"We found that peg, left by Maestri, at the initial dihedral, 200 meters up the wall," reported Ermanno. He found no further pegs up the route (click to enlarge).
"Someone accused me of having reopened a closed chapter but they should know that this case has never been closed. Perhaps we've spoken too little about it here in Italy but the international mountaineering world has never ceased to do so." In the image, Ermanno takes notes in the ice cave which served the team as BC at Cerro Torre's base (click to enlarge).
"Il Vecchio" (the old man), as his climbing mates nicknamed Salvaterra, happy on the summit of Cerro Torre, close to midnight. In the Image, Salvaterra (right) poses with young climber Alessandro Beltrami. All images courtesy of Colmar.it (click to enlarge).
Cerro Torre North face mystery - Salvaterra's forum-post: "The doubt of Maestri's claims still remains"
Posted: Nov 30, 2005 03:25 am EST
(MountEverest.net) In previous weeks weve followed Ermanno Salvaterras climb on Cerro Torres North face. The adventure could not have had a better ending. Ermanno and his climbing mates Rolando Garibotti and Alessandro Beltrami are safe in BC after having summited the legendary Patagonian spire.
The team climbed a new route they have named El Arca de los Vientos (The Arc/Chest of Winds). However, Salvaterra returned to Patagonia with one more thing on his mind. He wanted to see if he could find any evidence of Maestri and Eggers first climb on Torres North face, back in 1959. Some old bolts or equipment belonging to the first climbers, perhaps? Cesare Maestri always claimed he had reached the summit along with Tony Egger; but sadly, Egger fell to his death upon the descent. The camera containing the summit photos fell along with Egger, neither were ever found.
Maybe, just maybe, he could prove Maestri right even if Salvaterra himself didnt believe it.
Back home, Ermanno has grown a bit weary of the media accusing him of feeding controversy and trying to open old wounds. But Ermanno is more than willing to defend himself. In fact, he shares his views in the best place he could think of - Planetmountain.com - a mountaineering website.
This is what Ermanno Salvaterra has to say:
Salvaterra, Cerro Torre and Maestri
"Hi everyone. This is my first time in a forum and so I'm not even sure whether I'm doing the right thing. Perhaps it's only right that the person directly involved myself i.e. the guilty one, according to some, says something on this matter. First of all, I don't think I'm someone who loves publicity because I'm perfectly happy at home with my wife and my fantastic children. If important newspapers decide, as they have done recently, to publish something, it is because, given the subject matter, they are interested in doing so.
The case has never been closed
Someone accused me of having reopened a closed chapter but they should know that this story has never been closed. Perhaps we've spoken too little about it here in Italy but the international mountaineering world has never ceased to do so. Once I criticized Rolando Garibotti who later became my partner in this climb, - because he never got in touch with me when he wrote. I mean after more than two years of work, the piece was finally published free of charge at the annual American Alpine Journal.
Perhaps people should document themselves or read what has been published in English-speaking mountain magazines. Perhaps they could read Maestri's book "Arrampicare Ã¨ il mio mestiere" ("Climbing is my Job") , Cesarino Fava's diary - published by the Bollettino della SAT in March/April 1959-, or the book "Patagonia: Terra di Sogni Infranti" (Patagonia: Land of Broken Dreams"). Just by reading these, we should be fairly well-documented.
My first attempt on Cerros North face
I attempted that route (Torres North face) for the first time in 1990/91, together with Guido Bonvicini and Adriano Cavallaro. We carried out our first attempt in October and got within one pitch of the English East Dihedral, and then we turned back because the face was avalanche prone.
Whilst waiting for it to become safe, we climbed the French-Argentine route on Fitz Roy and the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre. We made a second attempt in November and slept in the "English box" at the base of their dihedral. The weather was terrible the next day and my partners wanted to descend. I asked them to give me just a couple of hours to climb up a bit. I wanted to reach the Col of Conquest - I was curious to see the place. The storm pushed us back down though. Other partners, on the eve of departure for that ascent, decided not to go but their decision didnt bother me at all.
I defended Maestri for years
In 1994 I made another attempt with Austrian Tommy Bonapace, an expert on that route. We started from Base Camp and in the evening we reached the base of the first triangular snow field. Some unpleasant things happened and in the morning, after a terrible bivouac he said "Finished Ermanno, never again"!
He meant that he was definitively done with that route. Years passed, but every now and then the thought of that route just kept nagging at me. For several years I defended Maestri, Egger and Fava. I didn't defend them in a forum nor did I chat about them in any bar; I defended them to the death against their toughest accuser Ken Wilson, editor of the English magazine Mountain (please forgive me Ken).
