Jim Bridwell, his Cerro Torre point of view

The thoughts of American alpinist Jim Bridwell about the bolt chopping on the Compressor Route, Cerro Torre, Patagonia
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Jim Bridwell climbing the Compressor route, Cerro Torre, Patagonia
archivio Jim Bridwell

In the complicated story of the bolt chopping of the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre in Patagonia, which we have dealt with on numerous occasions, we felt that a voice was lacking from someone who wrote an important chapter in the history of Cesare Maestri's route: that of Jim Bridwell. It is worth remembering that it was the American who, in 1979 together with Steve Brewer, climbed the route in alpine style, carrying out the first repeat and above all the first full ascent of the Compressor Route all the way to the top of the summit mushroom. A historic ascent by one of the absolute legends of rock climbing and mountaineering.


There are many ways to look at any action of choice especially when idealism encounters evolution. Certainly I would need far more knowledge of what these American climbers did on the climb, to render more than what would amount to ignorant prejudice. I don’t know if they climbed the original route to the summit or if there were variations or if they removed mostly bolts from the various filming exploits. Nor am I certain how many bolts might have been added since I was last on the climb, thirty-three years ago.

I do know that a couple of years ago, two American climbed the ice behind the ice tower and assumed this gave them the license to remove the bolts from this section of the original Maestri's route, because their variation required no addition of bolts. This type of arrogance is usually the provincial ignorance of youthful inexperience - ignorance not to be confused with stupidity or lack of intellectual acuity, ignorance is lack knowledge. Perception defines a person's perspective of physical reality and forms opinion. "One thing is certain: "unless a free people are educated - taught to think intelligently and plan wisely - freedom usually does more harm than good." 1

I don’t know if the same two American climbers then are the same as the two who are being regarded for more recent events on the tower but it would not be surprising either way. The act itself is indicative of the society that spawns it. This aggressive policing of individual liberty of others to conform to their ideal of morality are nothing less than fascism.

The concept of right and wrong is unique to humans and is found nowhere in nature. The tiger doesn’t consider your right to live; it is only concerned with survival or its own hunger. This idea of right and wrong has its origins in and comes to us from religion. Religion is meant to improve or elevate the mores but when these values are misunderstood, moves society towards a theocracy and is much the reason we, in the United States, have a separation of church and state. As we analyze this question of ethical behavior it becomes more complicated than first thought and increasing concerns the learned behavior of prejudice.

Einstein said "Common sense is those prejudices learned before the age of eighteen", and therefore it is necessary to look at what is being taught in the culture from which two climber come. We know they are Americans and if we understand what is evolving in that culture this explains much about this governing action which is increasingly intolerant and ignorant. An interesting fact should be that the United States is ranked 25th of the world’s industrialized nations in science and mathematics. This fact should explain a lot more about these two climbers and the culture from which they come.

Fault is easy to find but the truth is more elusive, therefore I need to know the following:
1. Had the climbers done the before?
2. Was the motive to do the climb to remove unoriginal bolts?
3. Were all bolts removed on the route they climbed?
4. Were the bolts removed while on the ascent?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, I must believe the society from which they came is in a state of decline and will soon fail. Anymore I tend not to think in terms of right and wrong, but rather how my actions will affect my fellows. Will it contribute in a positive and productive way or will it represent negativity and destruction. And so as I decide what my personal individual values are, these will differ from others because we are different. That is the nature of evolution; assuring the absolute fact of necessary inequality. This very fact, invariably, leads to competition; which although essential for social evolution, usually begins poorly, with might being right.

"Evolutionary antagonisms are natural; peace is secured only by some sort of social regulative system. Government is an unconscious development; it evolves by trial and error. It does have social value; therefore it becomes traditional. Anarchy augments misery; therefore government, comparative law and order, slowly emerges or is emerging." 2

"War is the natural state and heritage of evolving man; peace is the social yardstick measuring civilization's advancement. Violence is the law of nature, hostility the automatic reaction of the children of nature, while war is but these same activities carried on collectively." 2 The actions of these two climbers is but a microcosm of what is happening within a world macrocosm, and that world is at war.

A brief history of the mountain may give clarity, before those judging without better knowledge create an ignorant opinion which becomes a truth.

From the beginning of the Cerro Torre’s history, its legacy has been stepped in controversy, intense competition and even death. The competition for the first ascent was between two Italian teams loaded with the top talent of the day but one team included the top notch German ice climber Toni Egger. It was the death of Toni Egger that added intrigue to the controversy concerning validation of the first ascent. The British were the first to question Maestri's credibility, even his character after his failing on a new route which they considered more probable. Maestri retaliated by climbing the route previously abandoned by his British accusers but used a gas compressor driven drill to climb most of the route above the British high-point. Mountain Magazine published in England declared, "Mountain Desecrated" and proclaimed justice by removing Maestri's bolts, but failed in that pursuit and or a repeat of the route.

The timeline for these events is also important because public opinion had shifted along with the liberal principals of "Sport Climbing", conjoint with presumed principals of democracy which the United States had been promoting world wide for many years. This governmental form requires an educated and informed electorate which is not only absent in all Third World counties but the United States as well. The United States was conceived as a republic, but public opinion mostly believes we are a democracy. "Democracy is an ideal, it is not a product of evolution and therefore has certain dangers, which are: 1. Glorification of mediocrity. 2. Choice of base and ignorant rulers. 3. Failure to recognize the basic facts of social evolution. 4. Danger of universal suffrage in the hands of uneducated and indolent majorities. 5. Slavery to public opinion; the majority is not always right." 2 The citizens of a nation are a product of that culture and the moral values of that society. No civilization has endured which abandoned its moral values except for the adoption of better and more fit customs.

