Climbing the Compressor Route by “Fair Means”

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Photo: Geoff Livingston/Flickr

Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy nabbed one of Patagonia's most sought-after objectives on Monday when they made the first “fair means” ascent of Cerro Torre's infamous southeast ridge, bypassing the bolt ladders placed by first acensionist Cesare Maestri. Alpinist and photographer Colin Haley, who watched the ascent through a zoom lens from a nearby camp, said the pair took just 13 hours to ascend the peak from a bivouac on the mountain's shoulder, “which is amazingly fast considering the terrain.”

“The speed with which they navigated virgin ground on the upper headwall is certainly testament to Hayden's great skills on rock,” Haley wrote.

Known as the Compressor Route, Cerro Torre's southeast ridge has perhaps the most checkered history of any climb in Patagonia. Maestri claimed to have made the first ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959 via its northeast ridge after a weeklong push, during which his partner, Austrian Toni Egger, was killed in an avalanche. Many climbers have since questioned his account, noting the lack of fixed ropes, bolts, or pitons at the top of the mountain and the general difficulty of the route (it was not repeated until 2005). In 1970, Maestri returned to climb the southeast ridge, using a gas-powered compressor to drill more than 400 bolts in order to bypass a blank stretch of rock. The result was an enormous bolt ladder that took little skill to ascend, drawing harsh criticism from climbers, including Reinhold Messner.

The flap over Maestri's route led to a number of attempts to climb the southeast ridge in better style, some of which became controversies in their own right. In 2010, guides from a Red Bull-sponsored production filming Austrian climber David Lama's attempt to free the Compressor caused a stir by adding some 30 new bolts to the route. Lama reignited the controversy the next year when he said he would rap bolt a new line up Cerro Torre's headwall (he later dropped the plan).

In 2011, Kruk, an alpine guide from Vancouver, came close to a “fair means” ascent of the Compressor when he and fellow Canadian Chris Geisler made it to within 130 feet of the top of the headwall. The pair used a mix of natural protection and free climbing to avoid Maestri's bolt ladder before high winds forced them to retreat.

—Adam Roy

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