Patagonia: Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron and Torre Egger traverse
From 21 to 23/11/2007 Ermanno Salvaterra, Alessandro Beltrami, Mirko Mase and Fabio Salvadei accomplished the traverse of Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron and Torre Egger in the Cerro Torre group in Patagonia. The Italian mountaineers turned back from the Col of Conquest beneath Cerro Torre due to risk of avalanches.
That Ermanno Salvaterra dreams about Patagonia is no news to anyone. And that the 52 year old from Northern Italy suffers from an authentic "fatal attraction" for the mountains at the end of the world is almost stating the obvious: 25 years of ascents demonstrate this all too clearly. But in this never-ending story there is another reference point, the most tenacious of his magnificent "obsessions": that guiding light which, in his dreams, links the summits of Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre without ever descending to the base of the mountain. And this dream is the raison d'être, the driving force behind the recent traverse attempt.
This link of all the summits in the Torre group has been defined by Stefan Glowacz - one who knows a thing or two about big walls and Patagonia - as the greatest project in Patagonia. Climbed singularly this poker of summits would be the most prestigious ascents imaginable for many a mountaineer. So just think what happens when you attempt to link them all in one single, continuous ascent. This is the journey which Salvaterra has always chased, a journey which all began in 1988 with Elio Orlandi and Maurizio Giarolli. A year later and they were back again, this time with Andrea Sarchi. Two "first" attempts which got no further than Cerro Standhardt, but which remained unforgettable stages for this historic group of Italian Patagonian activists. So much so that, after these experiences, the team would never again join up for the traverse of their dreams.
But for Salvaterra the story continued relentlessly. In 1991 together with Adriano Cavallaro and Ferruccio Vidi he climbed Standhardt and pushed on to the summit of Herron. While just a year ago, in 2006, together with Alessandro Beltrami and Rolando Garibotti he abandoned the attempt even before the first stage, Cerro Standhardt. A story without end. A contagious dream which in 2005 infected another big, Thomas Huber, who returned home with "just" 3/4 of the great and impossible traverse, reaching the summit of Punta Herron with Stefan Siegrist, then completing the hattrick together with Andy Schnarf.
Now, from 21 - 23 November to be precise, Ermanno Salvaterra, Alessandro Beltrami (his companion in 2005 on the Cerro Torre N Face), Mirko Masè and Fabio Salvadei have added another chapter to the Tower Tour with their ascent of three of the four summits of this fantastic poker. The Italians first reached the summit of Cerro Standhardt (along via Otra Vez, first ascended by Salvaterra, Orlandi, Giarolli in 1988) then topped out on Punta Herron and Torre Egger - the only summit in the Torre group Salvaterra had never climbed previously. Progress ground to a halt on Cerro Torre, one pitch above the Col of Conquest between the Egger and Cerro Torre itself, due to high temperatures and risk of avalanches. As if to say that the good Patagonian weather, together with the unquestionable advantages, doesn't always provide the key to success on these "crazy" summits.
Once again the Grand Slam hasn't been taken. But it is worth underlining that the hattrick Standhardt, Herron and Egger is a magnificent achievement which, other than equalling Huber and Schnarf, adds another important brick to the history of the Tower. Above all it recounts a story which, as always in this "real" Patagonia, passes via perseverance, sudden surprises, speed and the search for that dose of good fortune which is quite simply indispensabile on these mountains.
For the record: before attempting the traverse the group had already summited Exocet (Jay Smith, Greg Smith and Jim Bridwell, VI 5.9 WI6, 1988), but was then forced to retreat from the Col of Dreams (located between Standhardt and Herron) due to bad weather and Salvaterra's injury.
Their return to El Chalten seemed to have put an end to their dreams this year, above all to those of Ermanno. Seemed to... because like in all stories with happy endings there was a twist in the tale... In the meantime though the never ending story remains there, as elusive as a dream, waiting for the next episode.
