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Patagonia
in Winter

A Rare Success
on Cerro Torre

Stephan Siegrist, Dani Arnold, Thomas Huber and Matias Villavicencio have successfully completed a winter ascent of Cerro Torre (3,128 meters above sea level) in Patagonia. The last-known winter ascent of the “Torre” was 14 years ago – and back then Stephan Siegrist was also part of the team. The successful quartet reached the summit of this often storm-swept granite giant under optimal conditions on July 30.

Cerro Torre is a myth of a mountain and has repeatedly generated material for films. The forthcoming movie with David Lama will yet again increase its popularity. In summer, Cerro Torre is an extremely popular destination for mountaineers from across the globe. In winter, the picture changes completely: to date, we know of a mere three winter ascents.

The initiator of this expedition was the German climbing star, Thomas Huber. He had teamed up with the local mountaineer Matias Villavicencio (Tibu) and invited Stephan Siegrist to come along. Stephan agreed on the spur of the moment, and in turn brought the Eiger north-face record holder, Dani Arnold, into the team.

Stephan and Thomas are old hands when it comes to Patagonia. They know from experience that the chance of hitting a window of good weather is greatest at the end of July/beginning of August.

On July 27, Stephan and Dani travelled to El Chalten to meet up with Thomas and Tibu, who were already waiting in Patagonia. In Stephan Siegrist’s words: “After a short night, we packed up all our gear early on July 28. We then embarked on the 7-hour ascent to the Nipo Nino camp, assisted by our friends, the brothers Luis and Hector Soto. At the moment, the winter here in Patagonia is very mild.

The Lago Torre has not frozen over. On July 29, we descended across the Col Standhardt carrying heavily laden backpacks, rappelled two pitches down onto the West side of the Torre group and descended further into the cauldron of the “Circo de los altares”. After that, we started to ascend again, heading in the direction of “Filo Rojo”.

It was warming up. The snow was soft and forging a track was arduous. After two combined pitches we reached the top of a buttress. Following a pleasant night spent atop of the “eagle’s nest”, the alarm clock sounded at 5.00 a.m. Time ticked by until everything was packed up again. It was still pitch black, but we had to get going. Only once we reached the “helmet” could we switch off our headlamps.

We found ourselves in a fairytale landscape of fantastical ice formations. The Ferrari route is simply a dream! After 1999, I had always longed for an opportunity to once again climb this route and experience this surreal terrain. Now I was able to be here again – 14 years after our first winter climb of the Ferrari route and the second ever ascent of Cerro Torre in winter. As far as I know, there have been no further winter ascents of Cerro Torre since my last visit.

Thomas took the lead for four combined pitches. We were making good progress. Then Dani led the climb in onto the headwall for a further pitch, before I took over for three pitches.

I still remembered one or two spots, although the formations had of course changed considerably over the course of 14 years. I reached the ridge through a small channel separating the west wall from the north wall. I wriggled through unreal ice formations. “Whistling” sounds plumbed the depths of the “Col de Conquest” – the incision between Cerro Torre and Torre Egger. I belayed again below the summit mushroom. My gaze wandered across to Fitz Roy – and to the mountain range on the Chilean side of the “Hielo Continental”. Simply fantastic! The weather was unbelievably good. Not a cloud in sight! And our team was working perfectly. While Thomas and Tibu followed, Dani tackled the final pitch – the mighty ice mushroom of the summit.

In 1999, it took us 4 hours to battle our way up through the dreaded rime ice on the northern side. Further on the west face, Dani found a gully that was almost free of rime ice. Nevertheless, even for the ice master, the first five meters were by no means “child’s play”.

 

As soon as I followed, I began to prepare the first rappelling spot in advance, at the northern end of the mushroom. Compared with 14 years ago, it looked different up here. Thanks to the reliable weather report, we were also safe in the knowledge that the weather would not change during the next few hours. Last time we abandoned the ascent of the approximately 10-meter high hoarfrost mushroom because of an impending storm. Back then we didn’t mind.

But this time was different: No winds were gusting on the summit! Without belay and in easy terrain, we ascended the final 10 meters from the summit plateau to the highest point. Another unforgettable experience in Patagonia! We were so happy.

It was already 5:30 p.m. and we began our descent. I equipped myself with the necessary gear and prepared the rappelling sites. At 11.00 p.m. we reached our “eagle’s nest” again and bivouacked there for a few hours. The weather report for the next few days was forecasting a lot of wind. We therefore decided to return via the route over the Marconi pass. It was a long and in the end grueling struggle through deep new snow. After a nine-hour walk, we reached the western end of the Lago Electrico, where we set up our final bivouac.

Another 4 hours of walking were ahead of us the next day, after that we would have made it. The next morning, half-way to our destination, we were completely astonished to come across Hector and Luis. The two of them had descended from Nipo Nino to El Chalten the day before and were now hurrying towards us in the Piedra del Fraile. They were carrying bread, salami and beer. Just what we had been dreaming of! They really are true friends. We arrived back in El Chalten on the afternoon of August 1st. With the traditional asado awaiting us in the evening, I was already looking back upon another exhausting but unforgettable week in the Patagonian mountains.”

Facts:

Second winter ascent of the Ferrari route. To our knowledge: Third winter ascent of Cerro Torre ever.

Chronology of events:

July 27, 2013: Arrival in El Chalten
July 28: Hike to Nipo Nino
July 29: Ascent to Col Standhardt and rappelling towards “Circo de los altares”, followed by ascent towards “Filo Rojo”. Bivouac at the “eagle’s nest”.
July 30: Climb to the summit of Cerro Torre (3,128 meters above sea level) via the Ferrari route and descent to the “eagle’s nest”.
July 31: Descent via Circo de los altares onto inland ice and then across the Marconi glacier to the Lago Electrico. Bivouac.
August 1: Walk back to Chalten via the Piedra del Fraile.

Team:

– Stephan Siegrist
Dani Arnold
Thomas Huber
– Matias Villavicencio „Tibu“

Assistants for equipment transport: Luis and Hector Soto