Matteo Della Bordella and Matteo Bernasconi from the Ragni di Lecco Group made a major attempt in the past two years to tackle the unresolved problem of the dizzying west wall of Torre Egger in Patagonia; attempted by many teams but never ascended due to technical difficulties and the very real danger of falling rocks and ice.
After their first Patagonia tour in 2010/11 with numerous attempts they came back with the plan to complete this ascent. During this expedition the duo had to cross big crevasses, overcome changing weather conditions with snow, rain and ice, work with soaked clothes and frozen ropes, sleep for nine days in a hand-built ice cave, contend with huge falling ice blocks and severed rope. They faced so many risks that their attempts have been judged as epic by the climbing community. After all those risks they were blessed with a perfect forecast of at least four days of good weather and were able to start climbing and overcome the first part of the great overhang, just 40 m below Col Lux. This is what Matteo Della Bordella remembers from that last day:
"I see Col Lux 20 m above me on the left, in front of me a semi-blind corner; I'm totally psyched to climb this last pitch and quite confident of reaching the summit of Torre Egger the following day. While belaying my mate Berna, who is having quite a hard time in cleaning the 5 m of horizontal roof I've just climbed, I can hear he's yelling at me ‘cause he's not able to pull out his yellow C3, but who cares in the end, we're about to finish our route, we can leave a cam behind. In the meanwhile my mind is already thinking about a perfect bivvy at Col Lux, with thousands of stars so bright above our heads. And then I think about the next day, I think about how I will feel at the summit of Torre Egger. Finally I think about the never-ending descent that is waiting for us. I'm still totally absorbed by these thoughts when Berna suddenly joins me at the belay.
Probably the worst belay station of the whole route: a blind corner which is quite narrow — not enough room for two people at the same time, just above a big roof with almost 1,000 m of empty space under our feet. Berna tries to find the best accommodation he can on the belay, which is not at all easy! We've also got two big haul bags in the way with all the ice gear, the belay is really messy. It's already late in the day, but the arête is there, just another 30 m and we're out from these hideous overhangs; we see salvation up there at Col Lux. Thus we take the decision to go on and finish it up today. I took quite a long time to build this belay because the rock is so hard and tough here. Since our hand-held drill had run out of juice, I did my best to place some safe gear: in the end I put a medium knife blade high up, which sang well when I hammered it in and looked solid, I also put a 0.75 cam, a grey alien, a nut and finally lower down a 0.3 cam.
Berna gives me back all the gear I placed in the previous pitch and everything is ready. The belay looks rich and solid so I take out the grey alien since I see a good spot for it just above the peg. I move on. I pull myself up to the highest point of the belay, the knife blade, and look for the grey alien. I remove the grey alien and try to come closer to the peg to have a longer reach. I don't even have the time to realize what is going on, just hear "ting" and realize I'm falling. After a fraction of a second another "ting" and I suddenly pass over Berna's head and start screaming loudly. Then, just close to the edge of the roof, I stop. All the empty space is under me and my whole body starts shaking. I immediately feel an overwhelming sensation of cold. But apart from the huge scare I'm unharmed. I ask Berna how is he feeling and he says that he is OK. After some time, I realize I have to pull myself up again. I'm hanging in the void and ask Berna for a jumar. Berna looks for the jumar and in the meanwhile he checks the condition of the belay. "We're all on just one cam," he says. All the belay had popped out except for the last 0.3 cam. Our two bodies and the two haul bags are all hanging on a 2 cm piece of metal that is somehow hanging on the wall. My world stops for some moments. If after falling I was scared now I'm totally terrified and unable to do anything. I say to Berna "OK, keep calm and try to put something else in there." I don't think he was very lucid in that situation, but still he managed to set another #3 cam, working back to put the nut back in, at least to try to distribute the weight on some other points. I'm just unable to help him, so I have to completely trust in what he is doing (Berna has actually shown great ability in making safe belays since the beginning of this route). I can't think of anything but putting my feet on some piece of horizontal rock to stop hanging in the void. Luckily we left a trail line going from the edge of the roof to the previous belay and Berna lowers me down. When he also comes down, I'm starting to feel a little better, although I still feel a deep cold and my body is shaking. The night is cold and long. The whole night I can't close my eyes; the cold and the adrenaline keep me awake. After deep thought I come to the final decision: I'm too frightened to go up there again without a bolt. It's so hard for my ego to accept, but I realize that what happened is just too much for me, I do not want to put myself through this game anymore. I am too afraid of losing.
Being here with this perfect weather has been all I dreamt of for two years, it was just the kind of experience I was looking for. So why did Torre Egger bounce us when we were so close? From one point of view all this story is like a joke. It's like if in a marathon you are in the lead, you see the finish line and suddenly you fall and twist your ankle. But this adventure made me learn a lot. I realized more than ever that somehow our lives are just hanging on a line; in our case this has been reality — not just a dictum. I learned that climbing mountains also means being able to renounce, and this specific renouncement has surely been one of the hardest of my whole life. I discovered what my limits are because after the fall I didn't want to go up there again without a bolt. It defined a personal limit. Finally I shared all this adventure with Berna and learned not to think just for myself but for both of us. During the whole climb we were one single entity; I couldn't go anywhere without him and he couldn't do anything without me. And the thing which makes me happier than anything else is that I'm back alive and safe and I'm telling you our story, because as many other alpinists claim, beyond the mountains there are just men.