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Marc-Andre Leclerc Solos Cerro Torre's Corkscrew Route

Posted on: March 4, 2015


Leclerc on the summit of Cerro Torre after completing the first solo ascent of the Corkscrew route. [Photo] Marc-Andre Leclerc

Capping an already successful season in Patagonia, 22-year-old Marc-Andre Leclerc, from Squamish BC, raised the bar yet again by making the first solo (sometimes using a self belay) ascent of Cerro Torre's Corkscrew route (5.10d A1 90 degrees, 4,000'). His February 21 ascent—the seventh overall solo of the formation—was completed in wet and icy conditions.

"A solo of this magnitude is probably only second to [Italian] Renato Casarotto's ('God with a mustache') first ascent of Fitz Roy's north pillar (5.10d C1, 1250m)," states Rolando Garibotti on his Patagonia Vertical page. [Casarotto completed his climb, which required the use of fixed lines, on January 19, 1979, after his teammates abandoned him—Ed.]

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The Corkscrew is a linkup that contains 200 meters of independent climbing out of 1200 meters total to reach Cerro Torre's summit. The route begins on the SE Ridge (aka Filo Sureste; 5.11d WI5 A2 70 degrees, 800m) for 14 pitches to reach the ice towers. Here, Leclerc says, "It was slow because of the poor conditions [including] rain, running water, verglas." From the ice towers, the route heads west over an icefield and meets up with the Ragni Route (M4 90 degrees, 600m), following it to the summit.

"Looking down into the clouds from the Southeast Ridge of Cerro Torre during the first solo ascent of the Corkscrew." [Photo] Marc-Andre Leclerc

Additionally, Leclerc chose not to rope up with the other parties he passed while crossing glaciers on the approach and descent.

He reports:

I left Nipo Nino base camp around noon on February 20 and climbed easy, but slushy, terrain to the Col of Patience, arriving around 6 p.m., where I set up a bivy in a crevasse. It rained all night and I got soaked. My alarm went off at 2:30 and I started Pitch 1 of the Southeast Ridge at 3 a.m.

I carried a single 80m 8mm half rope. For hardware, I carried a triple set of micro cams to red C3 size, then a single set from 0.4 - #1 Camalot, two daisy chains, two extendable draws, a light quickdraw, a V-thread tool, two ice screws, two knifeblades, boots, tools, crampons, sunglasses, a tiny tube of sunscreen, and an iPhone and headphones.

"Approximately pitch 10—not 100 percent sure." [Photo] Marc-Andre Leclerc

I forgot my umbilical leashes, which added to the exposure.

The entire SE Ridge was one big moment of doubt. Being low on the route [I was] thinking, 'Am I really going to do this?' The conditions were so bad for a majority of that section [that] it seemed improbable, but I kept managing at whatever pace felt reasonable. When I reached the point [where] the Corkscrew leaves the ridge, I realized I still had the timeframe to continue, and fully committed.

When I was climbing the wild arete pitches on the Salvaterra section of the SE ridge, I was really enjoying myself. The climbing is so good, and it was dry and sunny. Most of the time I was really focused and in the zone.

The traverse over the south face was very long—at least twice the '200m' distance described in the book, likely six full rope lengths—and the south face ice was extremely brittle. It was not technical, 70 degrees, but in a way the crux of the route.

The Ragni was in very good condition, with a long, natural tunnel on the second-to-last pitch and a half-pipe [rime-ice ramp] on the final mushroom. I climbed the first half of the half-pipe with my hands in the rime as it was more secure than using my tools, [and] then it turned to ice and was bomber. [I] summited at 5:45 p.m.

As for the descent:

On the summit I just hoped I would get through the ice towers before dark, as that's the most complicated part. But I made it all the way to my crevasse at the col before dark. I was stoked.

"Pitch 12. Aiding the thin seam of 'Haston's Crack' on the fair-means SE Ridge. This is one of the two sections where I used a backloop to protect myself, although here my backloop was clipped to a single black Alien." [Photo] Marc-Andre Leclerc

This report marks the third time we've featured Leclerc's Patagonia climbs in a NewsWire since mid-January. Previous notable ascents include the Reverse Torre Traverse with Colin Haley, between January 18 and 22; and a new route, Directa de la Mentira, between February 2 and 3 with Haley, that marks the first integral ascent of Cerro Torre's north face. On February 13, LeClerc free soloed ther majority of the 2,500-foot, 20-pitch Chiaro di Luna on St. Exupery (5.11a) with 23-year-old Brette Harrington. They roped up for four pitches and completed the route in three hours. Harrington returned to Chiaro on the same day that Leclerc soloed the Corkscrew to make the first free solo of the route; in so doing, she also became the first woman to free solo of any of the towers in the massif.

"It's incredible," says Hayden Kennedy of Leclerc's solo of Cerro Torre. In January 2012, Kennedy and Jason Kruk climbed the tower in about 13 hours making a fair-means ascent. "[Leclerc] is definitely pushing it. That's the progression, you know. He's taking his skills from Squamish and applying them to the mountains."

Cerro Torre [Photo] Jason Hollinger

Sources: Hayden Kennedy, Marc-Andre Leclerc, pataclimb.com, Patagonia Vertical's Facebook Page, rockandice.com

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