Instead of offering an opinion over what will not even be a footnote in history, my intent is point out certain basic facts of social evolution that indicate the degradation of society; which have inevitably led to the failure of that state. Climbing is more a social adjustment than a sport, offering an alternative to the negative elements and aliments of war on society. "Man has evolved from animal and all animals are bellicose" 2, and even today man can be exceedingly individualistic, extremely suspicious and unbelievingly quarrelsome. "Violence is the law of nature, hostility the automatic response of the children of nature, while war is but these same activities carried on collectively." 2

"War has had a social value to civilization because it: 1. Imposed discipline, enforced co-operation. 2. Put a premium on fortitude and courage. 3. Fostered and solidified nationalism. 4. Destroyed weak and unfit peoples. 5. Dissolved the illusion of equality and selectively stratified society." 2 Most climbers can immediately see the similarities; the difference is that war is true competition to the death. Competition is essential to a progressive society providing it has positive value to personality development.

Climbing provides the one thing missing in modern structured civilized societies, that being "excitement". You may say; excitement can be had in the security of an amusement park; which is not unlike the controlled environment of sport climbing. But to be real character value there must be the uncertainty of adventure. Lionel Terray put it this way: "To pick the roses along the borders of the impossible requires great moral strength; and Tom Frost said: "pure technical difficulty is not enough." There’s a fine line between boldness and stupidity, just as there is between prudence and cowardice. Each person must define the line by their personal level of commitment, combining belief and faith. Honest belief in yourself and faith that you attend noble purpose.

The first ascent is an adventure unique from all experiences thereafter which confers; the choice of route, the style and ethics of the ascent and the freedom to choose any and all methods necessary for the prevailing conditions. The first ascent is the standard and legacy of fellow humans for a given moment in history. It is for all others to maintain, not to change.

It can not to be deigned; this removal of bolts is a policing of someone else’s actions, or an act of governing. Policing or governing assumes right and wrong, and that the governing party is right, therefore the governed are wrong. Since all people are different they are inherently unequal, yet in the Declaration of Independence it states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." But this statement is completely erroneous. "Neither God nor Nature confers any rights to man, other than the right to be born and a world in which to live that life." 2

"Nature doesn’t even confer the right to live, as might be deduced by considering what would likely happen" 2 if a climber were swept to his death by an untimely avalanche, as was Toni Egger. It is the advancing mores that when they become common opinion they slowly crystallize into laws and these become what we call human rights. "When rights go back beyond memory they become natural rights, but all rights are entirely social. They are relative and ever changing, being no more than the rules of the game - recognized adjustments of relations governing the ever-changing phenomena of human competition." 2

I assume that these two climbers believed they were making right that which they considered a wrong using anarchical, vigilante justice - often considered natural justice. Natural justice is a manmade theory; it is not a reality. In nature, justice is purely theoretic, wholly a fiction. Nature provides but one kind of justice - inevitable conformity of results to causes. This eye for an eye biblical justice of equalization has a habit of never quite balancing.

In brief I would say; it is not a right to change or destroy someone else’s creation, it only takes away the right of all others to repeat Maestri's route. What I have used as my moral compass is to change the rock as little as possible. Stefan Glowacz once asked me if I thought the Pacific Ocean could be climbed free. After considering his inquiry for a few moments I answered; possibly, but the protection would be very poor. No more was said.

If you were to add the ever changing, vaguely predictable phenomena of Patagonian weather it is predictable that the weather will and is constantly in a flux of transition. Supposed science says global warming is caused by man but for over 4 billion years these changes have always been the product of geological changes. But then many people continue to believe in astrology. Climbing, being dependent upon environmental conditions, is vulnerable to an ever-evolving planet and it is predictable that without the original bolts many people will be pissed off. I believe myself to be a normal person, neither below average nor a superman. "Humanity should foster the normal man; not the sub-normal or the superman; it is the normal man that generates the genius." 2 And so, if I could ask; "what the hell were these guys thinking?"

I would suggest to all climbers of great ambition some positive adjustments in motivational aims, to lean more toward adventure and mystery and less towards control in the perfection of means. There is no adventure in climbing comparable to a first ascent. If climbers want to prove their virtuosity and prowess, this purpose would best be served in doing their own first ascent. But they should be prepared for the judgement from future self-righteous climbers to bring vengeance upon their route.

In the end this matter will be decided in the court of public opinion. Presently, I am ashamed to be an American, but this is not the America in which I was born. I will go further and renounce my citizenship to this new nation. "And after all, no nation can transcend the moral values of it citizenry as exemplified in their chosen leaders. Ignorance and selfishness will insure the downfall of even the highest type of government." 2 God imposes man disposes.

© Jim Bridwell

1. Evolution of Government, the 10 essential stages of democracy
2. The Urantia Book

Links to the opinions of:
- Cerro Torre an impossible mountain, the petition in favour of the bolt chopping
- Taliban on Cerro Torre by Stefano Lovison
- Supertopo.com forum discussion
- Ffuorivia.com forum discussion
- La Cachaña, un nuevo capítulo para el polémico Cerro Torre
- Yvon Chouinard
- Carlos Comesana
- Mario Conti
- Kelly Cordes, Senior Editor American Alpine Journal
- Sebastian De la Cruz
- Rolando Garibotti
- Colin Haley
- Hayden Kennedy e Jason Kruk
- David Lama, interview in Rock & Ice
- Mario Manica e Manuel Lugli
- Giacomo Stefani, General President of the Italian Academic Alpine Club
- Doug Tompkins

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