Words by Marc André Leclerc.
In 2015, after making the first reverse traverse of the Torres and a new route on Cerro Torre’s North Face, I went about planning a solo ascent of the inspiring peak. That February, I climbed the ‘Corkscrew link-up’ in a very short weather window, which given the conditions, is still the most ‘exposed’ climb I have done.
Returning in the late winter I found very good ice conditions. One day after the spring equinox I climbed the ‘Tomahawk- Exocet’ link up on Aguja Standhardt alone and realized that the only remaining peak in order to complete the solo trifecta was the, at that time ‘yet to be soloed’ Torre Egger.
It seemed logical that I would want to climb Egger alone and complete the project quickly, but after seeing how quiet and peaceful the range was in winter, I elected to wait until the following year to try a winter route in place of climbing during the busy summer months. That summer, as I practiced my winter climbing in Canada and Scotland, Colin Haley made the historic first solo ascent of Torre Egger via the logical North Ridge.
I returned to Patagonia on September 6th to find a promising weather window in the forecast. Unfortunately a dry winter and fresh snowfall made for very difficult climbing conditions on this attempt. I tried to ‘onsight’* the line of the original winter ascent on the East pillar carrying bivouac equipment. The first day I reached the top of a hanging glacier between Egger and its sub-peak Punta Herron and on the second day I reached a narrow bivy ledge in a wild position near the top of the headwall. At this point, I had run out of both food and fuel, but thought that I had a chance of reaching the summit on the third morning. At five in the morning a storm moved in and I was forced to descend in heavy spindrift avalanches. A wild escape.
Upon reaching the glacier, I decided I was not yet finished, so I left my rack and ropes hanging from a cam at the base before hiking back to town.
The forecasts showed another window arriving after three days of rest. Knowing the route and all the ‘solo tricks’ up to my high point, I decided that I would try the route in a single push from a high camp on the glacier below the route. On Thursday September 15th, I left town at lunchtime and walked casually to Niponino base camp. On Friday the 16th, I left early to take advantage of frozen snow conditions on the glacier and reached my high camp early in the day. I retrieved my gear from the base of the wall and left it in the sun to dry while I relaxed and rested, preparing for my climb.
At 2:45AM on Saturday the 17th, I began climbing under a full moon. I climbed 300m in a dangerous unclimbed ice couloir below a serac** to speed my ascent, then belayed a long pitch of combined aid and dry tooling to reach the top of the serac from its left hand side. Above the glacier I followed a good ice gully with one 10m difficult step that I belayed to reach the first rock pitch at sunrise.
In the cold temperatures of the morning I belayed a long pitch of 5.10+ rock with very cold hands and feet and reached the start of the headwall. A noisy wind coming from the other side of the mountain blasted me with the occasional cold gust and constantly showered me with chips of ice blowing off the summit mushroom.
Despite this, I was able to free solo a majority of the climbing above, tagging my pack behind me. The climbing was very fun and exciting with many exposed 5.10 cracks and a flaring chimney slot filled with ice.
Where the ramp began its traverse to the right I changed back into boots and crampons and climbed rapidly through mixed terrain with no belay. At the end of the ramp I had to make a committing and wildly exposed ‘no hands’ stand-up with crampons on rock before tension traversing from a bird beak*** in a flake to reach the exit ice chimney. From an ice screw I was able to reverse the tension move and clean my beak before continuing. One more pitch of stemming in rock shoes brought me to the mushrooms and one of the wildest parts of the climb.
A steep rock step, heavily rimed up, blocked the way. I secured myself to a ‘back loop’**** from a cam and a nut, then was forced to make progress by aiding from my ice tools in the back of an overhung ice filled off width. Although I had a back loop to keep me from falling off the mountain, a fall would have resulted in decking onto 45 degree ice 5 or 6 meters below. Broken ankles alone at the top of Torre Egger is not a joke.
There was a lot of wind and I did not linger for long before beginning the descent around 6:15pm. Aside from one stuck rope that I had to solo up to retrieve in crampons, things went smoothly and I rappelled the route by headlamp arriving safely at my tent at 11:30pm.
Unfortunately I had miscalculated how much fuel I had stashed and I was only able to make a bowl of miso soup before running out. This left me unable to melt snow or cook my freeze dried dinner of breakfast, so by 5am I packed up and walked down and several kilometers to reach the edge of the glacier where I at last had running water to rehydrate and fell asleep in the sun for a couple of hours. After this I walked the remaining 10 kilometers back to town where I ate three dinners to compensate!
Feeling very content at having completed my solo projects in the Torres. I have until October 5th and there are new routes to climb and an icecap to explore, so I am sure that the rest won’t be for too long.
Glossary of Terms:
* Onsight: The attempt of a climb for the first time, without any information on it
** Serac: a block or column of glacial ice, often formed by intersecting crevasses on a glacier. Commonly house-sized or larger, they are dangerous to mountaineers since they may topple with little warning
*** Bird Beak: A form of protection for rock climbers to secure themselves to a wall. Then and hooked in shape, it slips in very thin cracks that the rope is than attached too.
**** Back Loop: A form of self-belaying and securing yourself to the mountain when climbing by yourself