In 1959, Italian alpinist Cesare Maestri and his partner Toni Egger mounted a now-infamous ascent attempt of Patagonia’s Cerro Torre, a 10,626-foot granite peak. Claims from Maestri that the pair reached the summit have been met with skepticism. (Egger perished on the trip.) This week, Argentinian climber Rolando Garibotti unearthed new evidence that casts further doubt on Maestri’s report.
Writing on Pataclimb.com, Garibotti says that he pored over one of the photos from Maestri’s 1961 book, Arrampicare e il Mio Mestiere, and found that the features shown don’t sync up with where Maestri said he and Egger climbed. A photo caption on page 65 of the book purports that Egger was ascending “the lower slabs of Cerro Torre’s wall.” But Garibotti writes that the photo actually shows Egger climbing the west face of Perfil de Indigo, a small tower north of the avalanche-prone, wind-whipped Col Standhardt. Maestri never mentioned climbing on the west side of the massif, only the east and north sides. (Maestri claimed that the only camera on his expedition was lost, National Geographic reports.)
“Indeed it is nowhere near the location of his claimed ascent, and certainly no place one would unintentionally wander. Or forget,” Garibotti writes, adding that the climbers may have been looking for an easier route. That hypothesis could help explain Egger’s mysterious death. While climbing up the west face to return to the east side, it’s possible that he suffered an accident while descending the treacherous Col Standhardt. His remains were later found below the Col on the lower part of the Upper Torre Glacier.
Maestri’s account of the six-day round-trip to the summit and back is the only one available—and the only span of the trip uncorroborated by journals of several other support climbers. According to National Geographic, several teams have tried to replicate Maestri’s supposed route up Cerro Torre, but none made it beyond 3,000 feet or found evidence of Egger or Maestri’s ascent beyond the first snowfield.
“The one person who knows what really happened refuses to speak, leaving us to try to piece together the truth,” Garibotti writes. “Toni Egger’s last lesson to us is that of clever, ingenious route finding. Hopefully Cesare Maestri’s last lesson will be one of integrity, coming clean once and for all.”