Germans Triumph on Sarmiento's North Face

Posted on: May 2, 2010


Jorn Heller and Robert Jasper on the final push to the west summit of Monte Sarmiento (2145m), Alberto de Agostini National Park, Tierra del Fuego, Chile. In early April, German climbers Heller, Jasper and Ralf Gantzhorn established La Odisea de Magellanes (WI4+) in alpine style over 39 hours, camp-to-camp. The approach required a 300-mile boat voyage and a serious bushwhack through dense rainforest; Sarmiento's remote location and notoriety for intense storms makes it a rarely climbed objective. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

Editor's Note: The story below erroneously states that the 2010 German expedition was first to climb the north face of Monte Sarmiento's west peak. For more information on this mountain's confusing history, please read the September 8, 2010 NewsWire.

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After three failed attempts in March, German climbers Robert Jasper, Joern Heller and Ralf Gantzhorn completed a rare ascent of Monte Sarmiento's west summit (2145m) on April 2. The Germans made the first ascent of the north face in 39 hours round trip, establishing La Odisea de Magellanes (WI4+) in alpine style. The route involves a 3000-meter elevation gain over the course of 20 kilometers.

Well over 100 miles from the nearest settlement, the remote peak towers over the Magdalena Channel in Chilean Tierra del Fuego, on the southern tip of South America. Sarmiento is accessible only by boat and is no stranger to failure due to its location and notoriously tempestuous weather. Jasper described the conditions as "extreme, with raging storms, intense cold and incessant rain." Previous trip logs have reported worse. In 1995, two team members who supported the second ascent of the west summit were literally blown off the ridge, one sustaining a dislocated and broken shoulder. Three years later, a South American expedition abandoned the mountain after experiencing 29 straight days of rain; they saw the summit for a cumulative six hours during their four-week stay. And in 2000, another attempt ended in retreat when the climbers faced a heavy snowstorm and 90 mph winds. According to planetmountain.com, the peak has seen more than 30 failed expeditions.

Mount Sarmiento (2145m), Alberto de Agostini National Park, Tierra del Fuego, Chile. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

In March, the Germans arrived at the town of Ushuaia, Argentina. From there, they sailed around Cape Horn in a small yacht on turbulent waters for 11 days and more than 300 nautical miles. They established base camp at the port Caleta Escandallo on the bay Bahia Escandallo.

On the morning of April 1, the team embarked on their fourth attempt on the north face. Jasper, Heller and Gantzhorn again began their ascent by hiking through dense rainforest so thick that Jasper described it as a "brick wall." They then crossed a crevasse-filled ice field to reach Collado Este, a pass below the east ridge of Sarmiento. Whiteout conditions forced them to hunker down in snow caves for the remainder of the day, postponing their summit attempt. Leaving the bivy around 4 a.m., they traversed to the peak's north ridge. Though "the freezing cold and the vertical, pressed snow proved demanding," the climbers moved quickly up the ridge until they encountered mushrooms of ice 120 meters below the west summit. They struggled to find a viable route though the massive ice formations, eventually traversing around to the saddle between the east and west summits that gave them access to the top. Skies cleared as they reached the west summit at noon on April 2, but the weather window was short-lived and gave the climbers just enough time to return to the relative safety of base camp. Another week traveling by boat brought the climbers safely to Punta Arenas, Chile on April 10.

Sources: Robert Jasper, Ralf Gantzhorn, robert-jasper.de, joern-heller.de, planetmountain.com, 1996 AAJ, 1999 AAJ, 2000 AAJ

The team's 16-meter yacht, Sari II, sailing the seas of Tierra del Fuego. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

The Sari II en route to Sarmiento. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

The team hikes through thick rainforest below Monte Sarmiento. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

Heller and Jasper battle whiteout conditions below Sarmiento's east ridge. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

The Germans navigate ice below Sarmiento's west summit. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

The climbers navigate ice mushrooms just below the summit. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

Robert Jasper, Joern Heller and Ralf Gantzhorn atop Monte Sarmiento's west summit. [Photo] Ralf Gantzhorn

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