Cerro Torre, Sitdown Start and Poincenot, Italian Route, Second Ascent

Posted on: June 1, 2005


Having just made the first ascent of Torrisimo (the thirty-meter spire directly behind him), Silvo Karo readies himself for the rest of his and Andrej Grmovsek’s “sitdown start” to Cerro Torre. The duo climbed Torre de la Media Luna, then continued along the ridge to Cerro Torre’s Compressor Route for a 1700-meter enchainment that they manged in twenty-eight hours. It was Karo’s second time up Cerro Torre; in 1986, he made the first ascent of Devil’s Directissima (ED+: 5.12a A3 90°, 1200m) on the east face with Janez Jeglic, Franc Knez, Pavle Kozjek and Peter Podgornik. [Photo] Andrej Grmovsek

On January 17, our small team from Slovenia—Silvo Karo, Monika Kambic, my wife, Tanja Grmovsek, and I—settled in Campo de Agostini. This was the first visit to Patagonia for Tanja and me, but Monika's fourth and Silvo's tenth. Silvo and I had no special climbing goals; our plan was to climb fast and light and to adjust our plans with the weather. The weather forecasts, thanks to Thomas Huber and his meteorologist from Innsbruck Karl Gabl, were a big help.

Silvo and I warmed up on the very nice Chiaro de Luna route (5.11b, 800m, Giordani-Valenti, 1987) on the west face of Aguja St. Exupery on January 19. After a few bad days, another day of good weather was forecast, so we moved to Polacos Camp in expectation. But the weather wasn't as good as we needed, so on the morning of January 26 we switched to more realistic plans and climbed the Anglo-American route (5.10d, 600m, Boysen-Braithwaite, 1974) on the west face of Aguja Rafael (aka Innominata) in strong winds and some snow, mostly in mountaineering boots.

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At the end of January, an unusually long, warm spell of weather began. We moved our high camp from Polacos to Norwegos and on January 31 we began our project. We had decided to add a sitdown start to one of the longest and most famous rock faces of the world: Cerro Torre. With only the necessary rock and ice climbing equipment, some Powerbars and bottles of water, we started climbing Rubio y Azul (5.11b, 350m, Salvaterra, 1994) on Torre de la Media Luna at first light. We climbed this route to the summit of Media Luna, then continued on virgin terrain, climbing a few pitches up to 5.11c and passing the first three towers above Media Luna (which we named the Three Sisters Towers). We then made a forty-meter rappel, climbed another pitch back to the ridge and continued along terrain up to 5.7 for more than 500 meters, passing along the way an obvious, thirty-meter spire that we named Torrisimo. After another rappel we were at base of Torre Pereyra. We climbed 300 meters up to 5.11c via fine cracks and corners for its second ascent, then traversed for another 100 meters down the ridge. Following a short, final rappel we were on the Col of Hope. We had been climbing for about eleven hours.

We drank a bit, and after leaving behind some cams, started up the Compressor Route (VI 5.10b A2 70 degrees, 900m, Maestri et al, 1970) at 5 p.m. We moved quickly on the first wet pitch, but then conditions worsened: there was more and more verglas, snow and ice, which forced us to use crampons. We enjoyed the last of the daylight on the monumental bolt traverse, then continued through the night, climbing some tricky, mixed ice pitches. After we passed the Ice Towers, stormy winds slowed our pace. The sunrise warmed us at the base of the headwall. At 10:30 a.m. we stood on the summit of Cerro Torre in a sunny, almost cloudless day, with a wonderful view. We had climbed our line in twenty-eight nonstop hours; our route was 1700 meters long and covered more than three kilometers of rock and ice. It had been nineteen years since Silvo last summited the Torre. We rappelled the route, which was now very wet, and reached Norwegos camp at 7 p.m. There we waited for the girls, who were making the first all-female ascent of the Torre. Afterward, we all went back together to Chalten to celebrate our success.

But when the weather got nice again, we had to go back. On February 6, Silvo and I moved from Agostini to bivy above Lago Sucia. We intended to make the second ascent of the Italian Route (ED+: 5.10d A3, 1300m, Bortoli-Carnati-Colombo, 1986) on the southeast face of Aguja Poincenot, in alpine style and as free as possible. Numerous Italian climbers had established the route over two years of attempts, with fixed lines from bottom to top. The topo noted many pitches of A1 or 5.10b A1; we thought they would probably go free and fast, so we planned a maximum day and half of climbing.

On the morning of February 7, we crossed the very dangerous glacier to the base of Poincenot's south face and around 9 a.m. started with a few easy pitches. When we came to the ledge below the first aid pitch, we could only stare at the smooth, vertical-to-overhanging wall looming more than 400 meters above us. Fortunately, the Italians had left a bunch of pitons, some aiders, bolt kits and lots of fixed rope on the ledge. We took the aiders and some pitons and started up. Half of the next ten pitches were thin cracks, flakes and slabs; though they were not technically hard, the aid climbing proved time-consuming. The other half of the pitches were awesome free climbing (up to 5.11b) on huge flakes and in some corners.

We arrived at a quite good bivy ledge just before dark. The next day we climbed the last aid pitch, then continued on easier terrain, free climbing up to 5.11b for about 450 meters to join the classic Whillans Route, which we followed for another 350 meters to the summit, reaching it at 3 p.m. We had made the second, and first integral, ascent of this elegant but quite difficult route (the Italians had not climbed to the summit). We rappelled the route through the night before happily crossing the glacier to our bivouac.

—Andrej Grmovsek, Slovenia

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