Flashback & Foresight

Over the past month my sponsor Red Bull and I were confronted with some critique which was connected to the film production of my project on Cerro Torre. After finishing my alpine projects in the Dolomites and in the Mont Blanc area and competing at Chamonix and Arco I now find time to write down a few thoughts.

Myself and all other people involved in the project are very unhappy about the current situation. The following thoughts should on one side outline the future plans of the project, and on the other side give you an insight to what happened so far from my perspective.

In December 2008 a friend of mine brought the idea of freeclimbing the compressor route on Cerro Torre to my mind. From this point on I was fascinated by this idea. The more I thought about this project, the more it turned into some kind of vision in my head.

Since expeditions like the one I started to plan tend to be expensive, I was glad to have partners to my side who share my dreams and visions. Most of all, Red Bull was enthusiastic about the project and the planning for a premium quality documentary started. I was excited about the value that was ascribed to my plans. Both, Red Bull and I, knew about the difficulty of managing the logistics for the production. Other than at most other film and photo shoots, I knew I wouldn’t be able to think about the safety of the crew. I was glad that Red Bull shared my view and hired a team of three guides to take care of that. Through this decision, I was able to focus exclusively on my climbing while the rest of the crew had their focus set on the documentation.

For the guides it was of course the most important thing to guarantee the safety of the crew. Beyond that it was of great importance to me that other climbers in the route would not be disturbed by the production and that the mountain would be strained as minimally as possible.

It appeared to our lead guide as the most reasonable solution to install a line of fixed ropes aside of the route from the high point down to the bottom of Col de la Patiencia. To make this possible, twelve bolts were added above, fourteen beneath the Col, many of them far away from the actual route. The existing rapelling line down from the shoulder was too dangerous due to falling ice.

The most important demand on ourselves though was to leave the mountain as we found it after finishing the production. Already during our attempts old ropes abandoned by other climbers were cleaned out of the route and carried out of the valley, just like we had planned to do with our own gear after the production. We had been expecting loads of bad weather during our stay but certainly not snowfalls that would hinder us to make it onto the Col for over a month. Therefore we carried out the gear we had left at Nipo Nino before departing earlier than we had planned. But even before we left, local guides were engaged to remove the fixed ropes and the things we had left on the Col, as soon as the weather conditions would allow it. A haulbag and the bolts had to be left, but they will for sure be removed in the next austral summer.

The critique coming from the climbing scene for sure didn’t leave us cold. Cleanly removing bolts and not placing them at all are two different things. The critique made me think a lot and I must admit that most of all the conversations with friends of mine that are alpinists sharpened my view on some things.

It’s true that there are cracks and rock structures in which natural gear could have been placed for fixing the ropes. It’s also a fact that the camera guys could have jumared up on these natural placements. But all of this is fairly easy to say if you are not the person in charge of the lives of the people hauling themselves up on these placements after a huge storm… I certainly don’t want to carry this responsibility, and in that respect I understand our lead guides decision in placing a limited number of bolts.

Aside of the bolts, for many the controversy starts already with the question, if productions should even be made on such a mountain. This is a question where opinions differ widely. Film projects and photo shoots will always be a part of professional climbing and therefore also a part of my life. For my project on Cerro Torre I drew my consequences from the critique and decided together with Red Bull to change the production strategy, so no more bolts would need to be added. This decision will have an effect on the production quality, but I’m glad that Red Bull stands by me for that. Should it turn out though that under these new circumstances the film project would be abandoned, my plans on returning to Cerro Torre and trying to free the compressor route would remain the same… 

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