CERRO TORRE AND AGUJA DE LA S

Posted on: June 1, 2005


Monika Kambic above the headwall on the first all-female ascent of Cerro Torre, Compressor Route (VI 5.11 WI 4 A1). It was Kambic and partner Tanja Grmovsek’s second attempt; just above the point of this photo, Kambic was hit by falling ice and suffered three broken ribs. The pair persevered for the first all-female ascent of the peak. [Photo] Andrej Grmovsek

Monika Kambic and I settled with Silvo Karo and Andrej Grmovsek into Campo de Agostini on January 17. Tomas Huber's Innsbruck's meteorologist forecast a day of sun on January 19, so that night, Monika and I started for the west face of Aguja Exupery to try the Kearney-Harrington Route (V 5.10b, 700m, Harrington-Kearney, 1988). But the route, which lies in a deep cirque, was full of ice, so after climbing some delicate mixed pitches on ice-covered cracks and corners we decided to rappel.

After a few days of bad weather we moved to Polacos camp to await the forecast good weather. But it didn't materialize, so on January 26 we climbed Aguja de la S via the Austrian route (6a, 600m, Barnthaler-Lidl, 1987) in cold, windy weather. The ice couloir and the last rock pitches would be nice in good weather. We rappelled in a snowstorm.

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Amid rumors of good weather, we returned to the mountains with big packs, carrying our equipment from Polacos to Norvegos camp to begin our conquest of Cerro Torre. On January 31 we climbed the snow pitches to the Col and fixed the first three pitches of the Compressor Route. The next day we started without sleeping bags or stove at 2 a.m., and climbed fast, meeting Andrej and Silvo, who were rappelling from the summit, on the first bolt traverse. We climbed in wet conditions; many pitches that Silvo and Andrej had climbed the day before day were now running with water. We moved through the Ice Towers and, unable to find a good place to bivy, continued through the night. The weather grew worse, the storm began in earnest, our clothes soaked through, and the situation became increasingly serious. A pitch below the headwall, we decided, with pain in our hearts, to retreat. The summit was near, but we wanted to stay alive. We rappelled through the night and morning. The weather became sunny again, but our chance was gone.

After celebrating the triumph of Andrej, Silvo and our other climbing friends in Chalten, we returned to Norvegos, and on February 7 started for the Compressor Route at 2 a.m. Seven climbers were ahead of us for the same route. The conditions were now totally different; most of the snow on the low-angle pitches had melted, requiring tricky rock and mixed climbing on smooth slabs. We spent seven hours climbing to the Col, three more than the first time. The crowds did not help.

We climbed for a full day, planning to bivy on the only ledge we had seen on our earlier attempt, above the second bolt leather. But an English party was already there when we arrived. We finally got some space to sit, then continued the next morning, and by afternoon were at our former high point. Monika led through on the bolt ladders, but a few meters below Maestri's compressor, I heard her shout. One of the English had unintentionally knocked off a big block of ice from the compressor. It hit his partner on the head, breaking his helmet, then hit Monika's shoulder. She was in tremendous pain and had difficulty moving her right hand. Later in Chalten we would find she had broken three ribs.

Shit! What to do?

Monika decided to continue. With the help of pain pills, she jumared with one hand on a rope fixed by the English. I climbed the last pitches to the snow mushroom. Monika was scared she wouldn't be able to climb it to the summit, but it wasn't technically hard and finally, after all our struggle and accidents we stood on the summit of Cerro Torre at 9 p.m., the first all-women party to climb this amazing Patagonian summit.

But the way back to life, rappelling through the night with my injured partner, was another epic. The English had already descended, so I had to care for her completely, pulling all the ropes which were totally wet and got stuck many, many times. It was hard for me, and for Monika, who was in intense pain and could only manage to rappel. We stopped on the ledge from the night before to rest a bit, then continued in the morning, reaching Norvegos that night, unbelievably happy to stand on safe ground again!

—Tanja Grmovsek, Maribor, Slovenia



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