Cerro Torre, A Mountain Consecrated - The Resurrection of th


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leo Dickinson

Mountain climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:03am PT
Rolo this is very good news - particularly for someone who retains a long history with CT.

For those not then born I will explain.

Back in 1970 I organised an expedition to the SE Ridge. My team was a good one - Eric Jones (who later soloed the Eiger N Face), Cliff Phillips (who soloed the Piz Badille in 2hr35 mins in 1969)- the late Pete Minks (who soled the Walker Spur) and myself had climbed the Eiger N Face and filmed our ascent a year earlier. Swiss climber Hans Peter Tracsel who had climbed the Eiger in both winter & summer and Gordon Hibberd who was on the First Ascent of the Fortress in Chile, joined us.

Decades before the internet was even thought of, rumours were starting to filter through that Italian - Cesare Maestri had drilled his way up the SE Ridge using a compressor and pneumatic drill.

We had no idea what compressor meant. Why would you?

In 1968 Brit climber Pete Crew named the col on the SE arête – the 'Col of Patience' – with him were team mates Dougal Haston, Martin Boysen, Mick Burke and Argentinean - Jose Fonrouge. An all star team of the time.

On the 'Col of Patience' we dug the customary snow cave and waited and... waited. When fine weather came we climbed quickly up the ridge for several pitches to where Martin had dropped his bolt kit from their high point in 1968.

We were greeted by an old rope hanging downwards encased in ice like a giant gaucho’s boleadora. It dangled malevolently above our heads.

To our right we found the start of what became known as the first bolt ladder.

With clouds swirling around I filmed this via ferrate disappearing upwards.

The wall was utterly blank and even with modern climbing techniques I can not imagine this part every being climbed free - but dozens, if not hundreds of bolts were studded across this rising traverse. It was desecration on an industrial scale.

For 30 days the weather kicked in and gave us time to debate our predicament. There was no question that it was ruining our trip.

Do we use the bolts or not? At the time we were mindful of Messner’s “Murder of the Impossible” article on the over reliance of bolts and had not come half way around the world to climb an iron ladder in the sky – at least not with this team.

One day we were joined in our base camp in the forest by an Englishman Richard Cernesky – an Argentinean Peter Skvarca (who made the first ascent of Cerro Lautaro) and intriguingly an older man called Cesarino Fava.

At first the penny did not drop until Richard told me that Fava had been with Toni Egger and Maestri on the first ascent of Cerro Torre back in 1959.

Fava had his own views on the “Compressor” – he thought it was a waste of time but when I asked him about the original Maestri/Egger route from 1959 he clammed up.

“Why does everyone want to know about that climb”?

“Because - if its true, then it rates as one of, if not - the greatest climb of all time,” I replied more in exasperation than expectation.

No more conversation followed.

Maestri led two expeditions and was slow - incredibly slow but meticulously methodical. He helicoptered in a hut that was erected at the bottom of the mountain and air dropped in his supplies and secret weapon.

Now the reason for the slow progress was the weight of gear they were winching up the mountain. They were employing a weapon never before used by man against mountain. Up these precipitous heights, they carried 200 litres of petrol, oil, winches, ropes and a motor compressor – to drive a pneumatic drill. Come on guys this isn't climbing - its scaffolding.

Historians may remember that great "CONQUISTADORS OF THE USELESS
French climber Lionel Terray, who back in 1952 was offered the assistance, on the first ascent of Fitzroy, by President of Argentina Juan Peron - of a helicopter to lift him to the summit.(to save him all the bother of actually climbing)

After our expedition Peter Gillman from the Sunday Times, Ken Wilson - Editor of Mountain Magazine and myself representing the BBC went to interview Maestri in Italy. (See Mountain magazine No 23 pages 30-37 Sept 1972 for the complete interview).

Using Alan Heppenstall as interpreter, I asked Maestri about his two climbs.

“Why the compressor?” I asked.

Maestri told us, “I took it because I calculated I might have to hammer in 1000 bolts. Of course this would have been an endless process by normal means”.

He went on to explain that this decision had not presented him with any philosophical problems:

“I have spent most of my life trying to push forward the limits of climbing and climbing techniques in general. I did this with solo climbing – I have soled Grade 6 routes in both ascent and descent. When all the other expeditions started failing* on the South-East Ridge of Cerro Torre, despite the fact that they all compromised of good climbers, it seemed to me that the route must be impossible by normal means, so I decided bolting would be necessary.”

* all other expeditions? Only the Brit 68 one that I know of? –it seems to be a case of making the story justifying the facts.

