The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre
This book would seem like it is mainly targeting a niche audience, the climbing world, but I am not a climber. I don’t aspire to be a climber (although it would be cool to try some day) but I got sucked into a podcast called The Enormocast which is all about climbing.
This isn’t unusual for me. I’m also a big triathlon fan; I listen to several triathlon podcasts and could rattle off top pros and races for that genre.
I guess this isn’t that strange after all; how many millions of golf and NASCAR fans are out there that never pick up a club or climb into a car?
I started listening to The Enormocast in 2012, just after Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk climbed the south wall of Cerro Torree by fair means. They then removed 120 bolts of the infamous Compressor Route. Chris Kalous, the host of The Enormocast interviewed Hayden not too long after this.
Cerro Torre is a big mountain in Patagonia, unclimbed until 1959. it was climbed in 1959, which was a feat was light years ahead of anyone else. It remained unclimbed until 2005. The persons that climbed it were Cesare Maestri and Toni Egger. Egger died on the descent.
This book, by Kelly Cordes, a climber and also a voice known on podcasts (The Dirtbag Diaries) is an interesting piece on the history entwining Cerro Torre. It started with Cesare Maestri, a famous Italian climber, who along with Toni Egger, ascended the north-east ridge of the unclimbed Cerro Torre in 1959. On the descent, an avalanche claimed the life of Toni Egger and the only camera with documentation of the summit.
Over time, doubt crept in whether or not Maestri ever reached the summit.
It seemed like Maestri was pretty miffed about people not believing he summited Cerro Torre.
Maestri returned in 1970 to Patagonia, this time armed with an air compressor and bolts. He climbed a new route on the south-east side of the mountain. Over two seasons Maestri used a petrol-driven compressor, weighing approximately 300 pounds, and thousands of feet of fixed ropes to drill bolts into the rock, some 400 in all. The resulting route became known as the “Compressor Route.” It made it much “easier”for a climber to reach the summit of Cerro Torre.
On January 16, 2012 the climbers Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk made the first “fair-means” ascent of the south-east ridge of Cerro Torre. On their descent Kennedy and Kruk chopped about 120 bolts from the “Compressor Route,” effectively removing it from the mountain. Days later, on January 21, 2012 the climber David Lama made the first free ascent of the south-east ridge.
Whew! Okay, that’s the bones of the story, there is much more to it, and Kelly spins a very good tale of history of the mountain, the climbers, how technology has changed for climbers over the years. I really enjoyed reading this, as I had also forgotten the second backstory, David Lama’s free ascent after the bolts were gone. Also, the death of a climber in the same mountains, and the climbers (Kruk and Kennedy) reactions to their friend’s death.
A good and interesting read. Cordes goes into the history of climbing in the various eras; the personalities involved, and the history of Cerro Torre and the mystery of that first ascent and unanswered questions.
I wrote the bones of this on January 5, and was happy to see Chris dropped his interview with Kelly Cordes on Jan 6, on The Enormocast. I found it a bit interesting as Chris and Kelly spoke; Maestri had, as Kelly said, ‘free soloed many routes; but maybe, looking at it as most disbelieve his Cerro Torre summit, how many other first ascents could have been made up also?
Cordes says in his interview with Chris, that Maestri is a tragic figure in this; I agree. Once the (alleged) lie begins, and all celebrate his success, how does one back this off? How could you turn and say “hey, this actually did not happen”. How hard is it, to live your life as a lie? Is it a lie? Did Maestri actually summit Cerro Torre?
Really, this is a fascinating subject. From Maestri’s 1959 and 1970 visit to Cerro Torre, to Kruk and Kennedy’s free ascent-and subsequent internet shitstorm brou-ha.
Go listen to The Enormocast interview with Hayden Kennedy Part One and Two; and then listen to the Kelly Cordes interview. And oh yeah! Go buy the book!
Disclaimer: nobody gave me anything to write this review; I just really enjoyed the story and the podcasts!