Photo: © | Thomas Ulrich

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First winter ascent
of the three best known
peaks of the Torres.

Stephan Siegrist succeeds in the first winter ascent of the three best known peaks of the Torres; Cerro Torre, Torre Egger and Cerro Standhardt in the Cerro Torre group (all three summits were climbed in alpine style).

A look back

14.07.1999: Cerro Torre, Ferrari Route (on the western mushroom, which is 8 metres higher than the western peak, Thomas Ulrich, David Fasel, Gregory Crouch and I discontinued our climb due to incoming inclement weather – at this time without a weather report).

01.08.2010: First winter ascent of the Torre Egger. This climb mainly followed the Titanic Route. Five new rope lengths of the so-called Winterlink (named by Rolo Garibiotti) were climbed by myself, Daniel Arnold and Thomas Senf as a variation.

Cerro Standhardt 01.08.2012

Monday the 30.07 we climbed in unstable weather to the Bridwell Camp. We choose to start based on the weather information from our weather ‘Guru’ Karl Gabl. Climbing in Patagonia has changed a lot in the last few years: Today climbers have access to weather information which allows them to use forecasted, shorter and good weather windows for an ascent.

On Thursday the 31.07 we start in the early morning hours heading for Nipo Nino camp at the foot of El Mocho.  We had left climbing gear there a few days before when a storm hampered our first attempt and pushed us back down into the valley before we even reached the foot of the wall.  This time, laden with even more gear we climbed with skis  to the first steep terrain leading to Cerro Standhardt. The weather was everything but good…

Further up we found ourselves knee deep in snow. The previous days of bad weather had unfortunately brought in a lot of new wind-blown snow making conditions more complicated. Despite the fact that all three of us knew the planned route Exocet from previous ascents, we needed a lot more time in the Col Standhardt as we would have in summer or in better conditions. We had to belay ourselves over a few rope lengths due to avalanche danger.

Next came the first rope length in rock. The wall was completely covered in ice, which made the climbing a real challenge for Ralf. One rope length later and an hour before preparing for our night, we reach our nice, planned bivy on the ramp  (at this time in the year there are only about 9 hours of daylight in Patagonia).

On Wednesday the 01.08, after a windy night we crawl out of our sleeping bags. The following, otherwise easy rope lengths to the access to theice encased chimney of our route are everything but comfortable.   Loose, grainy snow on smooth granite plates; partly frozen and in danger of avalanching.  We had no choice but to belay every rope length here.

We clearly need more time than we had planned. Now the heart of the route begins. The almost vertical ice encased chimney winds in six rope lengths to just before the summit. The last very warm and dry summer meant many ice routes in Patagonia were ice-free. Since we could not see this part of the route from below, we did not know if there was any ice in the channel. I started with the first rope length. 

Thomas (who also earns his living as an outdoor photographer) leads the next rope length, then Ralf in turn. Thomas and Ralf are both excellent climbers and nothing beats being in the mountains with your two best friends. I take over the next three rope lengths.

The ice is not only very thin and brittle, but also extremely hard due to the low temperatures. This makes the climbing even more challenging.
Normally this sections is followed by one rope length on rock. But even this is stuck with snow and ice and a lot more difficult and time-consuming than normal. With a combination of mixed and rock climbing Ralf sovereignly leads these 30 metres.

A welcomed 100 metres of easy climbing follows before we stand under the summit mushroom. I embrace the last meters in the evening light. We arrive at 18:30 on the summit with the last rays of the Patagonian sun.  At the same time on the other side the full moon pops up. An unbelievable sight! Once again on the 1st of August, two years later to the day on which Thomas and I stood on the summit of Torres Egger. The day was more challenging than we had expected, making the moment even sweeter!

We had brought enough food and gear on Torre Standhardt for one more day. If conditions were good we wanted to attempt the not-so-well-known neighbouring Punta Herron. I mean, why not give it at least a try since we were already nearby? Ralf and I had already climbed Herron once in summer and until now no one has ever stood on the summit in winter. We can see the north face and the access to the Herron very clearly from where we are standing.

But the last storm has left it’s traces and the rock on Herron is fully covered in rime ice leaving no holds. It is immediately clear that in these conditions the Punta Herron is not possible.  We abseil down the summit mushroom and a few meters beneath it we hack a bivy into the ice. This work keeps us warm and shortens a long night. We all agree, it is the most impressive bivy night which any of us has ever had! On the body-wide ledge we lie lengthwise in a row. Below us, the abyss and a spectacular view to the glacier which is lit up from the light of the unreal full moon in the valley below. 

The wind is already blowing strongly in the morning, even though it is supposed to be the best day of the weather window.  This makes our decision not to climb the Punta Herron easier. In this wind we would hardly have been able to move on the northern ridge.  It was a very long abseil and an even longer hike back to the Bridwell Camp. Tired, heavily laden and happy, we reached civilization on the 3rd of August.