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Completing the Puzzle: New Facts About the Claimed Ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959

Posted on: February 3, 2015


Cerro Torre as seen from the west. [Photo] Rolando Garibotti

[This story was first published on pataclimb.com on February 2, 2015.—Ed.]

Over the past four decades, Cesare Maestri's claimed ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959 with Toni Egger has been widely discredited (*). An abundance of evidence has shown that their high point was only a quarter of the way up, 300 meters, near the so-called "triangular snowfield." What has remained a mystery is where Egger and Maestri (supported by Cesarino Fava) actually went during the six days that Maestri said their round trip required, and from which Toni Egger never returned.

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Maestri was undoubtedly a phenomenal climber and an independent thinker, a vanguardist who deserves respect for his contributions. However, this should not preclude examination of his Cerro Torre claims. In doing so we are trying to establish the facts relating to the first ascent of one of the world's best known mountains. To this day, nobody has ever mounted a fact-based defense of Maestri's 1959 Cerro Torre claim, countering the contradictions, inconsistencies and evidence piled against his story.

Rolando Garibotti on the west face of a small summit immediately north of Col Standhardt holding the photo from Cesare Maestri's book Arrampicare e il Mio Mestiere, which the original caption claimed was of Toni Egger climbing "the lower slabs of Cerro Torre's wall," but which this new image indicates was actually of the climber on the Perfil de Indio, a summit north of Col Standhardt. [Photo] Rolando Garibotti

But proof of Egger and Maestri's whereabouts during those six days was out in the open all along. The previous days of the expedition, with the team portering gear, making day trips to the lower east flanks of Cerro Torre and fixing ropes to the triangular snowfield, were all accounted for and corroborated by Fava's journal, the journals of the three young college students who accompanied them on the expedition and by Maestri's own accounts. In Maestri's book Arrampicare e il Mio Mestiere (Milano, Garzati, 1961) a photo (on a non-numbered page, adjacent to page 64, effectively page 65) taken by Maestri shows the late Toni Egger climbing on what the caption claims are "the lower slabs of Cerro Torre's wall." Two years ago Ermanno Salvaterra and I had noticed the photo while working on a yet unpublished book; Ermanno and I knew the terrain, and it was clear that the photo had not been taken on Cerro Torre. What remained unclear was the actual location. The photo had been cropped in such a way that very little of the background could be seen. About a year ago Kelly Cordes asked me to look into it again, and he recently insisted, so I put forth a more decisive effort. After many hours studying images of the entire valley, with the help of Dorte Pietron, we recognized a feature that matched the photo in question. Bingo!

[Photo] Rolando Garibotti

Maestri's photo of Toni Egger was in fact taken on the west face of Perfil de Indio, a small tower north of the Col Standhardt, between Agujas Standhardt and Aguja Bifida, on the west side of the massif, the opposite side that they claim to have been climbing on.

What is the significance? In Maestri's many accounts of his 1958 and 1959 expeditions, never does he mention climbing on the west side of the massif. The six days when Maestri claims that he and Egger made their final push on Cerro Torre from the east are their only unaccountable days. What really happened during those days? This photograph provides another piece of evidence, and unequivocal proof of a place they went during their expedition that, curiously, Maestri never mentioned. Indeed it is nowhere near the location of his claimed ascent, and certainly no place one would unintentionally wander. Or forget. Perhaps in light of the massive difficulties faced from the east, the pair considered the west face of Cerro Torre, where Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri had found a line of weakness and made good progress a year earlier. From their east-side base camp, the only possible way to reach Cerro Torre's west face would be to climb the slopes to the Col Standhardt, and then rappel west (decades later, this would become one of two most common approach routes to the west face). In Maestri's photo, Egger is shown climbing below (west) and immediately north of the Col Standhardt, obviously returning to the east side of the massif. It is an impressive lesson in route finding. In the last decade parties trying to return to that same col from the west have needlessly battled with steep, hard climbing directly up to it. The line chosen by Egger and Maestri is far easier (III). From the Col Standhardt, the pair would have faced a return down the wind-loaded, avalanche-prone slopes that feed into the bottom of the Upper Torre Glacier - where Toni Egger's remains were later found.

[Photo] Rolando Garibotti

Toni Egger's death remains a mystery. Based on this new information it seems possible that he suffered an accident descending from Col Standhardt. The one person who knows what really happened refuses to speak, leaving us to try to piece together the truth. The most troubling aspect of Maestri and Fava's story is that they told inaccurate information to Egger's family regarding his death. Upon their return Maestri and Fave did not bring back any of Toni's clothes, equipment or diaries (Toni was well known for writing detailed entries in his diary) for his family. Toni's sister is still alive. She is in her late 80s, living alone in a small town near Linez, Austria. It is long overdue for Maestri to provide her, and the world, with a truthful explanation of what happened during those six days in 1959.

Toni Egger's last lesson to us is that of clever, ingenious route finding. Hopefully Cesare Maestri's last lesson will be one of integrity, coming clean once and for all.

The original photo taken by Cesare Maestri published in Arrampicare e il Mio Mestiere, page 65. [Photo] Courtesy Rolando Garibotti

What the photo proves:

- that this photo, which Maestri used in his book, was not taken on Cerro Torre as he claims.

- that Egger and Maestri visited the west side of the massif, the opposite side to what Maestri claims, likely to attempt the west face of Cerro Torre (what other objective could have possibly made them want to head that way?).

- that, because no days were unaccounted for, undoubtedly they went there during the six days when Maestri claims they were climbing and descending the east and north face of Cerro Torre.

