The Compressor Route
January 3, 2007 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Cerro Torre is a magnificent, bleak shard of granite in Argentina's Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. In the Patagonian summer of early 1959, Cesare Maestri, Toni Egger, and Cesarino Fava began their attempt to be the first to climb the daunting face of Cerro Torre's northeast ridge. Halfway up the climb, at the Col of Conquest, Fava gave up and turned back, while Maestri and Egger forged on. Six days later, while packing to leave and despairing of ever seeing his friends alive again, Fava found a half-frozen Maestri wandering alone in the snow at the base of the east face. (more inside)
posted by the painkiller (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Maestri immediately claimed he and Egger had reached the summit, but that Egger had been killed by an avalanche on the way down - and inconveniently, the camera with the summit pictures had been lost along with him. Given the state of the art of the sport, the extraordinary difficulty of the climb, subsequent expeditions' findings, and inconsistencies in his own account, Maestri's summit account was soon disputed. In a misguided effort to both silence his critics and spite the climbing community at large, Maestri returned to Cerro Torre in 1970 with a gas powered, air compressor driven drill. Maestri and his team then proceeded to drive a bolt ladder comprised of an estimated 400 bolts up the southeast ridge, but abandoned the climb 40 meters from the true summit. This route was dubbed the "Compressor" route after the compressor that Maestri peevishly abandoned on the wall near the summit after he completed his efforts. To this day Maestri stands by his first ascent story, but his detractors remain unconvinced (pdf). And bolted or not, the Compressor route remains one of the most challenging alpine climbs in the world.
posted by the painkiller at 12:31 PM on January 3, 2007

Maestri returned to Cerro Torre in 1970 with a gas powered, air compressor driven drill. Maestri and his team then proceeded to drive a bolt ladder comprised of an estimated 400 bolts

And why not a helicopter?
posted by three blind mice at 12:35 PM on January 3, 2007

Probably for the same reasons they don't do helicopter rescues on mountains, I'd think. The weather is terrible, and helicopters don't fly well at those altitudes (although I understand this is a low mountain, maybe 10,000 feet, which is right on the edge). My understanding is it's a really good way to lose a helicopter and kill a pilot.
posted by noble_rot at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2007

Ah, bolt ladders. Yosemite. Smith Rocks. They are all over the place. Even Enchanted Rock, TX, has a couple bolt ladders.

Aid climbing is fun and all, but that would suck. Dragging some mongo hammer drill up to do basically construction work at 8500 feet, all the while hanging from some 1/2 inch bolts. All to "clear your name".

No thanks.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 1:32 PM on January 3, 2007

I think he wanted to "ruin" the mountain - he would make it so easily climbable that it would no longer be a challenge for other climbers. It would never again be as hard as when he first climbed it, thus he would preserve some of his first ascent mystique. Of course, this gambit can only be effective if you bolt the same route you claimed to have climbed in the first place...
posted by the painkiller at 1:37 PM on January 3, 2007

wow, great post. thanks, painkiller.
posted by aquafiend at 2:05 PM on January 3, 2007

Thanks, the painkiller, for a great post -- some good reads for a slackoff day at work. I especially like the advert tacked to the old compressor drill.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2007

Well done.
posted by boo_radley at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2007

I think he wanted to "ruin" the mountain.

You mean like we ruined Half Dome?
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2007

Or Uluru.
posted by maxwelton at 2:30 PM on January 3, 2007

Incredible looking, jagged mountain, that Cerro Torre. wow. Thanks for the beautifully put together, interesting story and post, the painkiller.
posted by nickyskye at 2:58 PM on January 3, 2007

KOMPRESSOR was my first thought upon reading the headline.

I am awaiting word on Cerro Torre's feelings regarding dancing, vitamins and the letter 'k'.
posted by sparkletone at 3:39 PM on January 3, 2007

You can read about Rolando Garibotti's ascent last year of El Arca De los Vientos on Cerro Torre. This is the supposed route that Maestri made the first ascent by. They pretty much concluded he was full of shit. Also, Maestri's response to El Arca De los Vientos.
posted by alpinist at 4:08 PM on January 3, 2007

I should probably read all the links before posting. Whoops, I just get overly excited about climbing posts on Mefi.
posted by alpinist at 4:15 PM on January 3, 2007

I stopped believing Maestri after the fifth or sixth pevvish, angry, too-defensive letter to the editor I read by him.
posted by eparchos at 5:37 PM on January 3, 2007

posted by eparchos at 5:37 PM on January 3, 2007

Once those glaciers melt climbers will presumably find the body, camera, etc.
posted by Sukiari at 11:48 PM on January 3, 2007

noble_not, three blind mice was being rhetorical -- i.e. if you do that you may as well fly to the top and say you had climbed it.

Really seems clear that Maestri both though that the mountain would not be climbed in his lifetiem -- quite a judgement -- and that by climbing it with a bolt ladder (as much an achievement as it must have been to do the work!) he was proving it was unclimbable by normal methods.

Sukiari: I wondered that myself, and found this excellent well-researched, well-written, and accessibly technical 2004 article about the controversy (PDF).

Fava’s commitment and devotion to Egger was never questioned. In early 1961 he returned to the area hoping to recover Egger’s body but was foiled by heavy snowfall. During that same trip Fava placed a commemorative plaque honoring the Austrian near the base of the east face.26 Eggers’s body was not discovered until 1975, when Bragg, Donini, and Mick Coffey came upon it a couple of kilometers from the base of Cerro Torre. It is unclear if the glacier could have moved Egger’s body that far in only 16 years, if indeed he fell from the wall as Maestri describes. In early 2003 more of Egger’s remains were found not far from the 1975 location. His camera has never
been found.

One of the things this article suggests, whereas it seemed unexplored in some of the other links which were primarily about Maestri, is that Fava's own claims are questionable. That is, probably the three of them never ascended above 300m on the face at all, let alone as far as the Col of Conquest. The author seems also to imply that, shall we say, evidence was tampered with, and probably the story accordingly.

Among other things, there was a four-man support team accompanying the trio of climbers, and one of them published a detailed diary which seemed to contradict the described weather conditions. They also account for a resupply climb that, based on Fava's account, means that the two parties passed each other at one point. The more you look at it the hinkier it gets.
posted by dhartung at 4:31 AM on January 4, 2007

Okay, that was linked in the more inside. Talk about your buried leads -- it should have been the main link.
posted by dhartung at 4:32 AM on January 4, 2007

Yeah, that PDF by Garibotti is pretty compelling. Nice post.
posted by exogenous at 7:02 AM on January 4, 2007

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