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The Classic Ragni Route on Patagonia’s Cerro Torre

Some history and stories from one of the world's most classic alpine climbs. Plus a new aerial 4k video from Jeff Wright

In 1782, Cerro Torre was observed by the Spanish explorer Antonio de Viedma, but it wasn’t for 100 years later that the Argentine Comisíon de Limites led by Franscisco “Perito” Moreno gave it the name Torre.

There are two independent lines to the summit, one up the Southeast Ridge and the other up the Ragni Route on the west face. Other lines have been climbed, but they finish up one of the two mentioned.

In 1958, Carlo Mauri and Walter Bonatti first attempted the line that would become the Ragni Route, but at the time was known as dell’Adela, and made it to within 400 metres of the summit. They stopped at the Elmo formation, one of the three cruxes.

They had been part of Folco Doro Altan’s expedition, along with René Eggmann. Altan and Eggmann climbed with them to the Col of Hope, which they named on that attempt.

Mauri and Bonatti followed up their attempt with a one-day traverse, and first ascents of three peaks, along the Adela massif. They then joined an Italian expedition to Gasherbrum IV, of which they made the first ascent. Read about the historical Gasherbrum IV 1958 climb here.

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In 1970, Mauri returned as the leader of the Città di Lecco expedition with Casimiro Ferrari, Pierlorenzo Acquistapace, Gianni Stefanon, Roberto Chiappa, “Pomela” Lanfranconi, Piro Ravà, Gianfelice Rocca and Giuseppe Cima.

The team was plagued by bad weather and didn’t make much progress on the 600-metre ice face. After their expedition, Mauri wrote what would become famous telegram saying that they were safe, but had failed on the impossible tower: “La nostra vittoria è nel fatto che tutti torniamo sani e salvi dall’impossibile Torre.”

High on the Ragni Route in 2013 Photo Paul McSorley

In 1974, Italian climbers Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri made the first ascent of the peak via the Ragni Route. They were part of a big “Ragni di Lecco” expedition that included a number of other climbers.

They spent two months attempting to reach the summit and finally made it on their final day as their food run out. Some of the climbers descended before reaching the summit so the four who made it had enough supplies.

It was the same year that George Lowe and Chris Jones made the first ascent of the north face of the North Twin in Canada, a 1,500-metre 5.10 A4, which has never been repeated.

The second ascent came three years later, in January 1977, when Americans John Bragg, Dave Carman and Jay Wilson climbed the Ragni Route in alpine style.

The first winter ascent to within a few metres of the top of the summit ice mushroom was in July 1999, when Swiss climbers Thomas Ulrich, Stephan Siegrist and David Fasel, and American Gregory Crouch reached the summit plateau. In August 2013, Siegrist, Dani Arnold, Thomas Huber and Matías Villavicencio climbed to the summit.

In 2008, Walter Hungerbuhler made the first solo ascent of the route. It was soloed again by Markus Pucher in 2013 and 2014.

The Corkscrew

The Corkscrew is a 1,200-metre 5.10 A1 that starts up the Southeast Ridge before traversing west across an icefield to the top of the south face to join the Ragni Route above the Elmo. In 2008, Ole Lied and Trym Atle Saeland made the first ascent using some of the old bolts on the Compressor Route.

In 1958, Luciano Eccher flew over the mountains and spotted the line. In 1961, Cesare Maestri said, “After some aerial views taken during our first attempt, we wanted to climb the crest and then to the base of the towers crossing all the south wall to a great iced overhang on the line of the south west crest, and then from there climbing up the west face.”

In 2008, Ole Lied and Trym Atle Saeland climbed the route using some of the old bolts of the Compressor Route. Then in 2013, Colin Haley and Chad Kellogg made the first free ascent.

In 2015, the late Canadian Marc-André Leclerc soloed the route in 18 hours round-trip from the Col of Patience. It was the seventh solo of the peak and the hardest route soloed.

“A solo of this magnitude is probably only second to [Italian] Renato Casarotto’s (‘God with a mustache’) first ascent of Fitz Roy’s north pillar 5.10d C1, 1,250m,” said Rolando Garibotti on his Patagonia Vertical page. Casarotto completed his climb, which required the use of fixed lines, on Jan. 19, 1979, after his teammates abandoned him.

The following is an excerpt from Leclerc’s report in Alpinist: I left Nipo Nino base camp around noon on February 20 and climbed easy, but slushy, terrain to the Col of Patience, arriving around 6 p.m., where I set up a bivy in a crevasse. It rained all night and I got soaked. My alarm went off at 2:30 and I started Pitch 1 of the Southeast Ridge at 3 a.m.

I carried a single 80m 8mm half rope. For hardware, I carried a triple set of micro cams to red C3 size, then a single set from 0.4 – #1 Camalot, two daisy chains, two extendable draws, a light quickdraw, a V-thread tool, two ice screws, two knifeblades, boots, tools, crampons, sunglasses, a tiny tube of sunscreen, and an iPhone and headphones.

I forgot my umbilical leashes, which added to the exposure.

The entire SE Ridge was one big moment of doubt. Being low on the route [I was] thinking, ‘Am I really going to do this?’ The conditions were so bad for a majority of that section [that] it seemed improbable, but I kept managing at whatever pace felt reasonable. When I reached the point [where] the Corkscrew leaves the ridge, I realized I still had the timeframe to continue, and fully committed.

When I was climbing the wild arete pitches on the Salvaterra section of the SE ridge, I was really enjoying myself. The climbing is so good, and it was dry and sunny. Most of the time I was really focused and in the zone.

The traverse over the south face was very long—at least twice the ‘200m’ distance described in the book, likely six full rope lengths—and the south face ice was extremely brittle. It was not technical, 70 degrees, but in a way the crux of the route.

The Ragni was in very good condition, with a long, natural tunnel on the second-to-last pitch and a half-pipe [rime-ice ramp] on the final mushroom. I climbed the first half of the half-pipe with my hands in the rime as it was more secure than using my tools, [and] then it turned to ice and was bomber. [I] summited at 5:45 p.m.

On the summit I just hoped I would get through the ice towers before dark, as that’s the most complicated part. But I made it all the way to my crevasse at the col before dark. I was stoked.

For a photo of Leclerc soloing Corkscrew, check out Alex Honnold’s post.