Traffic Jams and New Routes on Patagonian Spires
Patagonian weather is always unpredictable, but this year has been particularly poor for climbable conditions. Bad weather raged from Christmas 2019 for over a month. But finally, at the end of January, an extraordinary weeklong window of good weather opened, and was used to great effect by many teams: new routes opened, unclimbed walls finally resolved, paraglider flights from Cerro Torre—even new base jumping exits!
Even with all of the climbers jumping on different objectives like kids in an amusement park, there were no no serious accidents or particular problems… except for a rather unusual traffic jam on the most iconic Patagonian peak: Cerro Torre. But more on that later…
Italian climbers have a special relationship with the Patagonian spires, as their countrymen—members of the historic and renowned mountaineering association, Ragni di Lecco (the Spiders of Lecco)—made the first, undisputed climb of Cerro Torre in 1970. Ragni climbers went on to write many more legendary ascents into the mountains flanking Cerro Torre.
Among several beautiful climbs completed so far this season—the new route opened by Brette Harrington’s team on Torre Egger, first envisioned by and dedicated to Marc André Lecrerc, for example—a new route on Aguja Standhardt, climbed by several of the Spiders of Lecco, stands out as one of the finest. A logical, 600-meter line on the north ridge with difficulties up to 5.12b, Dado è tratto (“The Die is Cast”) was climbed by Matteo Della Bordella, Matteo Bernasconi and Matteo Pasquetto.
Matteo Della Bordella, President of Spiders of Lecco, gave us an account of the new route, printed in full below:
On Wednesday, February 5, a period of fine weather for a few days began, the first real ‘window’ of this season, which has hitherto been worse than even normal Patagonian standards.
Bern (Matteo Bernasconi), Matteo Pasquetto and I went up to our advanced camp that day to check the conditions on the wall. Despite having a clear goal in our mind—to try to overcome the dihedral of the British route on the Eastern Wall of Cerro Torre, which stopped our 2019 attempt—we discussed for a long time between us on what to do. Some parts of our line, in particular the last 400 meters, were totally covered by a thick layer of ice and frost, so much so that the rock that we would have climbed was not even visible. These conditions meant obviously little to no chance of success on the East Wall of Cerro Torre, not mentioning the danger of being hit by some of these blocks of ice, which would inevitably detach themselves from above in good and warm weather.
We all agreed that the risks were too high, the chances of success too low, and so we made the decision to try our alternative plan. It was a few years ago that, during my visits and climbs in the Cerro Torre range, I had been intrigued by an unclimbed line on Aguja Standhardt. The line I imagined runs along the north edge of the mountain, parallel and about a hundred meters away from the Festerville route that I had already climbed with Bernasconi and Luca Schiera in 2013. …
The route follows a system of very logical cracks and the pitches slide one after another in a spectacular way. … The overhanging dihedral in the middle of the route is unforgettable, and is then followed by a perfect crack 100 meters long, with tens of meters in a row of interlocking hands. A truly dreamy climb! The upper part of the route proved easier but no less beautiful, and after a cold but spectacular bivouac under the first ‘peak’ of Standhardt we reached the actual summit on the morning of February 8. Right at the top we met Belgian friends Nicolas Favresse and Sean Villanueva—they too had opened a new and difficult route on another aspect of the mountain. It was a beautiful moment.
After Cerro Torre and Torre Egger, now the younger sister Aguja Standhardt has a route opened by the Spiders of Lecco! In the meantime, much of the ice that was attached to the walls of the Cerro Torre has fallen or melted and therefore now the conditions might be good for our main objective. … We keep our fingers crossed and we hope to still have a good weather window that allows us an attempt!
As Della Bordella noted, another beautiful first ascent was completed by the Belgian duo of Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll. On his Instagram account Patagonia Vertical, Rolando Garibotti provided info about the new line climbed by the Belgian aces. It is a “fourteen-pitch free route on the southeast pillar of Aguja Standhardt. They started just to the right of ‘Motivaciones Mixtas,’ crossing it after three pitches to tackle a stunningly steep 300-meter pillar. Higher, and after climbing one more steep step via a three-star corner, they traversed right, to join Exocet, along which they continued to the summit. They report high quality climbing, with five pitches in the 5.12 range (7b).”
