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Interview: Brette Harrington on “MA’s Visión,” Torre Egger

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Marc-André’s Visión, with both variations, on Torre Egger. Photo: Courtesy of Brette Harrington.

Some of the biggest news out of Patagonia this season was Brette Harrington, Quentin Roberts and Horacio Gratton’s first ascent of Marc-André’s Visión, a 950-meter plumb line on Torre Egger.

After establishing the first half of it last year—a 13-pitch 5.12b/c dubbed Marc-Andrés Variación—Harrington and Roberts recruited Gratton this year to help them finish the project. The trio spent 4 days finishing the route.

Rock and Ice caught up with Harrington, who is still down in Patagonia, via email to get some more deets on her new route.

Q&A with Brette Harrington

How does it feel to finally finish this multi-year project? It has a lot of significance, clearly.

I am very proud to have finished our line.  It was such an amazing summit, and certainly one of the most beautiful I have ever been on.

Weather has been pretty rough down there this season—were you worried you might not get a window to try it?

Although weather has been super cold and stormy, I have managed to climb a couple of other peaks in the range which have helped with keeping my morale and psyche high.  It is never certain what conditions will bring, so I kept an open mind about changing my objectives, or even returning next year.

You and Quentin had another partner this year in Horacio Gratton. How did that come about?

After last year’s attempt (2019), Horacio came to me expressing how inspired he was by the project. He had been thinking of Torre Egger for years. He is a local climber from El Chaltén and has lots of experience in the mountains here.  Quentin had already mentioned to me that he would feel more comfortable climbing in a team of three for safety, in case something went wrong, so it was an obvious choice to invite Horacio along.

Harrington on new ground on the East Pillar of Torre Egger, February 2018, when she and Quentin Roberts established Marc-Andrés Variación, the first half of what would become Marc-Andrés Visión Photo: Quentin Roberts.

The ascent this year: Where did you guys bivy? What were the conditions like throughout?

Conditions were much more difficult than last year which made the climbing a bit slower.  We arrived at the same bivy site as last year but it is so small that the three of us barely fit, smushed together. It snowed on us during the night and we were all three very cold.

The following day we bumped the bivy site 100 meters up to a 45-degree ice slope. We cut a ledge out of the slope with our ice tools and spent the day there, waiting for the upper Titanic headwall to clean.

We woke up the following morning, climbed all day, arrived at the summit, and rappelled down to the same bivy by 2 am.  The following morning, we awoke to a storm moving in so we finished the rappels back to the glacier.

Can you describe the first half of the route that you and Quentin established last year on the East Pillar?

Our line climbs directly up the lower East Pillar by means of cracks and flakes. One pitch of thin, runout flake climbing at 11b  gives access to the a natural crack system that hangs in a shallow corner (3 pitches). The climbing is steep, around 90 degrees.  When my boots fell off the wall last year at pitch 10, they fell straight down, landing in the bergschrund at the base.

The crux corner is about 12b/c, where you have to crimp the corner because the crack is too small for fingers, even mine.  Another pitch of runout flake climbing leads to a beautiful dihedral at mid 5.10.  This eases off and leads to the bivy site.

You guys found a new variation this year for part of that section. What necessitated this? Do you prefer the original variation or this new variation?

This season has been very cold so lots of ice has built up in the corner systems that were dry last year.  Our lower line looked to be somewhat clean and dry, but the upper dihedral was in a dark and wet corner with overhead threat of ice fall.

From the base we scouted a more direct, yet even more incipient line that climbs flakes up the face, instead of entering into the wet corner.  This resulted in two 60-meter pitches of steep face climbing at mid 5.11, and lead into two more pitches of slightly easier terrain of the similar style.

I prefer this year’s variation, as it kept us in the sun for longer, and the climbing was a bit more psychological. The climbing was more run out, but in my opinion, more aesthetic.

What is the climbing like on the upper half, where it links into Titanic?

The climbing on the upper part of Titanic follows a beautiful crack system, but it was mostly covered in ice this year.  Low 5.11 icy cracks are a bit challenging to climb. We did not end up free climbing it entirely, but did our best. The crux pitch is a traverse out a flake, including a pendulum into a ramp system.

The ramps were filled with ice, so we mix climbed for 4 pitches, until we hit the ice chimney. 60 meters of grade 3 ice lead t0 the shoulder below the summit mushroom. We chose a direct line up the  rhyme mushroom to follow what looked to be the easiest terrain. There was one step of steep mixed climbing that lead into mellower terrain.  To access the summit I had to dig a vertical tunnel through the rhyme for the final pitch, with my ice tool over head.

What would you say the complex grade is?

Quentin and I freed the lower pillar (Marc-Andrés Variación) last season at 12b/c, but because the cracks were so icy this season, we had to pull through some of the  French Free some parts, giving it a collective grade of VI 5.11+ C2.

I think the entire face is something like 950 meters

Think it has the potential to become a classic?!

I think this line may become a popular choice for those who come to climb Torre Egger, as it is the cleanest line and avoids much of the rotten ice from Titanic. However, it is very technical and requires a strong head, so  I don’t think it will become a “classic.”

Was this, in part, another step in grieving Marc-André? Are there other lines out there that Marc-André had talked about doing that you still have on your mind?

I think I am always grieving in one form or another, so naturally climbing becomes part of grieving, too. This climb in particular is one that I would have climbed had he still been here.

Climbing Torre Egger has been a dream for me primarily because of Marc’s stories. He always talked about the beautiful Torre Egger as being the hardest summit of all the towers in Patagonia. It is the overlooked by its sister Cerro Torre and guarded by the steepest walls. I think this was enticing to Marc, and myself.

Anything else in particular you’re really hoping to do this season down there in Patagonia?

My season may come to an end here in Patagonia, as the weather is not looking promising for the rest of the week. I am very content with having climbed a fun mixed line called Pippo Frasson on Aguja Guillaumet, The Willians- Cochrane on Cerro Poincenot, and an attempt on the Italiana on Aguja Saint- Exupéry.

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