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New Route on Cerro Torre

By Stephen Koch - February 14th, 2006

On January 20-21, 2006, Dean Potter, Marko Prezelj and I completed a new route on Cerro Torre, one of the most difficult mountains in the world and a test piece in alpine climbing circles. This had been our second attempt. On our first attempt we climbed to the Col of Patience and spent a miserable night in a dripping wet ice cave with our only bivouac equipment being a 2 person bivy sack that the three of us miraculously managed to twister-style into with none freaking too badly with the incipient claustrophobia and lack of oxygen. We were waiting out the night in the hopes that the day would dawn clear and we could continue. The night was long and miserable due to the bone-soaking wet and cold and I was forced to wiggle out of the sack, out of the cave and into the wet and darkness to walk the ridge to warm up my chilled body. The ridge dropped away on either side thousands of feet, so the darkness was actually comforting in an odd way. The day did not dawn clear and we retreated by rappelling and downclimbing thousands of feet at first light in a driving rainstorm.

Back at the Norwegian Camp we rested and the following day dawned clear and we were thrilled to be able to dry out our soaking wet gear. The weather remained clear with the pressure going up, so we repacked, ate a couple hardy meals, slept for a few hours and were off again down to the start of our desired route during the darkest and coldest part of the night. The climb began from the Torre Glacier with El Mochito, the lowest cliff at the base of Cerro Torre's eastern flanks. From there we climbed the 1,600 foot Southwest Pillar of El Mocho via the Anker-Piola Route to its flat snow summit. It was here, on El Mocho, that I felt the searing pain of sharp Patagonian granite grind and penetrate the open wounds on the back of my battered and swollen hands, causing the red to flow. We made several rappels down the North side to a beautiful snow and ice ar'te that we watched avalanche on our previous attempt. The ar'te accessed a difficult mixed pitch, the key to obtaining the Col of Patience, between the Southeast Ridge (Compressor Route) and Pereyra Peak, named after the late Venezuelan rock climber Jose Pereyra. Happy to be at the Col we relaxed in the afternoon sun, brewed up and dried out our gear before launching onto the Compressor Route. At the top of the Ice Towers, we brewed up and waited for light before firing to the summit. The 6,600 foot route took 31 hours to climb and an additional 9 hours to descend.

On February 1-2, 2006, Marko Prezelj and I climbed a new route on Cerro Standhardt, the short, stubby neighbor of Cerro Torre in the Torre Group. We began just right of Tomahawk, the direct start to Exocet, crossing over the out of condition ice route two pitches off the Glacier and continued for several pitches up the Pillar. After encountering steep cracks we were forced to aid and eventually rappelled into a big unclimbed chimney rather than continuing up the difficult rock with our anemic rack, as we were planning on ice and mixed vs. steep rock. Water dripped as if from a giant shower head above me as I climbed up through thin ice with little protection. My calves and forearms screamed out like a newborn, wanting to be given relief from the searing pain and discomfort but there was no relief in sight as I gazed up the elevator-like shaft above. Scant protection continued but we finally made it out of the shaded chimney and into the glorious sunshine that felt like pure love as it hit my face and body. Here we quickly stripped and laid out all our gear and cloths for an hour of drying before the sun went regretfully behind the North Ridge. We needed to wait for freezing conditions before heading up into Exocet, so dressed, brewed and waited for the cold to freeze not only the water to ice but my ass to the bone. When the cold became even more unpleasant it was time to move. Bivying with Marko is different than bivying with most other climbers. He just sits there, taking the cold without movement or complaint - simply enduring. I am walking, running in place, moving, dancing, swinging limbs to and fro to promote blood-flow and stave off the cold and nip of the night.

After a couple of hot drinks it was time to go and we were off well before dawn, looking for the elusive beginning to Exocet. After a bit of wandering we made it back to the correct chimney and climbed thin and exciting ice for several pitches to the ridge. The summit mushroom of Cerro Standhardt did not yield easily to our efforts of attaining her rarely visited peak, but Marko worked his magic and we were soon on top! With wind whipping and clouds flying past we were treated to glimpses of the other spired snow-capped summits of the Torre Group - Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre. After a few photographs and discussion on how to safely get off the top we rappelled off of a v-thread. Looking over the edge at the rope sway back and forth with the breeze I clipped into my rappel device, leaned over the side and wiggled until I was spinning down the freehanging rope. Dread quickly set in as we pulled the ropes, only to have them give resistance that could not be overcome with our efforts. I looked at Marko and knew, even before discussion began that it would be me going up to retrieve the rope. I was filled with severe excitement and no amusement as I used a Petzl Tibloc and Reverso to inch my way up our stuck lifeline. This rope had been through a lot already having been used on our Cerro Torre ascent several days earlier and the core was poking through in spots. It was these points that I avoided weighting the teethed ascender on. Several minutes and a few well-deserved obscenities saw me climbing to the summit for the second time in an hour.

Now back on track late in the afternoon we made our way down to Exocet and were fortunate to have cold temperatures keeping the ice in place and fairly dry as we descended the chimney into the depths from higher ground. After committing to a direct descent to the glacier, our tattered rope finally gave out and we were forced to climb back up to the ramp, which was an easier, but longer descent option. My feet were screaming and my hips aching as we did rappel after rappel down the seemingly never ending couloir that would eventually access the glacier and our tracks, which we left a few days earlier to have as a guide back to the warmth and comfort of our tent.

After a few hours of sleep we packed up camp and hauled our heavy loads down to Bridwell. Here we celebrated with beer and Frank Prezelj's Slovenian honey liquor as we continued packing for the blitz down to town. A hot shower, great meal at Fuegia Bistro and some beer and late night dancing at Anabel's Chocolateria brought me through to the morning and the bus to Calafate, the airport and eventually home.

Thanks to my sponsors for their continued support: Cascade Designs, Cloudveil, GU, Himaya Sunscreen, La Sportiva, Life-Link, Marmot, MSR, Petzl / Charlet-Moser and Rome Snowboards.

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