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Patagonia's Cerro Torre Controversy
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The View From the Top
Fresh from his Cerro Torre climb, Rolando Garibotti weighs in on the Cesare Maestri debate.

The Legend Roars: 
Mountaineer Cesare Maestri is confronted. Read the interview >>

See photos and read more about the recent climb on Patagonia's Cerro Torre >>
As an alpinist, I was intimately familiar with the 1959 Cesare Maestri controversy long before I climbed the north flank of Cerro Torre this past November. Maestri's ascent was, at the time, light-years ahead of any other climbing feat—besting even Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's 1953 ascent of Everest. It was so impressive, in fact, that even as the public celebrated the young Italian as a hero, the climbing community questioned the veracity of his climb, using Maestri's own descriptions of the route to cast doubt on the ascent.

In three different magazine articles published between 1959 and 1961, Maestri recounted three very different routes above the Col of Conquest. Today nearly all of the terrain he described in those articles has been climbed, and no trace of his passage has been found, despite Maestri's claims that he placed 60 bolts above the col. (Our team found a number of Maestri's pitons on the first 900 feet [274 meters], but none above that.) Further, while Maestri's descriptions of the mountain's lower section are extremely detailed, his notes for the upper portion, the climb's most difficult part, are vague and inaccurate. For instance, Maestri has described the route's final wall as having a 45- to 50-degree tilt, but our team—and those before us—found the terrain nearly vertical.

To nonclimbers it may sound improbable that our group or any other could locate Maestri's exact route. But on a climb as difficult as the north face of the Torre, there are only a few natural lines—cracks, flakes, and grooves in the rock—leading to the top. To increase the odds of a successful climb, an alpinist will follow the best of these routes, picking his or her way up the path of least resistance. The best route to the top of Cerro Torre, then, is the same today as it was in 1959.

How does this controversy end? For me, by giving credit where credit is due: After standing atop Cerro Torre, I am convinced that Italians Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri, not Maestri, were the first to reach the peak when, on January 13, 1974, they completed their ascent of the west face. History has yet to give this expedition its rightful place. It is my hope that now, finally, it will. 


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