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.”
Black Diamond athlete and tech rep, J.P. Ouellet, is fully obsessed with crack climbing and builds his year around missions to climb the hardest cracks he can find. One place he annually hits up for a stretch is Moab, Utah, where difficult splitters are famously plentiful. Below is the email J.P. sent us after his trip—a trip in which he established a couple of new routes, including Mexican Snow Fairy, which is one of the hardest finger cracks in the desert southwest.
From: Jean-Pierre Ouellet Subject: Moab! Date: December 4, 2012 8:15:21 AM
I just got back from Moab. Overall it was a pretty successful trip. My original plan was to go try to free climb another roof crack close to Necronomicon (on the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park). The rock turned out to be kinda chossy on this one so I bailed. I was kinda bummed… Actually I was really pissed… I guess it gave me some energy because that same day I ended flashing TheVadge (5.13- roof crack), which cheered me up a bit. On my way out of the White Rim I saw another roof crack that I had not seen before because it is kinda hidden around a corner. I decided to give it a go. And with some fighting and cussing I onsighted this one for its first ascent. It’s 18 meters long and goes from fists to weird cups to big hands to hands to a couple moves of thin hands at the lip. I called it Fisting the Crack (5.13- roof crack).
Back in Moab, I wasn’t sure what project to get on… But then I looked at my little notebook and remembered a route in Longs Canyon I had found last year. On rainy days last year I hiked a lot in Longs Canyon (which is a very cool canyon off of Potash Road just outside Moab), and I was lucky to find an old aid line that had not been freed yet. I’m not even sure anybody ever tried to free it—the crack edges were still very crisp and the crack was EXTRA dirty. It took a day and a half to aid and clean it. The line is very cool. It’s 45 meters long and is super thin the whole way. The core of the crack is fingers and thin finger (mostly .3 and .4 Camalots with a baggy .5 Camalot “bitch” section. The route is guarded by two hard cruxes: one at the start and one right at the end, five feet from the anchor. The route was pretty painful for me so I wasn’t able to try it more than once every two days. I ended up sending a couple days before the end of the trip. I called it the Mexican Snow Fairy (5.13+). It’s one of the hardest finger cracks I’ve climbed around Moab. PSYCHED!