Torre Egger, near miss and monster fall. In early February, Jonny Copp, Josh Wharton, and I joined forces to climb in the Cerro Torre and Fitzroy area. We set our sights on Torre Egger. It had only seen one alpine-style ascent, its last ascent three years ago. We agreed on the east prow, combining the Italian (De Dona-Giongo, 1980) and Titanic routes (Giarolli-Orlandi, 1987), in an alpine-style single push. [This link up (950m ED+ VI 5.10b A2 90°) was first climbed by Martin and O’Neill in 2002—Ed.]
We climbed the route in three massive blocks, each of us enjoying a good share of the leading. The climbing on the first six pitches (Italian Route) follows a large dike, and is mostly loose and moderate. Venturing onto the Titanic, the bottom half of which is indistinct, we simply followed a natural line to the large snow arête a little over halfway up. This section of the route, again, was loose and moderate. Above the snow arête, we found better rock on steeper terrain. We retreated to a ledge at the base of the snow arête, from five pitches above, due to waterfalls. Opting to cover the terrain during a cooler time of day and arrive quickly at the conditions-dependent crux mushroom, we left our bivy at 3 a.m. Josh repeated the five pitches he had originally led, and we continued, battling verglas and extremely loose blocks on traversing terrain. We made the base of the mushroom at 8:00 a.m. It seems that Torre Egger’s mushroom is larger and more overhung than those of its neighbors Cerro Torre and Cerro Standhardt. One rope length up an easy ice ramp deposited us within a pitch of the summit. Above our position was a narrow tube through the overhang. Being short on time, this was to be our way to the top in the increasing morning heat.
The lead was wild and involved. Having to excavate as much as climb, but with overhanging stemming and chimneying, I delicately wiggled through the overhang. After 20 more feet of vertical slush, I traversed up and right onto a fin, a mere three meters from the very top. As I began to mantle, the fin detached. I began to fall. The screamer sling attached to the ice screw five meters below me broke, sending me over and outside of my tube in a 30m fall. Luckily my trail line flipped me upside down, and Jonny’s melted-out V-thread anchor broke, launching him into space, so that I landed with all 26 spikes skyward on a dynamic counterbalanced belay. As the mushroom fell apart above and around us, we decided that it was time to go.
Although we do not consider that we truly attained the summit, it will remain to all of us the most eventful and lucky non-summit to date. And, hell, if you can’t have the summit itself, might as well take a piece with you.