Eventually, I slowly began to change my point of view. I reread and restudied what I'd said and written in Cesare's defense and I changed my mind. But all the while, the idea of climbing that route was still very much alive in my head.
Torres North face always on my mind
On November 2004, I returned from Patagonia, and a month or two later I celebrated my 50th birthday. For the first time I had to face the fact that time was going by, but my desire to climb was still strong.
In January I decided that I would return there to attempt the North face. At the end of winter my friend Rolo Garibotti asked me to join him in a project he had going. The idea enticed me but I replied saying that I would first like to attempt that "thing" on Torre. He wasn't too convinced initially. A few years back he had planned that climb along with Slovenian Silvo Karo, but Silvo told him that the route was too dangerous and so Rolo abandoned the idea.
When I proposed it to him he wasn't too convinced, but after some thought he accepted with enthusiasm. Alessandro was already in. By summer though, the controversy sprung up again and it was all over the media. We were not going to Patagonia to make an enquiry; we departed simply to follow that line!
We havent found any pegs in higher sections
Last January, Austrian Toni Panholzer and partners made a series of attempts on that face. They got to within 200m of the summit climbing the East Face on its lower section, and then continuing directly up one of the two North dihedrals. Part of this 'corner system' was climbed by Giarolli-Orlandi. We initially thought of following that line but the insecure nature and the difficulty of the route prompted us to change our minds.
As Bruno Detassis once suggested, we tried to search for lines of weakness through the difficult sections. I really would have liked to find one of those pegs Maestri claims to have used. We found some of them in the 300m lower dihedral , but nothing else above that. Had I found something - not necessarily close to the summit, but even just beyond the first snow field - it would have been enough for me and for the mountaineering skeptics. Not having found anything doesnt necessarily mean we can be sure they didnt summit, though.
But the doubt, permit me to say, still remains.
In 1959 Cesare Maestri, Toni Egger and Cesarino Fava set out for Cerro Torre. At the Collado de la Conquista (Conquest Col), Fava gave up and descended. Maestri and Egger reportedly continued, scaling the full remaining 700 meters to the top of the North face in only 2,5 days. On descent, an avalanche took Eggers life and the camera with the summit pictures.
Ever since then, controversy has surrounded the climb - due to the lack of proof, the short time spent on the wall, and the fact that other teams attempting the route in following years (Ermanno among them) never found pegs or rests of climbing gear above the col.
Maestri said that the climb took place mostly on ice, which is why the climb had been so fast and left no traces of pegs on the wall.
In 2004, Ermanno Salvaterra, 50, and Alessandro Beltrami, 24, opened a new route on Cerro Torre. The climb on the East face was named Quinque Annos ad Paradisum (Five years in Paradise).
This year, Ermanno, Alessandro, and Colorado climber Rolando Garibotti, came back for the North face, to retrace Maestris footsteps. In the end, the trio climbed a new route which progresses through the North and West faces. They have named it "El Arca de los Vientos" (The Arc/Chest of the winds).
Ermanno Salvaterra, born January 21, 1955, in Pinzolo (Trent, Italy), completed his first true climb up the Torri d'Agola spires (2,850 m) in the Dolomites at only 11 years of age. In 1982, Salvaterra embarked on his first journey to the Southern region of the Andes. He climbed Cerro Torre and reached the compressor sitting 50 meters from the legendary summit. One year later, he went back and made it all the way to the top in tandem with Maurizio Giarolli.
A failed attempt on Makalu seemingly discouraged him from Himalayan climbing. Instead he discovered a new hobby: Speed skiing. In 1988, he set the Italian record at 211.64 km/h. But he could never forget Patagonia, where he has done 21 expeditions since.
Salvaterra runs the XII Apostoli mountain refuge in the Dolomite Mountains near Brenta, where he also works as a ski instructor and mountain guide.
Alessandro Beltrami, 24, is an alpine guide and avid rock climber. He was Ermannos mate on the route opened on Torre in 2004.
Rolando Garibotti, 30, is an Italian-born Argentinean living in Boulder, Colorado (US). Rolando is an expert in both high-grade-difficulty and speed climbing. His CV includes an impressive array of ascents and traverses in the Alps, Jordan, Patagonia (Cerro Torre Fitz Roy Anguille Mermoz), Alaska (he scaled Mount Foraker's Infinite Spur in 24 hours), Canada (Weeping Wall/Weeping Pillar and Slipstream), and Wyoming's Tetons (where he recently broke the Grand Traverse speed record).