Stephan Siegrist, Thomas Senf and Dani Arnold successfully completed the first winter ascent of Torre Egger (2685 m) in Patagonia. With a three day (and night) performance of endurance, the three climbers, took their chance at the first signs of a good, stable weather window and at noon on August 3rd arrived on the summit of Torre Egger- a flawless alpine style ascent, without any previous attachment of fixed ropes and gear caches.
When it comes to Patagonia, Stephan Siegrist is no newcomer. He has stood on all four peaks of the Cerro Torre group, including the Torre Egger, but only during the summer months. Stephan knew what to expect and the team was well prepared when they arrived in at ‘Los Glaciares’ National Park, El Chalten on July 27.
They were ready and in good shape. From experience, they had anticipated the tedious and endless waiting period, which Patagonia is so notorious for. The stable weather windows between Patagonian’s storms are usually brief, few and far between. During the winter the sun rises and sets between 9h30 and 18h30 leaving a mere 9 hours daylight- so when a windows opens you need to be ready to take it!
To make sure they wouldn’t miss their window of opportunity, the team immediately moved to the starting blocks and transported the necessary material to the base of the wall. The idea- to be ready, pack light and tackle their project at the first signs of good weather. It was cold, temperatures reaching lows of minus 25 °C, and snow sometimes waist deep did not make transporting material from El Chalten to the foot of the Torre Egger any easier. On July 31, they managed to schlep the first load of material to the foot of the wall. The weather forecast… optimistic – maybe even good enough for a summit attempt?
Der Austrian Mario Walder, the 4th team member from East Tyrol, was struggling with a knee problem and had already returned to El Chalten. The remaining three mountaineers decided (with Mario’s consent) on August 1 (Swiss national day), to start the climb without him and see how things developed. Before they even started on the wall they were surprised by avalanche of powder snow! Three minutes later, it was all over, (Stephan Siegrist quote): “It was like a cold shower in the morning and all the material was coated with a thin layer of snow.” At least they were all completely awake now!
On the first day, with perfect, almost windless conditions they arrived on the glacier break between Torre Egger and Cerro Standhardt, an ideal bivouac site. That evening, while Tomas Senf set up camp, Dani Arnold, belayed by Stephan Siegrist, climbed another two pitches. The following day the route followed a crack, which as expected in winter, was filled with ice. To find holds and secure gear, they first had to hammer away the ice from the rock.
Thomas Senf- a strong climber and the project’s Photographer, took the lead and made an attempt to remove a two-by-two meter block of ice and snow from a corner in the route. Without warning, the entire mass of snow broke away, catapulting Thomas from the wall! At the belay point, 30 meters below, Stephan and Dani were bombarded by the falling mass, but apart from a pair of broken sunglasses, they emerged unscathed. Thomas, who had fallen a good 7 meters, also got through the heart-stopping experience without injury.
They climbed the next section, a long traverse- and suddenly it was dark again. Cirrus clouds gradually covered the sky and the bitter cold wind started picking up. They realised there was no chance of finding a good bivouac site where they were, so to avoid spending a cold night suspended in their harnesses, they decided to carry on climbing in the dark.
At 3:30 am, after climbing for 22 hours, they reached the base of the icy ‘summit mushroom’. This was the last obstacle that stood between them and the summit; feared by climbers worldwide as a mountaineering nightmare, on which the climbing technique is more of an unsecured scramble up through vertical powder. For these last few pitches daylight was a must. They dug themselves a seat in the steep snow and spent four hours in their sleeping bags, a tent pulled over them as protection from the strong winds. Stephan Siegrist: “Over the next few hours the 3 of us dozed and entertained dark thoughts of what it would be like to be caught, so close to the summit, in a full-blown Patagonian storm”.
Day finally dawned, but the wind remained persistent and strong. The sky was covered with cirrus clouds, a possible sign of change in weather. They were so close to their goal, and couldn’t think of turning around now- so with clammy fingers, they headed towards the summit.
Three years prior, from his ascent via the ‘Titanic’ route, Stephan remembered an ice canal on the south side of the mushroom. If it was still there, it would be their opportunity to reach the summit quickly and safely.
As luck would have it, the ice canal was still there! Dani led the last 3 pitches to the summit. At midday, on August 3, 2010- Stephan Siegrist, Dani Arnold and Thomas Senf stood on the summit of Torre Egger… just over a week after having left Switzerland.
It will take us a few days to take it all in and digest the unbelievable luck we had! We were really prepared for everything, apart from pulling it off so quickly!