Back on the SE Ridge our dilemma continued. The weather was not kind that season and with deep misgivings we climbed the long bolt ladder going up into the mists. We eventually reached the headwall and saw the bolts disappearing upwards towards the summit.

We had had enough. I returned to the UK and made my film for the BBC titled “CERRO TORRE – THE RAPE OF A MOUNTAIN”.

To my complete surprise when we spoke with Maestri, he told us that he had not actually stood on top of the mountain - justifying it by claiming that the top of the headwall was enough and that the summit mushroom would one day blow away as it was not part of the mountain!

After all his efforts – after spending 13 million lire paid for by Atlas Copco makers of his infamous bolt gun – and with expeditions in both summer and winter - he had not actually stood on the summit.

In 1973 Eric Jones, Irishman Mick Coffey and myself crossed the Heilo Continental Ice Cap – made the second ascent of Cerro Lautaro and made the first ascent of another volcano that we named Cerro Mimosa after the ship that brought early Welsh settlers to Patagonia in 1865.

The Ice Cap Western side of Cerro Torre thrusting out of a sea of foam is surely one of the most beautiful sights on planet earth but after spending 54 days on ice and running out of food we ditched our sledges, missed the Pass of the Winds - the exit to the Pampas and went the longer laborious route all the way down the Viedma Glacier to safety, where an asado, gratefully supplied by a local gaucho and a lorry home were our reward.

In 1974 I organised a third trip, this time to Torre Egger the smaller satellite to Cerro Torre named after Toni Egger. We were not successful and changing direction in the last days of the trip climbed the “Innominata” – (literally mountain with no name).

In memory of an Argentinean who had shared out camps earlier in the trip but had one day failed to return – we renamed it Aiguille Rafael.

Earlier that year of 74 we met another Italian expedition led by Casimiro Ferrari. They were attempting Cerro Torre from the western Ice Cap side.

Casimiro had served his apprenticeship with Carlo Mauri and Walter Bonatti a couple of years earlier and was well prepared for the biting winds blasting the Ice Cap. After six weeks of storms, four of the team - Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri, reached the summit and made the First Undisputed Ascent of Cerro Torre.

At the Trento film festival in 1976 I met Casimiro Ferrari.

He told me that the ice cap was a desperate place and that just as his team was running out of food, he had discovered two sledges which, on close inspection turned out to be British, and had revealed 15 Mars Bars which in turn, kept his team alive.

Rather embarrassingly I explained that the sledges were mine and that as the Mars Bars had been soaked in petrol they had been inedible.

After a year on the ice cap the petrol had evaporated and the Italians changed their diet to British cuisine.

It’s a lovely thought that in a small way we had assisted in the first ascent of Cerro Torre.

In Trento, Casimiro asked me who I thought had made the first ascent of Cerro Torre, I stared at him and said, “I am looking at him”.

But what a mess Maestri left.

A highly questionable first ascent in 59 which few now believe stands up to scrutiny since Rolando Garibotti, Ermanno Salvaterra, and Alessandro Beltrami climbed the same route as described by Maestri but found no evidence of earlier passage.

Then the ridiculous compressor ‘near miss’ route of 1970 which proved nothing.

But perhaps the most saddest piece of Maestri’s legacy is - denying his fellow Italians their rightful place in history.

Now that this ridiculous via ferrate has been removed, an ascent of Cerro Torre will have meaning once more.

It will take its rightful place as one of the world’s most inaccessible summits.

Please let no one put back the bolts.

Leo Dickinson Jan 2012


Jan 24, 2012 - 11:07am PT
STFU Hiker.

We're busy here changing history .....
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:08am PT
Not so John.

We all breath the same air and drink the same water.

Our actions DO have consequences, often especially so for the vanguard.

Is this a reversal of the WoS story?
Tongues will be wagging on this for decades at the least, but a consensus will never be reached.

Ice climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:10am PT
Wow, Leo Dickinson that is an amazing post and story.

it's nice to hear from climbers such as yourself who were actually there during that time period and right in the center of the action.

Big Wall climber
Can't Say.
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:18am PT

All respect, but I was, as you where once, the Vanguard, I listened often and thoughtfully to your words and they had a profond effect on my actions.

I think you don't give yourself enough credit.

The rest,

It wasn't K and K, or the ring leader Rollo, job to tell the world how to climb, period.

Philo, walk away from the computer and take MH with ya, you both spend far too much time on line.

The line will be replaced and all this yapping is getting boring.....


Trad climber
Somewhere halfway over the rainbow
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:19am PT
Mr Dickenson, sir that was one of the best post SuperTopo has ever had.
I remember hearing and reading of you crazy ass Brits patagonian adventures in slack jawed amazement. Much respect and thank you for your absolutely pertinent input.

