South America, Argentina, Southern Patagonia, Chalten Massif, Cerro Torre, Slovenian Start Variation, and Aguja Poincenot, Italian Route, First Integral Ascent

Publication Year: 2005.

Cerro Torre, Slovenian Start variation, and Aguja Poincenot, Italian Route, first integral ascent. On January 17, 2005, our small team from Slovenia, Patagonian veteran Silvo Karo, my wife Tanja Grmovsek, and Monika Kambic-Mali, and I settled down in Campo de Agostini. Our plan was to climb fast and light and to adjust our goals as the weather permitted. A window of good weather was forecast for January 19. The forecasts, which Thomas Huber was getting from Innsbruck (big thanks to him and Innsbruck’s meteorologist), were a big help. On the night of the 19th we left Campo De Agostini and went directly to the base of Aguja Saint Exupery’s west face. Silvo and I warmed up on a very nice route, Chiaro di Luna (800m, 6c), which we climbed in six hours (plus three hours to rappel). At 3 o’clock in the morning we returned to Agostini, after 23 hours on foot.

After more bad weather Silvo and I climbed the Anglo-American route (450m, 6b, Boysen-Braithwaite-Dickinson-Reid-Sylvester, 1974) on the west face of Aguja Rafael Juarez, in strong winds and snow showers, mostly in boots, on January 26 from Polacos.

At the end of January an unusually long and warm spell of weather set in. We moved our high camp to Noruegos and, and on January 31 Silvo and I started our planed line: the Slovenian Start on Cerro Torre. With only rock-and ice-climbing equipment, power bars, and a bottle of water, we started climbing at first daylight. We climbed the route Rubio y Azul (350m, 6c, Salvaterra, 1994) to the summit of Torre dc la Media Luna. We continued on virgin terrain, climbing a few pitches up to 6c+ and passing the Three Sisters towers, as we named the first three towers above Torre de la Media Luna. Then we made a 40m rappel, climbed another pitch back to the ridge and continued on an easier ridge (UIAA III/VI) for more than 500m, passing an obvious 30m spire that we named Torrisimo. After another rappel we were at base of Torre Pereyra. We climbed 300m (6c+) in fine cracks and corners to its summit. We then traversed another 100m down the ridge and after a short rappel were on the Col of Patience, meeting climbers who already climbed the Torre. We had been climbing for about 11 hours. We drank a bit, left some cams, and at 5 p.m. started up the Compressor Route. We made good time on the first wet pitch, but conditions worsened, with more snow and ice, forcing us to climb in boots and crampons. We enjoyed the last sunlight on the monumental bolt traverse. We continued through the night, climbing tricky, mixed corners. After we passed the Ice Towers, freezing, stormy winds slowed us. We enjoyed the first sunlight at the base of the headwall and at 10:30 a.m. stood on the summit of Torre, in a sunny, almost cloudless day, with a wonderful view. We climbed our line in 28 continuous hours, gaining about 1,700m in altitude and climbing more than 3km of rock and ice. Silvo summited Torre for the second time, 19 years after his first. We rappelled the Compressor Route, which was now very wet, finishing our roundtrip at 7 p.m. in Noruegos.

We waited for the girls, also climbing on Torre, and together we went to Chalten to celebrate. But the weather became nice again, and we had to return to the mountains. On February 6 Silvo and I moved from Agostini to a bivouac above Laguna Sucia, our goal being to make the second ascent of the Italian Route on the east-southeast pillar of Poincenot (900m, 6c A3, Bortoli-Carnati-Colombo, 1986), light and fast, in alpine style, and as free as possible. The route was climbed by a large Italian expedition 19 years ago, over two years, with fixed lines from bottom to top. Checking the topo, we thought the many pitches of A1 or 6a A1 would probably go free and fast, so we planned a one-day or day-and-a-half marathon. On the morning of February 7 we crossed the dangerous glacier to the base of Poincenot’s south wall. We started the first few easy pitches not earlier than at 9 a.m. When we came to the first aid pitch, we could only stare at the smooth, vertical and overhanging wall looming more than 400m above us, with only a few features. Luckily, the Italians left many of pitons, aiders, bolt kits, and lots of fixed rope on a ledge. We took the rustic aiders (we didn’t take ours because we thought we would not aid much) and some pitons. Half of the next 10 pitches were thin cracks, flakes, and slabs, which required time-consuming (though not technically hard) nailing and aid climbing. The other half of the pitches were awesome free climbing (to 6c) on huge flakes and in corners. We arrived at a good bivouac ledge just before dark. The next day we climbed the last aid pitch and continued on easier terrain, free climbing to 6c for about 450m to join the classic Irish Route (Cochrane-Whillans, 1962), on which we continued for another 350m to the summit of Aguja Poincenot, reaching it at 3 p.m. We’d done the second ascent of this elegant but quite hard route (I don’t think many of the aid pitches could be free-climbed). We’d also made the first integral ascent (the Italians didn’t climb to the summit). We rappelled the route and crossed the glacier through the night to our Laguna Sucia bivouac.

With this forth summit, I finished an intensive, successful three weeks in Patagonia. My holidays were over and I had to fly back home. But I will always remember my first trip to sunny Patagonia.

Andrei Grmovsek, Slovenia