Leclerc, Honnold, Haley: Amazing Solo, Magnificent Failure

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Alex Honnold on the north face of Cerro Torre during an attempted one-day Torre Traverse. Photo by Colin Haley.

2/24/15 - Continuing his extraordinary season in the Chaltén massif of Patagonia, the Canadian climber Marc-André Leclerc soloed the Corkscrew Route on Cerro Torre, linking the southeast ridge to the upper west face via an exposed traverse over the enormous south face of the spire. The authoritative news site Pataclimb called this “by far the hardest route ever soloed on Cerro Torre” and said Leclerc is believed to have self-belayed only by occasional back-looping (clipping a loop of rope to a piece to protect a short crux and then untying and pulling up the loop). The Corkscrew was first climbed in 2008 by Norwegians Ole Lied and Trym Atle Saeland.

During the same window, Alex Honnold and Colin Haley attempted an incredible feat of endurance speed climbing: a one-day Torre Traverse over Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger, and Cerro Torre. Haley and Rolando Garibotti did the first Torre Traverse over four days in January 2008. Last month, Haley and Leclerc did the first “reverse” Torre Traverse, starting on the west side of Cerro Torre and spending several days climbing over the other three peaks. In January, Haley and Leclerc also pioneered a six-pitch variation to El Arca de los Vientos, the original route up the north face of Cerro Torre.

Alex Honnold following the Exocet chimney on Cerro Standhardt. Aguja Poincenot in back, above the clouds. Photo by Colin Haley.

Haley was on familiar ground, but the one-day traverse was Honnold’s idea. (Last year, Honnold and Tommy Caldwell did the first Fitz Traverse, a five-day crossing of the full length of the Fitz Roy massif.) Haley and Honnold made their attempt on Saturday, February 21, starting up Cerro Standhardt in early morning. Despite “the worst condition [on the Exocet route] I’ve encountered in the five times I've climbed it,” Haley wrote at his Facebook page, they were on top by 10:30 a.m. They climbed over Herron and Torre Egger, and started up the north face of Cerro Torre at 7:30 p.m. The two completed the north face and started up the ice mushrooms of the Ragni Route on the west face, and they were only two pitches from the top when a storm arrived early and eventually forced a painful decision to retreat.

“In such stormy weather I was too scared to rappel the complicated and exposed north face,” Haley wrote. “So we made an emergency decision to rappel the west face instead, committing ourselves to a soul-destroying march through Paso Marconi. When we finally reached civilization yesterday morning we had been going for 53 hours with no stove or bivy gear, and I had 200 calories to consume in the last 36 hours.”

Summarizing this “magnificent failure,” Haley added, “Despite failing, it is probably the best day of climbing I've ever done in these mountains, and it certainly turned into the most epic experience I've had here.” His full account is well worth reading, as is Pataclimb’s “Send-o-rama” report of other important climbs, including the first all-female ascent of Cerro Torre’s all-free Ragni Route and Brette Harrington’s solo ascent of Aguja Saint-Exupery—the first female solo of any tower in the massif.