We got in touch with Ermanno Salvaterra to give us his thoughts and impressions "hot off the press". His email, which just reached us, is published below in its entirety.
"I'm extremely satisfied with what we've done. Thankfully I felt good and returning onto Otra Vez, the Spigolo dei Bimbi and then reaching the summit of Torre Egger which I had never climbed before made me feel some really strong emotions.
Just when I was about to go home - you know, after what happened on Exocet (a really bad experience) - I realised that I wanted too carry the gear back "inside" the Torre valley and attempt something again. That day Alessandro and Mirko had set off to climb Chiaro di luna on Saint Exupery, and that evening I considered going for it once again and in a way it was a bit like reliving the night after having given up on the 1959 Torre route. I discussed this with Fabio. And in the morning, with a really heavy rucksack, I walked right up to the start of the glacier to wait for Ale and Mirko to descend. I found it hard to tell them, I couldn't find the right words... Then Alessandro, while he said yes, also said that had I asked him at the end of the glacier he would have told me to get lost. That evening, during our second attempt and almost on the summit of Cerro Standhardt, we sincerely thought that things would turn out like our first attempt. It had begun to snow and the wind was picking up. I thought that we'd summit the next morning, fighting against the wind like last time... And then back down that fucking descent... And then back home... But instead the next morning the weather was good ! So off we went.
I've been saying that this will be the last time in Patagonia for many years now, but this time I really think it's the case. I'm not afraid of the walk-ins with heavy gear, I'm not sure, I'm simply fed up and perhaps I can't accept the risks like before. I used to never think about what could happen while climbing up or descending, now I do. I used not to think about the fact that a single peg could pop out during an abseil, now I do. And I used to be able to stay away from home for a long time without any problems whatsoever and without feeling homesick, but this is no longer the case. They say that as time passes people mature, perhaps it's true. I know that in February the Huber brothers and Siegrist will come to Patagonia for this project and I'm sure that they'll succeed.”
01/11/07 - arrival at El Chalten
03/11/07 - construction of bivvy at the base of Cerro Standhardt
04/11/07 - attempt on Exocet (by Jay Smith - Jim Bridwell) on Cerro Standhardt to "El Bloque Empontrado", return to bivvy then back to El Chalten due to bad weather
5-8/11/07 - wait in El Chalten
09/11/07 - return to bivvy at the base of Cerro Standhardt
10/11/07 - ascent of Exocet on Cerro Standhardt to summit mushroom where all four bivvy. During the asent Salvaterra is hit hard on his back by falling ice but manages to continue.
11/11/07 - reach summit of Cerro Standhardt and descent to bivvy. During the descent Salvaterra injures his left ankle.
12/11/07 - return to El Chalten. Salvaterra considers returning home due to his injuries.
13/11/07 - wait at El Chalten
14/11/07 - Alessandro and Mirko set off for Aguja Saint Exupery hoping to repeat Chiaro di Luna (di M. Giordani)
15/11/07 - Salvaterra improves: he reaches Alessandro and Mirko at the base of Exupery and suggests attempting the traverse project Standhardt - Herron - Egger - Cerro Torre
16-19/11/07 - wait for better weather at El Chalten
20/11/07 - set off early afternoon for Valle del Torre. Bivvy at start of glacier.
21/11/07 - ascent of Cerro Standhardt along Otra Vez (Salvaterra, Orlandi, Giarolli 1988) to beneath the summit. Bivvy.
22/11/07 - Cerro Standhardt summit. Descent to Col of dreams. Ascent of Punta Herron. Descent to Col between Herron and Torre Egger. Ascent of Torre Egger and bivvy beneath summit mushroom.
23/11/07 - Summit of Torre Egger. Descent to Col of Conquest located between Cerro Torre and Egger. Ascent of one pitch on Cerro Torre. Decision to descend due to danger of falling ice due to high temperature. Descent and return to El Chalten.