PATAclimb, when toponymy hides a crusade

di Stefano Lovison

Can alpinistic ethics turn into a religion with its priests?
Can alpine toponymy – with its names which for decades evoked dreams, drama and tragedies – be suddenly changed according to the abuse of an single individual?

This question arises spontaneously consulting, the famous portal devoted to the alpinism in the Chalten, Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy range. It is spontaneous to wonder if Rolando Garibotti, important alpinist and guru of these mountains, did make or not his website as an instrument of a personal crusade.

Of course, nobody would ask Garibotti not to be passionately involved in the events which occur on the patagonian walls. Garibotti enjoys a large international prestige, and there is not party which does not avail himself of his suggestions and his alpinistic and technical opinions. He is very careful not only about the alpinistic ethics but also about the preservation of this delicate environment, since he is aware of the anthropic impact which even a publication online could have. He is above all a valuable alpinist who has set his signature under two among the hardest and more important achievements ever seen with El Arca de los vientos on Cerro Torre in 2005 together with Ermanno Salvaterra and Alessandro Beltrami, and the Big Traverse of the Towers (Aguja Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre) in 2008 with Colin Haley.

Is this credential sufficient to decide that, what for decades was called by alpinists from all over the world the Col of Conquest should change name and become the Torre-Egger-Col?

On the Maestri affair, Garibotti has built a punctilious dossier which “destroy” the first Cerro Torre ascent in 1959, dismantling, point by point, the Maestri’s and Fava’s version, with a ferocious – and very famous – debate which has involved the whole worldwide alpinistic community. Published in AAJ in 2004, the dossier arrived just a few months before the realization of El Arca de los vientos.

Now that on the PATAclimb website the Egger, Maestri Fava ascent has definitively disappeared, to be listed and relegated among many attempts (Attempts to climb Cerro Torre from the north), it can be noticed that the toponym Col of Conquer has been replaced by a dry Torre-Egger Col, neologism reported and distributed to the world after the last big ascent on the Egger Tower, from South, by a Norwegian party.

Garibotti’s logic is not clear and somehow coherent: “although he never reached it, Maestri took the liberty to christen the col between Torre Egger and Cerro Torre col “della Conquista” (col of Conquest)”.

But how many other places, cols, small passes and big summits have been named without being trampled on, crossed or climbed? In many cases those names have undergone toponymic revisions and reinterpretations, and the change of the name would be a secondary issue if only the Cerro Torre wasn’t one of the most famous and desired mountains of the world and the route, the Egger-Maestri in 1959, among the most criticised and known of alpinism history.

The Col of Conquest: how much history and epics, how much romanticism lies behind the name of a place which for fifty years has been evoking emotions, and which is recognized by the whole alpinistic community as a is a synonym of dream, tragedy and ambition.

“Rolo” is aware of his drastic choice, and prevents the objections with a challenge. “Do you want to object on the neo-toponym?” says, addressing the noisy population of climbing forum and of armchairclimbers: then move your ass and go to the Torre (1). In other words, it is necessary to climb the Torre to understand or to reply point by point to his anti-Maestri theorem presented as a gospel in A mountain unveiled: a revealing analysis of Cerro Torre’s tallest tale.

In my opinion I can already say that you don’t have to be a member of the Stones to criticise the Beatles’ music or to be a famous writer to discuss about Dostoevskij (nonetheless I honestly say that probably I won’t have the chance and the capability to go to Cerro Torre).

At this point and following the logic of this toponymic revision, we wonder with some apprehension if we have to witness a change of name also for the Herron summit.

As a matter of fact, Garibotti is not softer with Bruno De Donà and Giuliano Giongo and their Torre Egger ascent in alpine style from East in 1980 (2). Indeed Garibotti is not softer at all. He supports the evaluations of Thomas Huber on the very presence of the italians on that summit. And he does support the doubts that De Donà and Giongo had climbed indeed along the headwall, where they said they had put six bolts, and the doubts that they had indeed trampled the summit which they named Punta Herron. As a result the italian route seems swallowed below the Col de Luxm and the North Ridge is unanimously called Huber-Schnarf 2005. Even worse, the PATAclimb toponym section (3) ignores De Donà e Giongo, who baptized the summit in memory of Phil Herron, while escaping the Egger Tower during a storm (they would have climbed up 60 meters towards that unamed tower in a confused and desperate search for survival).

After the end of the toponym the Col of Conquest should we expect the rename of this summit?

We are also saying that Garibotti’s rigor is producing effects which are at least questionable: like when for the sake of purity, Colin Haley does not assign himself the first solo on Cerro Pollone, admitting that he could not succeed for a couple of meters … even if he caressed, with the tip of th axe, a point just 40 cm below the summit.

A rigor which becomes insolence when Maestri is treated as a poor insane (Maestri’s insanity), by the same Colin Haley in his blog Skagit Alpinism, where, with maniacal precision, shows one by one the bolts the Compressor route. A young star of alpinism versus an old man who, after thousands of battles –mountains and polemics – is now fighting against his illness.

Here we are. The Compressor Route, the Maestri’s ’70. Here Garibotti shows his deepest fury treating it as an infamous route and calling it, provocatively, Compressor Via Ferrata. For the climbing gear he suggests only a ferrata kit, whatever it is: and you can leave home your courage.

Surely Garibotti does not make any effort to put the Maestri’s actions in the context of the period – as an alpinist and as a man – those 54 days of winter alpinism, followed by others in the autumn to come, with frostbites and the use of a gas compressor which proved to be, if not useless, an enterprise “a la Fitzcarraldo”.

Maestri’s style and motivations, which in a certain sense can be considered indefensible, may be disputable, but they are part of the anarchy which is inherent in the wandering in the mountains and somehow has always been innate in alpinism.

It’s just because of this anarchy, this freedom, that we should not overcriticize – just to stay on the Cerro Torre or the Torre Egger issue – the “siege” routes opened in several seasons, or those done entirely with fixed ropes, with the compressor or also aluminium boxes.

The boundary between tradition and innovation, between modernity and experience of the past is not well defined. And anyway, a severe ethical judgement should never exempt from alpinistic and human respect, towards those who preceded us.

They would be just invisible traces on the Patagonian wind …

Stefano Lovison
Thanks to Marina Morpurgo for her help

Alpine Sketches 2012