Cerro Torre: The Impossible Mountain in Patagonia

Sebastian Opazo | ClimbingClimbing
Cerro Torre, El Chaltén,
Cerro Torre is one of the mountains of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in South America. Credit: NSTK

The Cerro Torre gets its name from its pointed and subtle silhouette that is accompanied by a rime ice mushroom at the top. It is one of the best-known mountains in southern Patagonia, either for the captivating stories that it keeps or its unquestionable beauty.

Even Jim Bridwell said that it was a challenging mountain and that he was grateful to survive it. Great titans have hung from its granite walls seeking to conquer its summit, in spite of, not many have been able to reach it and leave a mark on this unforgiving mountain.

The Cerro Torre is famous not for its height but rather its foul weather. Even the toughest climbers have to take a hard long look deep inside before climbing in the conditions that Cerro Torre can dish out.

Cerro Torre, Clouds
Summit of Cerro Torre in the clouds. Credit: CalafateTravel

It is located on the eastern border of the Southern Ice Fields, in an area subject to litigation between Chile and Argentina. It is within the group of peaks in the El Chaltén range, where it has the second-highest altitude of this group after the Fitz Roy.

Cerro Torre is a granite spire crowned by an impressive mushroom that is generated not so much by the fallen snow, but by the freezing of the humidity that brings the violent winds from the Pacific and that is trapped in the walls of this mountain. The weather in Southern Patagonia has been the key failure of mountaineering during all these years, wanting to face these conditions makes Cerro Torre an extremely dangerous adventure for anyone who dares to try it.

It was considered by the early explorers as an impossible mountain. Cerro Torre has a great climbing history behind it, hiding big mysteries and keeping great achievements.

Southern Ice Field, Chile, Argentina, Cerro Torre
Southern Ice Field between Chile and Argentina, Cerro Torre. Credit: Trekkingbg

Cerro Torre fueled the search for glory and recognition of climbers from the European continent who tried to leave their mark on the summit. It was Cesare Maestri and Carlos Mauri who, separately, led expeditions to the Patagonian massif in 1957. Both didn’t achieve much progress to reach the summit, however, Maestri didn’t take long to return for the rematch.

In 1959 accompanied by the Austrian Toni Egger, a great ice climber of the time, they embarked on a new expedition with the aim of crowning the Cerro Torre once for all. Maestri and Egger on an impossible climb, anchored in the small fissures of the granite, and in the volatility of brittle ice, Maestri assures that they reached the summit.

On the descent, when the most dangerous part had been left behind, an avalanche fell on Egger and ripped him off the wall. With him also disappeared the photographs of the summit and the evidence of the conquest, sowing doubts about the veracity of Maestri’s story.

Controversial Maestri, Italy, Chile, Argentina
The Compressor Route, Cerro Torre. The most controversial route in the world. Credit: Escalando

Maestri, humiliated, returns to battle 12 years after his first ascent, in winter, and on the most complicated slope. For the expedition, he builds a compressor of about 440 pounds that, pulling it up the mountain, he would use it to drill the expansion nails into the rock face.

Ready for anything, Maestri placed more than 400 bolts, which formed a true via Ferrata. This allowed him to overcome the last section of the headwall before reaching the great ice mushroom, which he didn’t climb because he didn’t consider it part of the mountain.

The first absolute and indisputable ascent of Cerro Torre dates from 1974 in the expedition organized by the spiders of Lecco, the distinguished group of Italian mountaineers. This group has over the years left its mark on many of the most classic and demanding mountains in the world.

Jim Bridwell
Jim Bridwell. Ice ax in hand after having climbed one of the most technical mountains in Patagonia, El Torre. Credit: Chileclimbers

In 1979 Americans Jim Bridwell and Steve Brewer completed the compressor route to the summit in alpine style. Bridwell, a renowned climber, assured after the ascent that after the last bolt there were still 82 feet of rock left until reaching the ice, placing once again the sayings of Cesare Maestri in question.

In the eighties, the Torre would become more fashionable, especially along this last route, which is currently considered the most classic route. During the nineties and the recent years, new routes and variants have been opened that have made the mountains of El Chaltén very popular on the map.

“Fair means” by climbers Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk or David Lama’s first free-climbing ascent have been two of the most epics achievements of the new generations. Cerro Torre continues to invite new athletes to seek challenges in their greatness, and thus live the experience of Alpine Patagonia.

El Chaltén, Cerro Torre, Santa Cruz, Argentina
Road to El Chaltén, Province of Santa Cruz, Argentina. To the left is Cerro Torre on its eastern side. Credit: Wikipedia

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2 thoughts on “Cerro Torre: The Impossible Mountain in Patagonia

  1. I’m lost in admiration. God bless, and RIP, Tom Proctor, my erstwhile rock oppo in 1966/7, who thought every route would ‘go’.

  2. Aint got no app for that yet.
    Props to those who made successful summits and all those who attempted such.
    Honored to have met original yosemite dirtbag climber Jim Bridwell R.I.P.
    A legend in the rock climbing world and still have a nice locking ‘biner je gave me many moons ago.

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