice and the weather is incredibly good: No wind at all, no clouds and sun, sun, sun. But this also means that the ground gets soft and we are very happy to have carried our snowshoes up here. We walk and walk in this white landscape, feeling our big backpacks exerting pressure on our backs and shoulders. And then surprisingly fast we get to see Cerro Torre, the summit pointing like a cream topping in a deep blue sky.
In the afternoon we built our little tent up in the circulo de los altares and enjoy the nice sun there.
And then the next morning we start up to the col de la esparanza through icy and rocky terrain, climbing already some pitches. And the big surprise: On the col we meet our slovenian friends Luca Krancj, Luca Lindič and Tadej Kriselj, who did the Adela traverse and are now also climbing up to the Elmo. We find a perfect bivy spot just under the Elmo, again without any wind, it feels surreal.
The next morning finally the real climbing starts. We start climbing in the dark. For the first rime pitch to reach the top of the Elmo we use one wing. At least we didn’t carry them for nothing. We are moving quite fast and start climbing the mixed pitches still without light. It makes it easier that I already know this part of the route and so the orientation is not a problem. And then slowly the sky turns into soft pink and orange, which allows us to observe the incredible sea of clouds beyond us. Something that I’ve seen quite often in the alps, but never in Patagonia. On the clouds the shade of Torre Standhard, Egger and Cerro Torre appears. Cerro Torre is surrounded by a light circle, which gives it a magic atmosphere. Far down we can see the slovenians starting to climb. Switching leads we move on and on in a flow, happy to climb nice pitches in between this crazy rime and ice formations up to the headwall the steepest part of the route. One long pitch of 90° makes us feel our arms and we are happy that we are both able to send the pitch. Yeah! A pretty impressive lead from Chrissi.
Now the next challenges are the well-known top mushrooms of Cerro Torre. We climb a very long pitch passing several anchors up to a shoulder were we can see Fitz Roy and the mountains beside for the first time and the sun as well. Two years ago we had to turn around here, now we continue our way up through an impressive tunnel to pass the second mushroom. At its end we can see the last pitch, which looks impressive: First some loose snow with a little overhanging part to pass a rock and then a halfpipe, which ends in a tunnel. To reach this crux pitch we have to traverse some steep and really exposed ice. Luckily the last pitch has already been climbed this season, so that there are some steps that help to pass the loose snow. I’m working myself higher and higher up very carefully until I can put an ice screw after several meters. It’s not a good one, but better then nothing, at least it helps for the mind. Climbing further until reaching the last tunnel which is small so that I climb it like a chimney. While climbing I’m already thinking of Christina who will have to climb this narrow part with our backpack.
And then after ten hours of climbing we reach the summit of Cerro Torre! Wow! Perfect weather and a far view, which shows us how far away el Chalten still is and that it is going to be a long way down. So we start rappelling on snowpiks and abalakovs that we find or make. At the Elmo we melt snow again to be able to drink and hydrate our tired bodies and then continue our way down to the col de la esperanza and the circulo de los altares, which we reach just after midnight. We make food and water, sleep one hour in our wet tent and then start walking again. We know that the wind is going to get strong around midday, so we want to be far from the icecap by then.
To our surprise the wind is already quite strong just when we start walking and even stronger once we get out on the open ice, this makes us think: Does it make sense to walk the four hours back to Marconi against the wind? Are we going to be able to make it there and over with this wind? And what if the wind gets stronger? Finally we decide to walk out into the other direction over paso del viento to have the wind from the back. While we are walking and walking and walking on the glacier the wind gets stronger and stronger and sometimes we have to stop. None of us knows the way and the copy of the topo, that we have is quite bad and so we get into a zone of crevasses at the edge of the glacier without knowing where we should go. We loose two hours, because we didn’t know that the way passes on the left side of the lagoon, and not on the right side where it is impossible to descend from the glacier. Afterwards we have to walk over several moraines, exposed to the wind, which is sometimes so strong that we can’t walk anymore and scares us. We are not sure if we are able to walk up until paso del viento, but it is also impossible to build up a tent here. We are experiencing the power of patagonian weather and fighting to get out there. When we finally reach the pass, there is now wind anymore and we start to feel save, but the way is still long with lots of up and down. We imagined the way out from here flat and downhill like from the paso marconi, but unfortunately that is not the reality and we still have to carry our heavy backpacks uphill. Backs and feet start hurting more and more, but the motivation is big to reach el Chaltén and so we keep walking even when it gets dark. After 20hours of walking and 48hours with just one hour of sleep we reach el Chaltén, very tired but satisfied. We realized a big dream.
Thanks to Mammut, Marmot and Katadyn for helping us to making a dream become true!