Cerro Torre: Life and Death in Patagonia: The Hardest Decision to Make in a Mountain Rescue | Sports


All the beauty of a grandiose landscape, the magic of isolation, the simplicity of climbing in the company of a friend, the much desired calm, the protection against the cold of quality equipment; everything that makes mountaineering an exercise in escape and contentment was swept away in seconds and replaced with a scenario of pain and terror.

Startled by a landslide of ice and rocks in the early hours of the morning, climbing experts and guides Tomy Aguiló, 36, from Argentina and Korra Pesce, 41, from Italy, quickly realized that the world whom they believed to be safe a few hours before had disappeared and they had not yet thwarted death. As if they had been hit by a shell in a war zone, it took them a while to realize the extent of their injuries. Tomy could get up; Korra couldn’t. Their gear was all but gone and they were still halfway up a rock face trying a new route – another step in their impressive climbing career.

The accident happened on January 28 on Cerro Torre in Patagonia, Argentina, in one of the most difficult, isolated and iconic mountains on the planet. Far from any trace of civilization, a rescue operation is always difficult here: unlike Europe, there are no official rescue teams or helicopters. There is, however, the El Chaltén Rescue Committee, a volunteer but well-trained rescue team set up in the late 1990s by Dr Carolina Codó, which relies on the solidarity of passing climbers to respond to any call. help. That Tomy Aguiló was able to call for help was a miracle: while trying to gather what little equipment was still usable, he found his little Inreach device – a satellite messaging gadget. He then helped Korra reach the remains of a tiny roofless shelter on the wall known as the Box of the English, where the Italian confirmed a fractured pelvis prevented him from standing.

Suffering from multiple broken ribs and a broken collarbone himself, Tomy grabbed hold of a 40-meter (131-foot) piece of rope and began a slow and dangerous descent. Both Tomy and Korra are family men and mountain guides, and whenever Korra traveled to Patagonia, he stayed with Tomy. During the European summer, Tomy was staying with Korra in Chamonix, where Korra was considered a true local legend. A cheerful individual with a spontaneous laugh, Tomy speaks of his friend with genuine admiration. They will never see each other again.

Dr. Codó confirmed on January 30 that Tomy was in good condition and recovering at El Calafate Hospital in Santa Cruz. “Unfortunately, we have decided to cancel Korra’s rescue operation,” she said. “It’s a very difficult decision, but the window of good weather has passed and it is impossible that he is still alive, given his injuries: without shelter, without food or drink, he would have already died of hypothermia. “We were also able to scan the mountain using a drone and saw that it was 50 meters below where Tomy left it and was not moving. Putting the lives of rescuers at risk would be irresponsible” , she added.

Tomás Aguiló with the summit of Cerro Torre in the background.

More than 35 people came to the rescue of the couple. Without them, Tomy would not have survived. “Rescuers reached him 26 hours after he gave the alert,” said Dr Codó. “He abseiled until he reached a snow field where he waited about 300 meters above the ground, exhausted.” Four top climbers – Matteo Della Bordella from Italy, Roger Schaeli from Switzerland, Thomas Huber from Germany and Roberto Treu from Argentina – were involved in the last part of the rescue and managed to climb the last stretch of rock face to reach Tomy.

Della Bordella and Schaeli tried to keep climbing to save Korra while the other two descended with Tomy, but a sudden change in the weather forced them to retreat. “We were already well beyond our physical and psychological limits and we understood that Korra would stay on the mountain forever,” said Della Bordella. He and his two Italian companions had crossed paths with Tomy and Korra at the top of Cerro Torre on January 27 – the day before.

According to Dr. Codó, ironically, “the Italians were also opening a new route on the east face and joining Tomy and Korra when they finished their route on the north face, so they hung on, but the Italians decided to sleep on the summit and descend the next day via the so-called Compressor Route while Tomy and Korra opted to descend at night on the north face to avoid avalanches.

Korra Pesce was not just a legend in his adopted Chamonix, France, but a highly respected and beloved figure among Spanish mountaineers: together with Martín Elías from the northern Spanish region of La Rioja, he had climbed the now famous route of the Rolling Stones in 2015. on the Grandes Jorasses mountain between France and Italy, and the Directe de l’Amitié on the same mountain a year earlier. And in 2016, they rehearsed the Impossible Star on Bhagirati III (6,454m or 21,174ft) in the Indian Himalayas together, with two French companions. Korra Pesce also teamed up with Spanish mountaineer Manu Córdova in 2012 to climb Aguja Mermoz and Torre Egger in Patagonia. A gifted climber with impressive vision, technique, and strength, Korra seemed untouchable; all the objectives he had set for himself were achieved.

Tomy and Korra’s parting words will forever remain something private between them. But given Korra’s understanding of the essence of mountaineering, one can only imagine that he understood her situation and that, given the conditions, a rescue wasn’t going to happen. These are just guesses, of course, but it’s not hard to assume that he strongly encouraged Tomy to at least try to save his own life.


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