Three women make history on Cerro Torre, the mountain of controversy in Patagonia | The Mountaineer | Sports

On February 25, three French climbers made history on Cerro Torre. Or rather, they rewrote a part of their history. For once, the entire mountaineering community seems delighted to greet the feminine feat signed by the high mountain guides Lise Billon, Fanny Schmutz and Maud Vanpoulle on the southeast edge of this Patagonian mountain on a route known for decades as the compressor route. Together they may have set the definitive example for other women to follow, as capable as men, as needy (sometimes) to believe in themselves.

The biggest controversy, the best-known lie in the history of mountaineering, has its setting in Cerro Torre, precisely that of one of the most aesthetic and desired mountains that exist. Even today, 65 years later, and after thousands of written articles, books or interviews, you can find staunch enemies of the Italian Cesare Maestri (1929-2021) but also sympathizers of his cause. In 1959, Maestri, a mountain guide born in Trentino and with an excellent reputation behind him, declared that he had climbed Cerro Torre on its northeast face. There was only one drawback, which over time would become a tumor: there were no witnesses to support his proclamation.

Lise Billon, heads one of the pitches.Fanny Schmutz

The only one who could have supported their arguments, the Austrian Toni Egger, had died in an avalanche when they both reached the glacier. There were no photos either. Subsequent attempts to repeat the route left its protagonists stunned, who found no traces of the passage of the winning team. Fed up with being pursued by suspicion, Maestri returned to the Torre in 1970. At that time, the opening of direct lines in alpine walls was a gesture that did not arouse great controversy: if the wall did not offer fissures where one could protect oneself with pitons, the expansion anchors solved the problem. the hassle

The fashion He also reached California’s Yosemite Valley and its iconic wall: El Capitan. Only on Torre, a mountain terrifyingly shaken by winds and impossible snowfall, the task seemed Homeric: Maestri decided to place his anchors the fast way, moving a compressor up the wall thanks to which he could drill the rock and easily place the expansion locks. . This time, he chose the southeast edge of the mountain, 1,200 meters of granite topped by a mushroom of ice. He didn’t even bother to reach the top: he got off, finding his way, right where the rock ended. It remained like the compressor route.

In 1979, Yosemite ace Jim Bridwell and fellow American Steve Brewer repeated the summit of the Compressor, becoming the first to reach the top of the Tower from that slope. Five years ago, an Italian team had reached the summit for the first time via a route on the west face, known as the Lecco Spider Route. Bridwell never criticized Maestri and although the press-in nails made the climb much easier, they were only in part of the route and to reach them, you had to climb a lot and well, he would warn. At Bridwell’s wheel, numerous teams stood on the coveted summit, and the first all-female team achieved it in 2005: the Slovenians Monika Kambic and Tanja Grmovsek.

But the history of this route changed forever in 2012. That year, two young Americans, Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy, repeated the compressor route in a different way: dispensing with Maestri’s expansion insurance in several areas, climbing and protecting themselves. in neighboring fissures. During the descent, they tore off those expansion pins that they had not used to progress, proclaiming that the route could be climbed in a more pure and ethical way.

In El Chaltén, the town at the foot of Torre and Fitz Roy, the local community was on the verge of lynching them, judging that they had no right to erase part of a line that is part of the mountain and its legend. Bridwell himself would criticize the “imperialist gesture” of his compatriots, who were protected by the local police. For some, it was irreparable damage; for others, a gesture that corrected an aberration.

The fact is that the route is no longer what it was and is now more difficult and complicated. Since 2012, and counting the success of the French female trio, barely a dozen promotions can be added. Lise Billon, sister of fellow mountaineer Léo (he climbed the route in 2019), considers “amazing what Maestri and his two companions achieved at that time: they had to drag the compressor to the top”, a task in which they invested 54 days. The compressor weighed 180 kilos and is still well tied to the wall, very high. Curious that no one has ripped it off.

Lise, who suffered an accident on this same route in 2013, and her two companions have learned well the history of a mountain as elusive as it is magnetic: patience is the ultimate weapon. For six weeks, the trio waited in El Chaltén, trying not to lose shape and not despair, waiting for a favorable weather report with little wind.

Weather forecasts, so reliable today, have revolutionized the effectiveness of Patagonian ascents. Despite everything, with a favorable report, nothing stopped the group’s doubts. Maud Vanpoulle, recognized for her work on sociology applied to the mountains, narrated on her networks: “Last year, the three of us decided to assume that we would try it, and just the idea instills great respect… then we have had to work on our insecurities. In fact, even with two pitches left to reach the top we were not even remotely sure of achieving it… so we decided to forget about schedules, and move forward little by little, becoming aware of the present moment. At the top, I found myself with two great friends, all three of us were impressed, the views took your breath away. “Magic and love float in the atmosphere.” And a sublime chapter in the history of mountaineering has been written.

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