American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

By Fair Means, The First Ascent of the Southeast Ridge of Cerro Torre Without Maestri's Bolts

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2012

By Fair Means

The first ascent of the southeast ridge of Cerro Torre without Maestri's bolts.

Hayden Kennedy

My mind twists in anticipation. The night is clear, and the Torres have become monsters. The moonlight provides just enough light to see the mushrooms at their tops, but the spires themselves are consumed by darkness.

The Torres rule at the top of the food chain in technical alpine climbing. They require a large skill set, from ice to mixed to snow-tunneling to steep rock. They serve it all in one heaping helping. Our goal is the southeast ridge of Cerro Torre without using Maestri’s bolts for protection, while climbing as free as can be. Jason Kruk and Chris Geisler came close in late January 2011 but were shut down 40 meters below the top of the headwall. While Jason now knows the terrain up to there, those 40 unknown meters loom in our minds as if they were 1,000.

Yesterday, January 11, Jason and I left base camp at a leisurely 8 a.m. We climbed the mixed initial 300 meters of the southeast ridge to the Col of Patience slowly, trying to conserve energy for the rest of the route. We climbed in T-shirts under a perfectly clear sky, with unreal views of the east face, feeling pretty small below the Patagonian giants. Arriving at the col with plenty of time to rest, we set up our bivy tent to escape the mid-day heat. We planned to rest at the col and start as early as possible on the ridge proper, to give ourselves plenty of time on the headwall. As the day progressed we packed our bags, hardly able to wait to get involved with the serious climbing.

And then the alarm rings, and we are brewing coffee. The night is clear, cold, and windless. At 2:30 a.m. I start leading, short-fixing as Jason jumars. I enjoy climbing in the dark, because you can only see what your headlamp illuminates, and there is nothing else on your mind. But with the rising sun comes even more psych and speed.

By first light I’ve led about 10 pitches to the base of the Salvattera Variation, which avoids the first of Maestri’s bolts (the 90-meter bolt traverse) by climbing a fantastic knifeblade seam at A1. The aid goes fast, and the next three pitches are marvelous face climbing on the edge of the world. With the vast south face just to the left and the equally vast east face just to the right, it’s one of the coolest places I’ve been.

We stop at the base of the ice towers to regroup. Jason leads the ice and mixed terrain fast, placing little gear and short-fixing. From our previous climbs we know that he is the better ice/mixed climber, while I’m better on rock. The leader’s job here is to get the rope up as fast as possible; the follower’s job is jumaring with the pack and dealing with the rope.

Toward the end of the ice towers another bolt ladder leads to the base of the headwall, but in 2007 Josh Wharton and Zack Smith found an ice pitch that trumps most I have ever seen. It’s long and steep, with the monstrous south face right below. Jason leads the pitch placing just a handful of screws, as I admire the Fitz Roy group in the morning light.

The fire is burning deep as we reach the base of the headwall at 10 a.m. We see the line of bolts that have desecrated this remarkable peak. Looking past the bolts, we begin climbing the headwall’s natural features. Long flake systems make the climbing fun and athletic, but still spicy. I lead two 40-meter pitches at mid-5.11 to a ledge right in the middle of the headwall. From here bolt ladders take steep blank rock, so Jason and I forge our own path. I trend left on 5.11+ crimps and flakes to a short section of thin A1, after which we reach a bolt placed by Geisler last year.

I clip the bolt and do a “king swing” pendulum to the left side of the headwall. Here Jason and I are on new terrain. The rock quality has changed from flaky to Yosemite-buffed, a nice contrast. The next two pitches are outrageous, with incredible exposure, amazing 5.11+ face climbing, and short sections of aid due to icy cracks. I reach the top of the headwall and yell into the wind. This is our dream come true. We race to the summit and unrope for the summit mushroom.

Standing on top of Cerro Torre, we are speechless. The Torres have given Jason and me much more than just a few summit photos, they have given us so much more.

I think everyone has read enough about what Jason and I did on the descent. It was what we wanted to do, end of story. There is no right or wrong in this complicated controversy. Alpine climbing is an art form; therefore, people can interpret it as they wish. We chopped 120 of Maestri's bolts on the headwall in an effort to restore Cerro Torre to a more natural state. We had the right to remove the bolts, just as Maestri had the right to put them in.

Summary:

Area: Chalten Massif, Argentine Patagonia.

Ascent: The first complete ascent of the southeast ridge of Cerro Torre without using Cesare Maestri's bolts for protection on the Compressor Route, on January 16,2012. Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk climbed four new pitches (5.11+); otherwise they followed the Compressor Route and variations established by Mauro Mabboni and Ermanno Salvaterra in 1999, Zack Smith and Josh Wharton in 2007, and Chris Geisler and Kruk in 2011. (The Savaterra variation follows the first two pitches of the 1968 Anglo-American attempt.) In its entirety the route is now simply known as the Southeast Ridge. During their descent, Kennedy and Kruk chopped 120 of Maestri’s bolts from the headwall.

A Note about the Author:

Hayden Kennedy, 22, grew up in and still bases out of Carbondale, Colorado, near where he led his first multi-pitch climb, Castleton Tower, at the age of 13 with his father Michael Kennedy. That climb launched a passion that has already taken him to most of the worlds continents.

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