Social climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:28am PT
è sempre così, chi perde si inventa una fracca di balle e scuse, per ridimensionare chi vince
non ti curar di loro, ma guarda e passa :-)))

Jan 24, 2012 - 11:28am PT
This links to an Alpinist article that includes photos of and by Leo Dickinson as well as his comments on CT.

Welcome, Mr. Dickinson. Is your film Cerro Torre—The Rape of a Mountain available?


Social climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:30am PT
Wow, Leo Dickinson that is an amazing post and story.

it's nice to hear from climbers such as yourself who were actually there during that time period and right in the center of the action.

ma ascoltare chi ha vinto, è molto meglio ;-)

Trad climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:32am PT
You know the crazy thing about posting an idea on this thread is that most people won't even bother to read what you say, then comment as though they have.

Hey Largo, i did post a reply to your ideas on the "vanguard" a few pages back. perhaps you didn't see it, or wished not to comment.

either way, yes at times forums tend to operate in the way you describe. or people don't even read other's comments, just wanting to hear their own opinions.

much as in "real life" sometimes!

Social climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:34am PT
ma ascoltare chi ha vinto, è molto meglio ;-)

"My astrolabe has had too much wine, it's now withering :-)"

. Really?

Pierce The Ball ?

Well, o testicular modification?

Back to our regularly scheduled thread..........

Social climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:56am PT
sig. Leo Dickinson, dal suo racconto traspare molta invidia, per non esser arrivato in cima al Torre per primo, infatti cerca di sminuire la salita di C. Maestri, che invece è arrivato a portare a termine il suo progetto. Il fatto che voi vi siete fermati molto più in basso, dà ragione a Maestri. Ed ora, quanto le faceva rabbia, vedere numerose cordate che tutti gli anni raggiungeva la cima attraverso quella via ? Sembra che lei tragga sollievo, a pensare che nessuno potrà più raggiungere la cima percorrendo la via di Maestri, o è solo una mia sensazione ? Quanti arrampicatori hanno potuto godere il Torre percorrendo quella via ? E come mai, visto che loro la via l'hanno percorsa, la loro idea non viene considerata ? Quanti hanno approfittato della via di Maestri per scendere dal Torre ? Tutti ? E non è troppo comodo vedere solo quello che fa' comodo a se stessi, senza tenere conto di come la pensano gli altri ? E se era stata fatta un'apposita assemblea, non era giusto rispettare le decisioni che erano state prese a maggioranza ? La via andrebbe richiodata come prima
Sam Lightner, Jr

Social climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 11:58am PT
Thank you Mr. Dickinson... that tells us a lot.


Jan 24, 2012 - 12:04pm PT
fòradaiball = Juan de Fuca (RIP)?

Social climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 12:06pm PT
sig. Dickinson, lei sa che il sig. Fava è mancato poco tempo fa'? Bene, vedo che lei ha un profondo rispetto per le persone che non possono più replicarle, speriamo che lo stesso gentile trattamento non venga riservato anche a lei, da persone di pari eleganza

Aridzona for now Denver.... here I come...
Jan 24, 2012 - 12:06pm PT
It's too bad the bunched up panty phenomena is less about the attitude Leo Dickinson espouses and more about the lynch mob mentality.

Social climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 12:07pm PT
la vostra ironia scivola sul piano inclinato della mia indifferenza, yankeepeerla

Sport climber
Jan 24, 2012 - 12:09pm PT
Dickinson is telling the story I thought every climber in the Englishspeaking world knew very well. Thanks!

There is no necessary link from Dickinson's story to the current chopping though. Concerning the current chopping the "climbing community" has to make up "it's ethical mind" once more.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Jan 24, 2012 - 12:14pm PT
Concerning the current chopping the "climbing community" has to make up "it's ethical mind" once more.

Why? I mean why this need to make up the mind once more? Hasn't this particular horse bolted the barn already? The bolts are chopped already. Its not like people are lining up to replace them. (the holes are drilled however lol)

I will dare say this community will never reach consensus and will never make up its mind about the Maestri line. Its the futile need for consistency and homogenization that I find the most ridiculous of all this.

Maestri placed the bolts. Years later two dudes chopped some of them. The world moves on.

Oh, I can't remember who it was, perhaps Watusi or one of his colleagues, pointed out that when Free Blast went free a Robbins bolt or two was gleefully chopped.

I'm just saying....


Jan 24, 2012 - 12:18pm PT
A thank you to Leo Dickinson.
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