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Torre Egger is generally regarded among alpinists as the most difficult summit to attain in the Cerro Torre Massif, located in Argentine Patagonia. In September 2016, then 23-year-old visionary Marc-André Leclerc made the first winter solo ascent of the mountain, via the East Pillar. “You want the definition of badass?” wrote Patagonia veteran Rolando Garibotti of the climb. “There you have it.” During his ascent, Leclerc spotted a yet unclimbed crack and flake system on the face, a direct line up the East Pillar of Torre Egger.
Eighteen months later, Leclerc and his partner Ryan Johnson disappeared after establishing a new route up the Main Mendenhall Tower north of Juneau, Alaska. A search ensued, involving Juneau Mountain Rescue, family, friends, and Leclerc’s girlfriend, Brette Harrington. It was later determined that Leclerc and Johnson were likely hit by an avalanche while on rappel. Their bodies were never recovered.
Harrington herself is an accomplished climber, with the notable first free solo of Chiaro di Luna, a 2,500-foot 5.11 in the Fitz Roy Massif that she climbed in 2015. “We were both climbers,” Harrington said of her relationship with Leclerc. “That’s why we got along so well, because we had our own passions but we were the same. He even talked to me about if something happened to him. He wanted me to keep going and keep achieving my goals and not let it sway me.”
The couple had talked about climbing the direct line on the East Pillar of Torre Egger together. After Leclerc’s passing, Harrington was unsure if it was a route she would be able to attain without him—it looked thin, runout, techy, and steep—but she was resolute, and in 2019 made an attempt with Quentin Roberts.
The pair was able to establish the first 13 pitches of the route that season—Marc-André’s Variación—but 24-hour-long weather windows, and an accidental dropping of mountain boots from around 10 pitches up, thwarted their chance of reaching the summit. Even though they didn’t complete the route that year, they more proved that it goes, and that Leclerc’s vision was indeed possible. Harrington knew that she would return to the mountain until the job was done.
This season, back in Patagonia, Harrington and Roberts recruited Horacio Gratton to join their attempt. Bad weather throughout the season made hope of a window long enough or conditions good enough to make the ascent questionable, but Harrington focused on smaller objectives and waited for the right moment. When a promising weather window came at the beginning of February, the trio roped up at the base of Torre Egger.
They retraced the line from the following year, employing whatever tactics they could to deal with the iced over conditions—at times Harrington climbed with a rock shoe on one foot and a crampon on the other, one hand bare and one ice axe. The upper dihedral pitches of the East Pillar that they’d climbed the previous year were wet and iced over, so the team established a new, even more direct line up the pillar to skirt around ice. It involved two long, steep, and runout pitches of mid-5.11, leading into a few more pitches of slightly easier terrain.
“It was a very intense adventure pushing our limits during four hard days in the mountain,” wrote Gratton on his Instagram. “I can never stop thanking my awesome partners, they are not only such a badass climbers, they [are] also funny, great persons, always in the best mood even in the worst situations, keeping the spirit high during the whole adventure.”
Throughout the entire climb, the team thought about Leclerc climbing solo on the same formation in winter. They marveled at the skill and poise it would have taken to accomplish such a feat, and drew inspiration from him.
“It’s such a huge mountain and the level of commitment it took him to go and do that solo—it wasn’t about ego, it wasn’t about anything. It was just about him wanting the experience to be here alone,” Harrington said. “I always knew when he climbed [routes like this] it was remarkable, but now having done some of them it blows my mind even more. It makes me realize how much of a different level he was on.”
The first day on the wall the team climbed the entirety of the East Pillar. Day two they spent resting and waiting for the headwall to clean, and bumped up their camp 100 meters. On the third day, the team linked into the already established Titanic headwall and pushed for the summit. The climbing on the Titanic follows a 5.11 crack system, but it was iced over and difficult to climb—they freed almost everything with a few sections of aid. The crux pitch is a flake traverse, which required a pendulum swing into a ramp system.
The team climbed a few more mixed pitches up to the summit mushroom. Harrington led the final pitch, and for the last 30 feet she dug an unprotectable tunnel with her ice tool straight through the rime, writhing her way upwards through the snow. She popped her head out of the mushroom on a beautiful, sunny summit. The team christened the route Marc-André’s Visión, in honor of the late alpinist who first spotted the line three years earlier.
“I’m still inspired by the lines that he chose because he’s such a visionary… He had a style that was really unique to Marc,” Harrington said. “[He] would love the climb. Especially the lower pillar that we established … He always loved those perfect, clean, incipient lines, and that’s exactly what this is. He would be so psyched to climb it.”