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CLIMBING IN THE FREEZER Stephan Siegrist l Torre Egger/Patagonia

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We had set ourselves a real challenge: the first ever winter ascent

were pretty tired from the efforts of the past few days and had not

Sueños between Torre Egger and Punta Herron. Two completely

of Torre Egger, the most demanding peak in the Patagonian Cerro

quite shaken off our jet lag. Nevertheless, we fought our way out of

new pitches brought us on to the Titanic Route, which was first

and then stick it on top of a mountain where extreme winds freeze

Torre group, which is seldomly climbed even in summer. The plan

our tiny expedition tents to stand under a clear, star-lit sky. We had

climbed in 1987. The face got the sun for just a couple of hours,

it to the rock. Now you have a Patagonian ice mushroom – it’s like

was to go alpine style, light and fast, without fixing ropes in advance

not decided yet whether to start climbing or to use the good weath-

which was enough to cheer us up and warmed our hands. This was

climbing in a giant freezer. The mushroom was the final barrier be-

or stashing gear up on the face. Once started, we intended to climb

er to transport more equipment to the foot of the face. The weath-

especially welcome as the next section involved a long crack.

tween us and the summit. They are generally a real nightmare as

all the way to the summit.

er report indicated that we would have only one chance to reach the

As you might expect in full winter conditions, it was filled with ice.

you basically have to tunnel up unprotected through vertical frozen

On July 27, 2010, Thomas Senf from the Bernese Oberland,

summit, if everything went according to plan. From past expedi-

I was constantly forced to hammer the ice away to find a hold or

powder snow. We needed daylight for this last pitch and anyway we

Mario Walder from East Tyrol, Daniel Arnold from Central Switzer-

tions to Patagonia, I knew that this might be our only good weath-

place protection. The climbing was difficult but incredibly beautiful.

were all exhausted. So we dug ourselves a seat in the steep snow

land and I reached base camp at El Chalten. This is the starting

er window.

Thomas, a highly-respected alpine photographer and a strong

and spent the next four hours in our sleeping bags with the bivouac

tiply the ice hundreds of times over, shape it like a giant mushroom

point for the various base camps in the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre

We decided to go for it. No one spoke; we all knew what had to

climber, provided some extra excitement when he tried to remove

tent pulled over our heads to protect us from the wind, which had

group. After hearing that a period of high pressure was coming in,

be done before we could start up the face. Using our footsteps from

a 2 by 2 meter chunk of snow from a corner on the route. It prompt-

picked up in the meantime. As we dozed uneasily, each of us was

we decided to pack up and get moving as quickly as possible. We

the previous day, we collected the remaining gear and reached

ly fell 7 meters, taking him with it. There was no damage done apart

haunted by dreams of being caught by a full Patagonian storm just

reached Camp Bridwell, our base camp, the following day on skis

the start of the climb on Swiss National Day at ten in the morning.

from breaking his sunglasses.

short of the summit.

with our heavy rucksacks and then skied back that same evening.

The conditions were perfect. There was no wind, a low sun shone

The sun was setting as we started the long traverse. The wind

Slowly, it started to get light. The wind did not let up, cirrus

It was snowing heavily. Mario was having problems with his knee.

in an incredibly blue sky, just as Karl Gabl, our Austrian meteorolo-

picked up and it turned bitter cold. There was nowhere for a good

clouds scurried across the sky, a sign that the weather was about

The pain was so bad that he was forced to pull out of the expedi-

gist and the Weather God of all Mountaineers had forecasted. The

bivouac and spending a long, cold night hanging from the face was

to change. We had no intention of turning back so close to the top

tion before it had even properly started. We left the next day with-

initial pitches led us in a straight line up the ice to where the glacier

definitely not an option. We climbed on through the night. This put

and got moving as quickly as our cold and stiff fingers allowed. I

out him to transport the remaining equipment needed for a winter

broke off between Cerro Standhardt and Torre Egger – an ideal

us ahead of schedule, which, given that the weather can rapidly de-

knew from a previous expedition that there was supposed to be an

ascent on sledges to Camp Bridwell.

place to set up camp, just as we had planned. “Ice Master” Dani

teriorate in Patagonia, could make all the difference. What would

ice corridor up through the mushroom somewhere on its southern

climbed the next two pitches with me belaying him, while Thomas

normally be easy climbing up the ramp proved extremely challeng-

side. If it was still there, it would allow us to reach the summit quick-

set up camp.

ing. The narrow band of rock that led up through the vertical granite

ly and more easily. We were in luck, it was still there. At midday on

The fresh snow, cold conditions (temperatures down to minus 25 degrees) and short days (it got light at 09:30 and was dark by 18:30) made it hard work pulling the equipment. We spent the next

We had brought sleeping bags and bivouac tents with us to see

night back under the East Face of Torre Egger (Camp Bridwell) and

us through the cold and windy winter nights. It took considerable

then moved our first load of equipment to the foot of the wall, wad-

will power to crawl out of them in the morning. We tried to ignore

At 03:30 A.M., after 22 hours of climbing, we reached the foot of

ing through snow that was waist-high in places. We then marched

the fact that the summer in Switzerland would be something

the summit ice mushroom. These ice formations, typical for the

back for three hours to spend a very cold night at Campo Niponi-

like 60 degrees warmer than it was in Patagonia! On August 2,

Cerro Torre group, are seldom encountered elsewhere in the world.

no. And woke in the early hours of the next morning, as usual. We

we climbed two pitches of an unfinished route to the Col de los

Take a freezer which gets defrosted for the first time in years, mul-

face was covered in ice and powder snow. This made climbing by

August 3, 2010, all three of us stood on top Torre Egger, only a week

the light of our head torches a rather delicate affair.

after we had left Switzerland. I have spent a total of 12 months over the past 18 years climbing in Patagonia, but this was the first time I had been fortunate enough to reach a summit as quickly as this.


Anniversary book 150 years Mammut extract 'Climbing in the freezer'