Christmas Rush on Cerro Torre
12/31/12 - A fine weather window in Patagonia led to an unprecedented rush up the Ragni Route (aka West Face) of Cerro Torre, with up to 28 people summiting over two days, including more than 20 on Christmas Day. Once a rarely done ice climbing test piece, the Ragni is now the "normal route" up Cerro Torre, since Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk chopped more than 100 bolts from the Compressor Route on the Southeast Ridge of the mountain in early 2012. With the southeast side suddenly restored to its more natural—and extremely difficult—status, the remote west face, which rises above the Patagonia Ice Cap, has become the easiest way up the mountain.
Normally guarded by a crux final pitch of tenuous vertical rime climbing that had to be overcome by tunneling and other tactics, the Ragni this year reportedly offers reasonably well-protected steep ice climbing. Indeed, the route has apparently been guided at least twice this season, for the first times ever. Meanwhile, no one has attempted the Southeast Ridge yet this year, though Colin Haley said this was at least in part because the recent weather windows have started with very snowy conditions, putting the rock on the Southeast Ridge out of condition.
Meanwhile, Cerro Torre still offers plenty of potential for adventure. Haley and Canadian Jon Walsh joined the crowd on the Ragni on Christmas Day—it was Haley's second trip up the route this season—but instead of following the herd down the rappels on the southeast ridge, they rapped down the Ragni and then the north face to reach the Col of Conquest between Cerro Torre and Torre Egger. Here, they bivied in anticipation of a planned doubleheader.
In the morning, they started up Venas Azules, the extraordinary ice climb up the south face of Torre Egger pioneered last season by the Norwegians Bjorn-Eivind Artun and Ole Lied. The two men climbed most of this route, within about two and a half pitches of the summit of Torre Egger, before a sudden and severe deterioration in the weather prompted their retreat. The descent lasted all night, as they lost the established rappel route in the dark and storm and ended up descending unknown terrain in violent spindrift, leaving much of their rack behind.
Dates of ascents: December 24–26, 2012