Mountain Online - Features and Regulars

Cerro Torre

Name: "Infinito Sud"
(Never-ending South)

   Ermanno Salvaterra,
   Piergiorgio Vidi and
   Roberto Mani (all Italians)
Period of ascent:
   November 3 through
   November 26, 1995
   UIAA 7 and A4
   1350 meters, 36 pitches
   Maestri Route.
   (East Ridge).

Infinito Sud
First Ascent

    A climb that must rank as one of Patagonia's most significant ascents, is the Big news of the 1995-96 season. Infinito Sud (Never-ending South), takes a direct line up the center of Cerro Torre's south face, and was climbed between November 3 and 26 by Patagonian pioneer, Ermanno Salvaterra, and his Italian teammates Piergiorgio Vidi and Roberto Manni.

Rated UIAA 7 and A4, Infinito Sud lies left of the Slovenian routes (Karo/Jeglic, 1988 and Karo/Jeglic/Lukic/Prapotnik, 1994).

Salvaterra and team climbed the 1350-meter, 36-pitch route in capsule style, using a kevlar/aluminium box, for protection against 200 m.p.h. winds. The box would prove key to the ascent, and included three levels for sleeping.

A previous attempt (1994) by Salvaterra Leoni and Giovanazzi ended after 200 meters, when they heard of the death of Fabio Stedali, a close friend of the 1994 team, who was killed during a rappelling accident on the nearby Maestri route.

In early October 1995, Salvaterra, Vidi and Manni reclimbed the wall to the previous high point. Fixed ropes from the previous year's attempt were too damaged to be used, so on October 10 the team climbed one more pitch, then waited for the arrival of the bulk of the equipment, by helicopter, which finally arrived on October 26.

Until November 3, the team hauled the gear, the box and food to the first bivouac site on the wall, dubbed Pensione Prima Rose (Pension of the First Rose). On November 4, they began climbing new ground, making only 45 meters in a storm on the first day. On the 5th, the team climbed 5 pitches in a storm, while on 6th, "extemely" stormy weathers prohibits members of the team from even leaving the box.

Next day, in stormy but windless weather, the team climbed two pitches to the second bivouac site, dubbed Hotel Miguel, about a third of the way up the face, reaching the site at 12:40am. "At this point, retreat would be problematic or impossible," Salvaterra wrote in a letter describing the overhanging nature of the wall.

Between November 9 and 12, the team climbed several pitches, reaching a comfortable bivouac site, called the Hotel Piazza Centrale, about 600 meters up the face. On the 16th, they reach the next bivouac site, Hotel Esperanza, at a point slightly higher than the Col of Hope; and reach the snowfield near the top of the mountain the next day, November 17. They begin to relax, knowing that while descent down their route is impossible, they can probably traverse right to the Maestri route, from which descent is possible, fairly easily.

Another 250 meters is climbed on 18 and 19 November, then for the following five days they are confined to the box, as bad weather prohibits any climbing activity. With sub-zero temperatures, they experience problems with keeping their feet warm, even inside their sleeping bags. "I've never seen such a strong wind, in 14 expeditions here," Salvaterra writes on Nov. 23.

The following day, the team tries to climb, but fails. "We are having trouble with a lack of oxygen," Salvaterra wrote of the day, "since all but the smallest opening in the box has frozen, and we can't breathe properly. The lighter doesn't light for this reason. We have no food left, but the barometer shows signs of good hope."

On Nov. 25, at 2am the trio jumars 150 meters but the ropes are badly iced. The team can't climb any further because of horrible conditions. The team retreats into the box for the night and agrees to traverse to the Maestri route and descend.

By December 2, the team is back in base camp; going back on the glacier to retrieve the box two days later, but cannot find it. They then leave the park.

Italian aplinist Paolo Pellizari praised the route, noting, "I can't imagine (staying) for that long on a wall knowing that the only way down is the way up. They ate badly for a week, and still climbed. If Ermanno said the weather was bad it means it was terrible. Roberto, the third member of the team, is having a little trouble to go back to reality. After one month of Italy, he doesn't feel anxious that much to go climbing.

The Yugoslav (Slovenian) Route, is much easier than this for objective facts. I saw the video of Ermanno which will be presented in the future, and the line is by far, much more overhanging."

The route ended about a pitch below the summit mushroom and included three pitches of A4, one pitch of A3+ and five pitches of A3. The route reportedly also included many objective dangers, including much falling ice and snow.

© 1996, Cam Burns, Mountain Online

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