8a on Cerro Torre

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 31/01/2012
Cerro Torre, with the south-east ridge facing the camera. Andrej Grmovsek

Widely reported, Austrian climber David Lama has made a much-coveted first free ascent of the south-east ridge of Cerro Torre.

In 1970, and in what would prove to be one of the most talked about ascents of the century, Ezio Alimonte, Carlo Claus and Cesare Maestri climbed the south-east ridge to within 60m of the highest point. On the way they used a huge compressed air drill to place 360 bolts.

They left the compressor firmly attached to the headwall, a piece of mountaineering archaeology that now gives the route its most popular name.

Maestri dismissed the summit mushroom as not really a part of the mountain, and it was left to Steve Brewer and Jim Bridwell, in 1979, to make the first complete ascent.

The 1,200m route has been repeated hundreds of times, with a grade that has generally settled to 5.10 A2 and AI3. A possible free ascent has been a discussion point for many years.

On the 20th January, Lama and Peter Ortner spent four and a half hours reaching the Col of Patience at the start of the ridge, resting there a few hours before making their attempt at 1pm.

After a spell of settled and unusually warm weather, this side of the mountain was in great condition, with much of the rock, particularly on the headwall, ice free. The pair managed to reach the start of the bolt traverse in just three hours.

Lama and Ortner had climbed this section many times in varying conditions over the last three years, during their attempts, some controversial, to free climb the route. Once, they had needed two hours just to overcome the first two pitches.

The rightward bolt traverse is considered impossible to free, and in 1999 Ermanno Salvaterra and Mauro Mabboni, in an attempt to bypass some of the bolts, climbed directly up the crest, following the line tried during the first attempt on this ridge, in 1968, by Martin Boysen, Mick Burke, Peter Crew, José Luis Fonrouge and Dougal Haston.

Protecting themselves with a few bolts, Mabboni and Salvaterra continued the 1968 line to the Ice Towers, free at around 6b except for the first A2 crack. Doing so they avoided nearly 200 of Maestri's bolts.

In 2007 Zack Smith and Josh Wharton forced a continuation through the ice towers (WI5) to meet the Compressor Route on the headwall.

Lama climbed close to the A2 crack, taking several falls and at one point wondering whether a free ascent of this section was possible. However, after working the moves he managed to reach easier ground, before lowering and redpointing the pitch at an estimated 8a.

The pair continued to the Ice Towers, where they bivouacked (having to forgo dinner due to a faulty gas cannister), and next morning left at 6am.

At the headwall Lama took off boots, crampons and socks, donned rock shoes and started up the line of the Compressor Route, now much harder to protect after the Hayden Kennedy-Jason Kruk removal of around 125 bolts a few days previous.

Lama climbed the first three pitches more or less along the line of Maestri's route. This involved large loose flakes, a very wet second pitch, and a difficult sequence over a big block of ice poised above his belayer.

Twenty metres below the Compressor, still bolted to the wall, the pair traversed right to a series of cracks and corners.

They followed this for two pitches, with sometimes runout protection, to reach the snowfield. This year the summit mushroom was straightforward. The entire headwall had been climbed free at 7a+/7b.

For a full history of Cerro Torre see pataclimb

Hayden Kennedy's and Jason Kruk's account

David Lama's account
 


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