- that the camera was not lost as Maestri claimed.

* The first publicly expressed doubts were from Carlo Mauri, a renowned alpinist from Lecco, Italy. Later the case was picked-up by Ken Wilson, then editor of Mountain Magazine. Much has been written about the many inconsistencies in Maestri and Fava's accounts, and about what might or might not have actually happened. On top of Wilson's excellent articles, some key publications include Tom Dauer's book Cerro Torre: Mythos Patagonien; my article "A Mountain Unveiled," first published in Dauer's book, later reprinted and expanded in the American Alpine Journal; Reinhold Messner's book Torre Schrei aus Stein; and more recently Kelly Cordes' book The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre. All who examined the facts have reached the same conclusion: Maestri's account is but a tall tale.

Sources: Leo Dickinson, Colin Haley, Dorte Pietron and Ermanno Salvaterra also contributed to this article, pataclimb.com

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Comments
chewtoy

Most climbers are scoundrels who lie to their spouses and kids, sell, borrow and steal for a chance to be in the mountains. The climbers we generally admire often risk their lives in pursuit of fighting gravity regardless of how it affects their loved ones left on the ground to pick up the pieces and bury them-if opportune.

Clearly Maestri loved being in the mountains as much as the proverbial you and I. Should we not commend him for fooling the public into continuing to sponsor his time in our dear mountains?

I do like the photo csi work. Reminds of Alices's Restaurant. Great giggle stuff.

"They was takin' plaster tire tracks, Footprints, dog-smellin' prints and they took twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored Glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of Each one explainin' what each one was, to be used as evidence against us. Took pictures of the approach, the getaway, the northwest corner, the Southwest corner . . . And that's not to mention the aerial photography!" -Arlo G.

Edit: A claim about death and responsibility for such from a guide book writer can never be taken too seriously.

2015-02-26 18:58:22
patavert

This below is from a Leo Dickinson article called "Dissonance – The devil is in the details", written after the Lugano conference. Kurt Diemberger was not familiar with any of the details of the Cerro Torre claim during the conference butonce he got given more information, he changed his mind quite quickly.

—— Leo Dickinson writes:

Kurt Diemberger then mentioned that now he had serious doubts about Maestri’s claims - drilling 60 bolts on the ascent would just take too long. I was incredulous. “You mean you only just discovered this - you never read this before?” “Nobody told me,” he said. “But surely Kurt you should have known the facts before coming here?” “Nobody told me,” he repeated. All this would have been funny if it wasn’t so completely ridiculous.

Next morning I met Kurt. “We were talking till 3pm – Marco and I and I now know what happened.” After 37 years, two films, articles, books, debates, one expedition and now the truth. I could hardly wait. “Its obvious they could not insert all those bolts, its obvious that Egger was a much better climber on ice than Maestri, there must have been a debate or argument that they couldn’t achieve their goal, then Egger decided to go on alone and make a solo ascent.” I stared at Kurt, “And Maestri?” “Oh he could not match Egger’s speed, he waited but Egger never returned.” “So why did they not say this in their reports?” I asked incredulously. “Because of Maestri’s reputation – if he had to admit that he could not climb it then he would loose face.” —-

Leo Dickinson is a well known british alpinist and film maker. He attempted Cerro Torre a number of times in the 1970s. He was one of the invited guests at the Lugano conference.

2015-02-26 07:32:59
Fabrizio Fabio

Several years ago I went to Lugano (Switzerland) at the Mountain Film Festival. It was organized a roundtable on alleged ascent to Cerro Torre by Maestri/Egger. There were present Ermanno Salvaterra, Kurt Diemberger, if I remember correctly Elio Orlandi and another strong climber I do not remember the name. At the end it was not a conclusion, but I remember quite well what great Kurt said, ending the evening. Unlike I can not mention the exact words, but the concept can explain the following points: 1. is not denied a climb just because missing evidences, in '56 I (Kurt) have climbed the Meringue at the Königsspitze, but there are no pictures nor bolts. 2. mountains constantly changing (the Meringue on the Königsspitze does not exist anymore), so we can not say for sure that the conditions described by Maestri do not have occurred 3. I (always Kurt) at that time I was clever on ice, but Toni (my friend and partner in several ascents) it was much more 4. Maestri himself says that the merit of the ascent of '59 was essentially that of Toni pulled across the ice 5. in view of the above considerations and saying (because I've seen him at work) that Toni Egger, at that time, was at the top front in ice climbing that today we would call ephemeral, I would not say that the route to the top of Tower, described by Maestri does not have happened. 6. finally, I want to say that even today, Maestri suffers (and I with him) for the loss of that great person (as well as exceptional climber) who was Toni Egger and I think that thinking about this the diatribe should be closed.

I think that it is not necessary to add nothing else out of that this is a discussion between "the failed" (GPMotti) ... me also due to I read and comment.

Brizio

2015-02-18 11:09:54
JZ

Right- thought this was too obvious to be wrong. Thanks!

2015-02-05 16:30:12
MPeck

Hey JZ. I think you need to check your history bud. The article above refers to Maestri's ill fated 1959 expedition. He didn't put the compressor route up until 1970, which you are referring to, and which is well documented. This article questions only his first "ascent".

2015-02-05 08:57:42
JZ

This fails to explain the compressor left a few dozen meters below the summit cap on the headwall... the only true proof Maestri had of his ascent.

2015-02-05 06:52:45
chewtoy

yawn

2015-02-03 17:27:06
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