The duo named the route El Flechazo (600 meters , 5.12 M3 WI 5+).
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As mentioned earlier, another storyline of note this season is the number of climbers on certain routes. Italian-French climber Corrado “Korra” Pesce and Swiss climber Jorge Ackermann Torre linked up two Cerro Torre routes in one push: Los Tiempos Perdidos (900 meters M5+ 90°) and the Ragni route. This was the first repetition of this link-up following Kelly Cordes and Colin Haley in January 2007.
Perhaps more notable than the ascent, though, was the traffic. Pesce shared details in several Instagram posts, reprinted and edited below as one long description with permission:
The route was in mega conditions, [unbelievably] good snow all the way but impossible to place good protection regularly. We simul-climbed the route in [4 hours 30 minutes] then climbed up along the Ragni until a good bivy place below the Elmo col. At 2:30 am on February 6 we sat down in our light bivy kit and waited for the light. After a few hours sleep we quickly realized there were a lot of people above. The Ragni route is one of the most coveted routes in the range for obvious reasons and everyone wanted to make it to the top as early as possible.
It was clearly a mess of people, like 7 parties, and under these circumstances it felt like ascending Ama Dablam or a technical 8000er.
[..] If the parties below didn’t seem very psyched on seeing us passing ahead, our presence felt welcomed up there. Soon it seemed clear that someone would have to get very tired and wet by digging a tunnel [through the mushrooms] on the last pitch. […] I wouldn’t dare offer to lead over anyone else, so we decided to wait until there was no one else who wanted to try. It could have been a chance to dry out in the sunshine, but it was kinda cold and cloudy. We encouraged Christophe Ogier and waited. The first part had a natural half pipe and was quickly ascended. When he came to the overhanging part, we encouraged him to dig a vertical tunnel in order to avoid a massive fall. After hours of digging he came down wet and tired from the exhilarating venture, which included a 10 meter whipper that had us all a bit stressed. In the meantime a large group of Italians gathered below the mushroom. They had no bivy gear, contrary to us and the other parties near us, and were obviously super psyched about making it up ASAP. Edoardo Saccaro did an amazing job digging his way up. In the meantime the teams with bivy kits or tents prepared for a bivy. When Edo eventually topped out, all of the uncertainty of the situation disappeared. We all instantly knew we would top out. We let all of the people without bivy kit go ahead of us and me and Jorge crawled into the bivy bag.
The following morning there were not one, not two, but three ropes fixed—it was clear that no one really gave a shit about any strict climbing ethics and we were all just firing to the top without getting hurt. It had been obvious for a long time that the experience had been changed beyond recognition from what we had expected.
Jorge did a microtraxion lap and I did the only thing I could think of, warming my frozen body by jugging and taking pictures of the north face. We stood on the top just after sunrise.
The descent went really well and we passed a lot of people on their way up. I wonder if the actual situation on Cerro Torre is any different from the time when there were pitons on the Compressor Route.
After our time up there, I now realize that 80 to 90 percent of the people on the Ragni route are not doing any of the real workload that an ascent requires. A lot of people with limited abilities are still making it up—good for everyone as long as no one gets hurt. But as this climb has become way too popular, more problems will come with this overcrowding. More unskilled people will come to give it a try, there will be more guided ascents, more drones.
I will not return to the Ragni in the middle of the season. Good job to Fabian Buhl, Edoardo Saccaro and Christophe Ogier who were keen to embrace the hard work needed to overcome the mushrooms near the summit. They are the ones who climbed Cerro Torre; we were merely standing on top of it.
Still, psyched to have simul-climbed most of the 1,300 meters with Jorge.
Instructions on how to build a home crack training system for all your crack climbing training needs.read more
Nico Favresse is currently in #StayHome mode like the rest of us, but he sent a recap of two new climbs he and Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll did at the end of the season down in Patagonia, before the COVID-19 pandemic had swept Europe and the U.S.read more