Bob Wightman

Cerro Torre

Many years ago when I was a young child I watched a programme on TV about a group of four British climbers heading off to South America to climb the most fantastical looking mountain. In the nature of these things, the team failed of course but the image of that amazing finger of rock remained with me for those intervening years between my youth and me taking up climbing.

Some time after taking up climbing, I did some routes with a newcomer to a nearby village. He had been climbing for many years and had just moved to the South Lakes. During the usual pre-crag banter he mentioned that some years before he had been to Italy with the then editor of Mountain Magazine, Ken Wilson, to act as translator in an interview with Cesare Maestri who claimed to have made the first ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959. During this ascent Toni Egger, his companion, died and Maestri was found by the remainder of the team wandering in a daze on the glacier below the peak.

The climbing world was split into two camps by this story: those who believed Maestri and those who did not. As is usual in these instances both camps were able to provide convincing “proof” as to the veracity or otherwise of Maestri’s story. Many wished that they could believe that such a beautiful spire of rock had been climbed in a pure style but doubts remained. These doubts were not banished when in 1970 Maestri returned and bolted his way up the peak via a different line to that of his original route using a pneumatic compressor to place the expansion bolts!

Now the word “bolt” is like a red rag to a bull where Ken Wilson is concerned and my new partner said that the interview was “frosty”, perhaps an understament but... When pressed on the authenticity of his original route, Maestri re-iterated his version that he and Egger had climbed the peak and that Egger had died on the descent. To this day Maestri has remained true to his story. Those who have attempted the same line have met with no success and have failed to find any features that match those in Maestri’s description of the upper wall. Nor have any signs of 1950s equipment been found above around half height on the line.

Until Maestri recants his version of events or evidence is found to prove them then this story is one of the great enigmas of modern mountaineering.

Cerro Torre is the most difficult of the ten climbs on my list and unless I win the lottery or have some similar stroke of luck then it is unlikely that I will even get to go to the region let alone attempt it.