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A starry sky over Cerro Torre, center, in Patagonia, Argentina; Photograph by Christian Vorhofer/Aurora

Climbers Set Blistering Speed Record On Patagonia’s Torre Traverse

In an astonishing record time of 20 hours and 40 minutes, climbers Colin Haley and Alex Honnold on Monday completed the second ascent of the Torre Traverse—a north-to-south traverse of Patagonia’s Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger, and Cerro Torre. Their camp-to-camp time was 32 hours.

Haley, 31, is beginning to see big dividends after having spent every austral summer season of his life over the last decade climbing in Patagonia.

“Colin knows the Cerro Torre range better than anyone and he has logged some serious time here,” says Hayden Kennedy, an alpinist from Colorado who has also achieved some significant ascents in Patagonia, including chopping historic bolts off Cerro Torre. “He has the Torres on ‘lap’ status!”

“I’m definitely still a rock climber fumbling along, though I’m starting to feel more comfortable in the mountains,” said Honnold, who is known more for his ropeless ascents of Yosemite big walls than he is for alpine climbing. Although, in 2014, Honnold and Tommy Caldwell completed the first ascent of another big traverse: the Fitz Roy massif, an ascent that earned them recognition as National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. “I’m lucky that I have great partners like Colin to help teach me more quickly, but it still takes a really long time to truly feel comfortable,” Honnold continued. “I don’t know if I’ll ever actually consider myself an alpinist.”

For Haley, the terrain was hardly unfamiliar. In 2008, climbing with Patagonia climbing legend Rolando Garibotti, Haley achieved the first ascent of the Torre Traverse over three days. “The team in this case is perfect,” remarks Kennedy. “Colin’s knowledge of the mountains, and his strong alpine background, and then mixed in with Alex’s skill set, it makes for a very strong partnership.” The Torre Traverse was, for decades, one of the great longstanding projects in Patagonia. First envisioned by the Italian alpinist Ermanno Salvaterra, the idea to enchain all four major peaks of the Torre range in a single push was an audacious challenge when he first began making attempts to achieve it in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, Punta Herron had likely never been climbed before Salvaterra dreamed up this challenge. During one of his attempts at making the traverse in 1991, Salvaterra, together with Adriano Cavallaro and Ferruccio Vidi, likely nabbed the first ascent of Herron via its north ridge.

Over time, climbers pioneered new routes on various peaks in the range, and soon all the pieces of the puzzle began to come together. One of the last major puzzle pieces to be discovered, for example, was the route “El Arca de los Vientos,” first climbed in 2005 by Alessandro Beltrami, Rolando Garibotti and Ermanno Salvaterra. This route, which wraps around Cerro Torre, beginning on the East Face, climbing across the Northwest and North faces, and finishing on the West Ridge, became key to unlocking the Torre Traverse. In 2008, the brothers Alex and Thomas Huber, and Stephan Siegrist, all accomplished Austrian climbers, arrived in the sleepy Argentinian village of El Chalten, the gateway to the Patagonia mountains, with their eyes set on the Torre Traverse.

However, it was a young Colin Haley and Rolando Garibotti who beat them to the punch. Leaving on January 21, 2008, in inclement weather conditions that kept other climbers back in town, Garibotti and Haley began their ascent. Three days later, on January 24, the had completed the historic first ascent of the Torre Traverse.

Interestingly enough, Garibotti reported that the climbing difficulties were never all that extreme or committing, topping out at 5.11 A1, with most leads being “relatively safe.” The crux of the traverse was the final ice mushroom pitch on the Ragni Route (West Face) of Cerro Torre, which, back then, took Haley three hours to complete.

Since 2008, the Ragni Route has become much more popular, and it is now considered the preferred and easiest route to the summit of Cerro Torre (10, 262 feet; 3,128 meters). The crux is the last pitch, in which the first climbing party of the season faces the unique and immense challenge of tunnelling through the snow-ice rime plastering the ultimate 300 feet of the mountain. Once the pitch has been excavated, however, subsequent parties have a much easier time reaching the summit.

Certainly, the fact that others have already climbed Cerro Torre via the Ragni Route this season helped Haley and Honnold achieve their blistering speed record.

“The difference between being the first party (of the season) to climb it, and climbing it behind others, is night and day,” wrote Garibotti of this pitch.

Haley has been on a tear this season. Two weeks ago, he achieved the first solos of Punta Herron and Torre Egger, which, while not the tallest mountain in the range, is considered the most technically difficult summit. He reached the summit of Torre Egger after 16 hours of climbing, free soloing everything but two blocks of four pitches each. On the rappel descent, he lost two hours to dealing with a stuck rope, but eventually made it back to his starting point after 27 hours round trip.

Earlier, on January 6, Haley and Andy Wyatt destroyed the “car-to-car” speed record on Fitz Roy, climbing it via the Supercanaleta, in just over 21 hours roundtrip.

All this mileage certainly helped prep Haley for the speed record on the Torre Traverse. As Garibotti wrote on his website, “Something tells me this record will stand for a long time to come.”

Haley and Honnold have their eyes on a couple of other objectives, but nothing as big as the Torre Traverse, according to Honnold. “We have a few other things we’d like to climb but nothing as impressive as the Torre Traverse,” he said. “Honestly I might just go home early if we do another climb or two. I’m happy with my alpine adventure for the year.”