Markus Pucher, Cerro Pollone alone and in winter in Patagonia
Interview with Austrian alpinist Markus Pucher after his solo winter ascent of Cerro Pollone in Patagonia.
After the recent news about Marc-André Leclerc’s first solo winter ascent of Torre Egger, Patagonia remains firmly in the spotlight with another solo winter ascent, namely Cerro Pollone at the hands of Markus Pucher. On the 17th of September, i.e. just a few days before the start of spring in the austral hemisphere, the Austrian alpinist successfully stood on the summit of Cerro Pollone after having followed the route Cara Sur (established by Rodolfo Dangl, Roberto Matzi, Agustine "Guzzi" Lantschner and Hans Zechner in 1949) and a variation start to the right up the mountain’s south face. Pucher described the climbing as "quite hard, the last 5 meters to the summit was a hard and scary work, but at the end everything was fine." Savoring the summit of Cerro Pollone on his own, Pucher explained "In this special moment up there on the summit I was watching Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy and I thanked the mountains and told them that I would come back! In winter."
Success for Pucher comes about after two attempts in the Fitz Roy group and Cerro Torre group earlier this season. At the start of September he was forced back 40m below the summit of Cerro Torre during his bid to make the first solo winter ascent of iconic peak: continuing would have simply been to dangerous. Last week he switched objectives and soloed his way up the Supercanaleta on Cerro Fitz Roy. Circa 1200m of very complex climbing conditions led him to ridge, just a few hundred meters from the summit, but once again dangerous conditions convinced him to retreat once again.
Pucher stated on Facebook that his is the first winter ascent and, at the same time, the first solo ascent of Cerro Pollone. It’s worth noting that the summit is comprised of a distinct, smooth block of Patagonian granite about 3 meters high. In November 2011, so in the southern hemisphere’s spring, America’s Colin Haley climbed to within two meters from the summit but retreated, defining his ascent as an attempt. In winter 2013 Hervé Barmasse and Martín Castrillo succeeded in touching the summit with an ice axe, but didn’t stand on the summit. Barmasse still remembers that "top" which he uttered spontaneously when he touched the summit with his ice axe. Pucher on the other hand, to breach those final two meters which he climbed with the use of aid accepted as he himself states in the interview published below "a bit of a risk".
Markus, summit of Cerro Pollone!
Yes, I reached the summit… I stood right on top. For me it’s a big difference if you stand on the summit or 4 meters lower down, especially when the crux - like on Pollone - is in the last few meters. Pollone really is a special mountain, but when you stand on the summit, I mean right at the very top, then you know that you’re on the summit.
Can you tell us about the last meters of the ascent and descent? In the photo one can see your Grigri clipped to the rope
Yes, at that point I was descending (Ed. while on the rope with the Grigri). In order to descend I had to abseil. First I anchored my rope, then I climbed up self-belayed to my Grigri. And then I placed the rope over the summit and I abseiled down the other side. Actually quite a simple technique.
And those last meters
Climbing the last meters was dangerous. On the last move I tied my ice axe to a sling and threw it onto a little ledge before aid climbing my way onto the summit. That was a big problem and in order to stand on top I had to accept a bit of risk.
Can you tell us about the final bit of aid climbing
I put two slings in my ice axes, stood on them and pulled myself up before stemming on the arete. Actually, I mantled onto the summit.
Did you place the axes in the rime ice?
No, on the rock. The placements wouldn’t hold in the ice. It was pretty risky, but I’d anchored the rope to a friend. It was OK.
Before you said you accepted some risk. How does this differ from the risks you decided not to take first on Cerro Torre, and then on Fitz Roy?
The risk was different. On Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy the risk was constituted by the snow and objective dangers, on Pollone had the hook not held, then I’d have taken a 10 meter fall onto my 0,75 Friend that was good. Furthermore, I always listen to my inner voice, and on Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy it told me to retreat, while on Pollone it pushed me up onto the summit.
08/09/2016 - Cerro Torre solo winter attempt, Markus Pucher stops 40 meters below summit
Climbing along the Ragni route, on 3 September 2016 Austrian alpinist Markus Pucher climbed to within 40m of the summit of Cerro Torre during his attempt to carry out the first winter solo ascent of this iconic mountain in Patagonia.