Skip to content
Home » Features » The Torre Traverse at Last

The Torre Traverse at Last

[Photo] Alessandro Beltrami collection.

The following essay, by Italian climbing legend Ermanno Salvaterra, reflects on the Torre Traverse–what most consider the finest enchainment in Patagonian history. With Rolando “Rolo” Garibotti and Alessandro Beltrami, Salvaterra was instrumental in the ascent of Cerro Torre’s north face in 2005, the completion of the route Cesare Maestri claimed to have climbed with Tony Egger in 1959 (the 2005 party found none of the sixty pitons supposedly left on route). El Arca de los Vientos (ABO: VI 5.11 A1 90 degrees, 1200m, 2005) electrified the climbing world. Not only had the legendary line been climbed, but the “futuristic traverse”–Standhardt, Herron, Egger, Torre–suddenly became a possibility (read Salvaterra’s feature, “The Ark of the Winds,” in Issue 16).

Salvaterra, Beltrami, Mirko Mase and Fabio Salvadei enchained all but Cerro Torre last autumn, as did Garibotti with Hans Johnstone (read the November 27, 2007 NewsWire for more information). Two months later Garibotti and Colin Haley made the first ascent (read the January 28, 2008 NewsWire) of the complete Torre Traverse (VI 5.11 A1 WI6 Mushroom Ice 6, 2200m).

Issue 25, on sale September 1 (or subscribe now and get 33 percent off, for a limited time), features Rolo’s story emblazoned with photos from the icy ridge.

[Photo] Alessandro Beltrami collection.

The Torre Traverse has been done. The big project has finally been carried out successfully. I was the first to attempt it, nearly twenty years ago, together with Maurizio “Icio” Giarolli and Elio Orlandi. In those days, we most likely didn’t even have the necessary experience to set out on such an adventure. Yet, we were just simply greatly attracted to the idea.

I remember the fatigue, the determination of my partners, the days and nights spent on these faces braving the cold. I remember how Icio climbed up the ice. I remember the words that I would hear myself say because I wanted to get back on the traverse despite the threatening weather forecast. But this wouldn’t stop us. We would go. We would try. Eventually, we would come back completely beat up, and it was all because of me.

I remember Elio on Exocet when he jugged up carrying an improbable pack on his shoulder, which he had to back up to the rope above so that he wouldn’t flip over upside down. I remember also the time when Andrea Sarchi joined us: while enduring a sixty-hour-plus bivouac sitting locked up in our wall tent, my partners warned me, “When we get home, don’t even dream of calling us within the first ten days to plan on returning here next year…” At that time, the only thing we knew about Cerro Standhardt was that it had been climbed for the first time a few years back. The first ascent of Punta Herron was still only a fantasy. Giongo had shared a few words about Torre Egger when I was visiting him at home in Merano. And the Torre Traverse was no more than a taboo amongst ourselves.

[Photo] Alessandro Beltrami collection.

Nevertheless, we were driven by the idea. Thus followed three years of attempts and failures, respectively tinted with the greatest moments of satisfaction and disappointment. Yet, when in 1991 I climbed Standhart and Herron with Adriano Cavallaio and Ferruccio Vidi, it was as in a dream. These souvenirs are printed in my mind like so many incisions in the corner of the brain.

Over the years, the idea of giving the project another go was brought up a few times. Some would pretend not to hear. Others would give very vague answers. But now, someone has finally made this great dream of mine come true. That someone believed in this project and knew to try again and again. It’s not easy to have started trying so long ago and to have the will to keep going back. This is my experience, and I believe many can relate to it. We could all learn from Rolo. Actually, if we want alpinism to continue to move forward and not be limited to the mere search for difficulty, we need to learn from Rolo. I wonder how much time will go by before someone sums up the courage to repeat routes such as those of incredible climbers Janez Jeglic, Silvo Karo and Francek Knez’s Slovenian Route and Englishmen Burke and Proctor’s Great Dihedral on the east face of Cerro Torre; or the dihedral on Egger; or the mythical Americans Jim Donini, John Bragg and Jay Wilson’s route on the south face of Torre Egger. Those were different times; these people were real pioneers. Of course, in those days they used fixed ropes. Now, we should climb on these big routes in pure alpine style. I really hope to see–or, more accurately, to read about–such climbs. We shall see….

[Photo] Alessandro Beltrami collection.