Letters

Posted on: July 1, 2006


Doth He Protest Too Much?

Editor's Note: In response to the 2005 first ascent of Cerro Torre's north face, Cesare Maestri wrote the following "official statement" about his 1959 adventures on the peak. For Ermanno Salvaterra's version of the 2005 climb, see this issue's "The Ark of the Winds."

I the undersigned, Cesare Maestri, feel compelled, despite myself, because of the polemics, slander, doubts and accusations that surround me, to reiterate as concisely as possible the account I have already stated many times and confirmed in writing of my expedition with Toni Egger and Cesarino Fava.

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Setting aside all the preliminary vicissitudes of that unforgettable alpine ascent and reminding the reader that forty-seven years have passed since the conquest of Cerro Torre (because the imprecise words and human forgetfulness that have caused doubts and controversy in the last few years do not take this significant fact into consideration), declare and confirm, that I climbed Cerro Torre with Toni Egger, traversing the east face up to the Col of Conquest with Cesarino Fava, who up until that point had given us his valuable logistical support. From the Col onward, only two of us continued—Toni Egger and I—mostly following the snowy edge of the northwest face and the north wall until we reached the crest of the summit mushrooms. From that point, we followed the ice formations until we arrived at the summit of Cerro Torre on January 31, 1959.

I hold it unjust—and provocatively uncorrected in print—that the recent ascent by the team Salvaterra-Garibotti-Beltrami is presented here as a first ascent, when in reality it mainly repeats the route and the walls climbed by me with Toni Egger. After all, from what has been said, the rope party in question made a partial repetition of our route from 1959, connecting it to a short variation in the lower section and repeating some lengths of another existing route on the west face.

It's no longer admissible that my silence—due to the memory of the tragic death of my climbing partner and to reasons that I have explained many times—is once again interpreted skeptically or even taken as confirmation of the defamatory theses that have been advanced later.

I claim once again the right to be respected. As for the tendentious and injurious statements raised against me, denigrating my reputation as an alpinist, and offensive to the memory of Toni Egger, I seize this opportunity to warn whoever might try to discredit my word or speculate about my ascent for reasons of opportunism or personal interest, that they are intentionally spreading lies, calumnies and twisted versions of what I have said and written many, many times.

The history of alpinism is and must remain "clean" in all senses of the word, and primarily in one: to attribute good faith to all climbers. Otherwise, the risk of "soiling" any enterprise becomes inevitable, with the consequence that the entire history of alpinism is put in doubt.

—Cesare Maestri, Madonna di Campiglio, Italy

Broad Concerns

Regarding Samantha Sacks' "Revision of History" (Issue 14), which is mainly concerned with my book Broad Peak: on behalf of myself, Qader Saeed, Fritz Wintersteller, and the two sons of Marcus Schmuck, I'd like to respond to some of its inaccuracies.

On Page 59 Sacks writes that in my book I imply Diemberger stole the [Hermann] Buhl diaries after the Broad Peak expedition. What I actually wrote was that Schmuck's expedition diary says that Diemberger took them. Sacks also claims that Broad Peak was self-published. While it is true that I own half of Carreg [the company that published the book], it is equally true that the other half would not allow vanity publication at the company's expense.

On Page 60 Sacks says that Diemberger wrote the official account of the Broad Peak climb. He did not: it was written by Marcus Schmuck, the expedition leader, but never translated into English.

On Page 61 Sacks has Qader's wife making "chappattis and other Indian delicacies"—an odd choice of food for a Pakistani. When Qader read this, he was incensed.

I could go on to describe other misrepresentations of my previous book On Top of the World, my personal climbing record and my motives for writing Broad Peak. But finally, Sacks' suggestion that Schmuck and Wintersteller disappeared into obscurity would astonish the Austrian climbing community. After Schmuck died in August 2005, more than 500 people attended his funeral, many traveling from across the world. He and Wintersteller deserved and still deserve better press. In her article Sacks notes my comment that "if history matters, then these things matter." I am saddened that history did not matter more than journalism to her.

—Richard Sale, Coberley, England

[Illustration] Jeremy Collins

A Long Time Coming

We want to respond to Tommy Caldwell's disparaging comments regarding a new variation to the Changing Corners pitch of the Nose ("A Long Time Coming," Issue 15). Before the route's first free ascent, Lynn Hill and others worked on two variations to this pitch. One traversed into the Corner low. Another variation, protected by three bolts, traversed into the Corner high. Both options looked promising, but the higher variation was abandoned when a crucial hold broke. This past fall, the higher variation was climbed despite the broken hold. A bolt was added to protect moves that climb above those of the original high traverse. A two-bolt belay was added at a stance left of the climb, before the traverse begins, because it logically divides the pitch. None of the three new bolts are accessible from the standard aid route or from Lynn's original free line. The higher variation also uses all natural holds (the original variation relies on pin scars to go free).

Big-wall free climbing is about finding the path of least resistance. In most cases the easiest variation is found first and harder variations are added later—generally without criticism. In this case the harder variation was developed first and the easier variation was discovered later. Tommy and Beth should be applauded for their ascents of the Nose and for their ability to climb Lynn's highly technical Changing Corners free variation. Other parties should feel inspired to piece together these beautiful Houdini moves as well. Tommy should not, however, be applauded for his attitude toward the new variation, which takes the path of least resistance and uses more natural holds. Beth traversed into the Corner twenty feet below Lynn's point of entry. Does her variation also defame the Nose? We feel it doesn't, and that neither variation detracts from the quality of the Nose or reduces its iconic stature.

—Matt Wilder and Ivo Ninov,

Yosemite Valley, California

Chongo, Part III

The real problem with Chongo ("Letters," Issue 15) is that he is not willing to accept responsibility for his actions. Everyone who knows Chongo knows that he lives in Yosemite National Park as charged. He has blatantly done so for years, and until recently, the National Park Service let him do so.

Chongo didn't have to go to trial. He was warned many times and even offered a plea bargain that would have involved a relatively small fine. He could have gotten a job and stayed in the Valley, but he didn't want to do that, as it would have interfered with his "schedule." Instead, he decided he would contest the obvious in court. The plan? Get some of his climbing friends to lie, in federal court, by saying that he spent all those nights with them out of the park! I wonder what kind of a man asks his friends to commit felony perjury? Well, it turned out that the judge was not swayed by the scheme, the truth prevailed, and Chongo was convicted.

As for the Rangers testifying against him: Steph [Davis] says they will regret what they did. Regret what? Telling the truth? I think not. Seems to me that justice and truth should have some connection, and in this case, they ultimately did. Chongo got what he earned.

—Tom Evans, Crestline, California



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