Last month, the Austrian mountain guide and alpinist Markus Pucher made history by claiming the first free solo of Cerro Torre in Patagonia.
"I'd done it, I'd managed to free solo this immense mountain," wrote Pucher, "the mountain of my dreams!"
Pucher climbed the Via de Ragni route from camp to camp in a blazing time of 5 hours and 40 minutes. Ironically, Pucher's initial intentions were never to free solo the route. In fact, Pucher and his partner Markus Steiner had trekked to the base of Cerro Torre with the goal of climbing a new route on the west face of Cerro Torre. However, Steiner fell ill after crossing the steep terrain to the Standhart Col.
Pucher writes, "Out of the blue Markus suddenly exclaimed: 'I don't think I can continue, I feel sick, something's not right.' I pretended not to have heard anything, looked up to the summit where the ice mushroom twinkled in the sun. A strange feeling, a mixture of disappointment, anger, fear but also understanding overcame me when I looked at Markus. He's my best friend, no words were needed. We just sat there, in utter silence."
After a brief discussion, Pucher decided he would climb Cerro Torre alone. Beginning the next morning on January 14th, Pucher starting climbing at 1 a.m. Feeling strong, he made quick progress and passed three other parties while en route. Eventually, Pucher had climbed through the route's cruxy headwall and all that remained was Cerro Torre's infamous final ice pitch.
Pucher writes, "[T]he final pitch that leads to the summit, is a vertical and slightly overhanging wall of ice, 50m [164 feet] high. The ice on Cerro Torre is unlike all other ice one usually encounters when ice climbing, it's a strange mix of snow and air and this makes it all rather unstable."
Pucher climbed through the unstable snow and by 5:15 a.m. he stood on the summit of Cerro Torre.
"I stood in silence for a few minutes and thanked Cerro Torre, and then descended as quickly as possible back down to Markus," wrote Pucher.
Pucher's solo of Cerro Torre marks the second time someone has climbed solo to the summit of the mountain: the first being Walter Hungerbühler in 2008. However, Pucher free soloed the entire route, which is the first time anyone has climbed Cerro Torre in this style.
Rolando Garibotti commented on Pucher's free solo on his website Pataclimb writing, "An impressive performance that leaves us speechless."
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