American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Chile and Argentina—Patagonia, Torre Egger and Innominata

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1975

Torre Egger and Innominata. Our expedition consisted of Dr. Daniel Reid, Rick Sylvester, Americans, Rafael Juárez, Argentine, Eric Jones, Tut Braithwaite, Martin Boysen, Mick Coffey, Keith Lewis, Don Whillans and me, British. For more than two months, from the first days of December into February, we threw everything we had at a vertical pillar which is topped by a mushroom of ice. Torre Egger, named after Toni Egger, the Austrian who disappeared on Cerro Torre, on first acquaintance is rather diminutive compared to its higher neighbor, Cerro Torre. This is a false impression for although its summit is 800 feet lower than Cerro Torre, the climbing starts 1000 feet lower. We were surprised when we had run out of 5000 feet of fixed rope how much of the climb was still left. We had our customary fair share of the indescribably bad Patagonian weather, but ironically it was not the bad weather but the good that stopped us from reaching the top. A spell of weather lasting eventually for 20 days was given us, but our team at that stage was weak. Jones had torn a knee ligament; Whillans had gone home; I had shingles; and Juárez had died with a companion on Cerro Adela. This left Reid, Sylvester, Boysen and Braithwaite with Coffey to back them up, still a strong team but reduced in size. The weather was good and progress was made, but it went slowly for the walls of Torre Egger are very steep and don’t lend themselves to fast progress. The mushroom was collapsing and Torre Egger was turned into a murder place. We saw pieces the size of houses slide off and a small piece—no larger than a tennis ball—broke Braithwaite’s arm. A gigantic icicle, 100 feet long and of many tons, loomed above the route. The high point that Reid reached was just below its tip but everyone else agreed that continuing was unjustified. Two days later I had recovered sufficiently to join the team and we changed our objective to the unclimbed Innominata. After 3000 feet of scree and slabs, we reached the bottom and had a comfortable bivouac. At six the next morning we started to climb the steep slabs leading to the col between the Innominata and the Aguja St. Exupéry. These were pleasant and often difficult but above were no mushrooms or icicles. Above the col the headwall reared steeper. Reid nailed it, followed by Boysen and me, while Sylvester brought up Braithwaite with his fractured arm. We had thought that we would reach the summit that night and had no bivi gear but by seven P.M. Reid came to a vertical crack that looked as if it needed bongs. We had none and so Boysen climbed it free at what he thought to be good Welsh extreme standard and in boots. He climbed it with one boot and one hand in the crack with his other limbs lashing along the edge of the crack. He thought he was off a few times before he reached the top of the crack and when he did, he was so exhausted that he could not belay for five minutes. We all followed, but still there was one pitch left. Reid went up again nailing and reached the summit as darkness arrived. Fortunately sixty feet below the top was a ledge covered with large boulders. Here we bivouacked without food and bivi gear. Cannily Sylvester and Braithwaite had duvets in the bottoms of their rucksacs. I had an anorak, but Reid and Boysen had only shirts on and spent a cold night dancing together beneath the southern stars with the wind starting a storm. We thought we were in trouble but it held back and as the false dawn broke, Braithwaite, Sylvester and I went to the summit, took a few photos, left a badge of Rafael Juárez’s Cordoba Alpine Club and started our retreat. Five hours later we were back on the glacier at our Advance Base Camp. Some of us waited for another six weeks to see if colder weather would bring a fresh spell of good days, but this was not to be.

Leo Dickinson, Alpine Climbing Group

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