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Rolando Garibotti Interview

27 January 2012

Following the recent extraordinary events on Cerro Torre Climb caught up with Argentine climber Rolando Garibotti to get his views.

 Rolando Garibotti copyright Döerte Pietron

Garibotti has been one of the leading Patagonian activists in recent years with numerous ascents of which perhaps the most significant have been his first ascent with Alessandro Beltrami and Ermmano Salvaterra of ‘El Arca de los Vientos’ (on the East and North Faces of Cerro Torre covering much of the ground previously claimed by Cesare Maestri in 1959) and the first complete ascent of the ‘Torres Traverse’ (Climbing Aguja Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre) with Colin Haley. Garibotti is also well known for his deeply researched piece ‘A Mountain Unveiled’ published in the 2004 edition of the American Alpine Journal, which provided compelling evidence that the first ascent of Cerro Torre should be awarded to the Italian team led by Casimiro Ferrari in 1974 and not Maestri and Egger in 1959. Garibotti also runs the exhaustive Patagonian web resource

 Maestri's abandoned Compressor ©Dörte Pietron

Climb: When was the first you knew about some of the bolts being chopped on the Compressor Route?

Rolando: I found out a few days after the fact. First and foremost I was surprised and inspired by Jason and Hayden's ascent, the speed at which they climbed particularly. Since 2007, when Zach Smith and Josh Wharton attempted to chop the route there had been some talk about it, but little. The lesson from 2007 and from the mess that ensued was that the matter was best done quietly and under the cover of anonymity. If Jason and Hayden would have asked me before hand, that is what I would have suggested to them. Cowardly, perhaps, but practical.

You've long argued for their removal, what were your feelings about Kennedy and Kruk's action? 

It is just fantastic. I will be forever grateful to them. The act of vandalism that Maestri carried out in 1971 deserved to be put to rest, to be nullified, to be relegated to the history books. To right a wrong you have to nullify its effects, and as long as the bolts were there Maestri's aggression against our natural patrimony was in full effect. Alpinism in Francois Marsigny’s words implies ‘following the conductive thread of nature’. Now that the bolts have been removed we can finally have that kind of honest approach with Cerro Torre. It was about time! These days when I look up at Torre I see a completely different peak, one that spells impossibility all over it.

Pitch 10 of the Compressor Route showing the amount of bolts copyright Pataclimb

Many people seem to be upset by not so much the chopping but the manner in which it was carried out unilaterally, particularly after there had been a meeting of climbers in Chalten in 2007 during which a strong majority voted to keep the bolts. What is your take on the need to canvas opinion first?

The meeting in 2007 was as unilateral as Hayden and Jason's action. It was rather pretentious from those 40 people, most of which were non-climbers to attempt to decide for the hundreds and hundreds of people that have made and continue to make the history of this massif. Salvaterra was not present, neither were Karo, Giarolli, Orlandi, Comesaña, Fonrouge, Dickinson, etc, etc. Alpinism has been ruled fairly successfully without any sort of elections, votes and regulations. Lets keep it that way. Maestri's act of vandalism had long required a response. I agree with Jason and Hayden that ‘the act needed to be initiated by one party, without consensus.’

How are things in Chalten at the moment, it sounded like things got quite tense with rumors of a 'lynch mob'?

Some of the townspeople, largely non-climbers, believe they should be the ones deciding what happens up on the hills. They seem to forget that a self-regulating international community of ‘locals’ has been visiting these mountains year in year out since the 1930s. To me their reaction is not unlike the reaction of an ignorant football fan. When the Argentine National team plays I am often that person, shouting at the couch and players even if I know next to nothing about what they are attempting to do on the pitch, or the real difficulties they are facing. The difference is that I don’t expect anyone to take my football opinions seriously.

Bolt Ladder on pitch 11 of the Compressor Route copyright Dörte Pietron

How do you think this issue will develop, it seems there is some talk of replacing the bolts, others are talking of retaliatory action - chopping famous American routes such as The Nose, and even in Italy some suggestion that some Dolomite classics might be retro-bolted. Is this the start of a world bolt war?

Now that the first stone has been cast, and since any replacement bolts will not be historic, if there was an attempt to replace them then a clear and inevitable bolt war would start. It would be too bad for the mountain, which would have to suffer the very worse of our humanity. Regarding similar acts taking place elsewhere; lets not forget the magnitude of Maestri's aberration. If there are similar examples in other places I think it would be good if those route were erased. Even without arriving at that extreme I would love to see routes like the Salathe Wall returned to its original condition, to its 7 or 9 original bolts. 

Finally what are your feelings about David Lama's free ascent of the Compressor line?

It is great to see that in one week the SE ridge of Cerro Torre has seen more progress than in 40 years. First a ‘fair means’ ascent and the chopping, then a free ‘fair means’ ascent. What else can we ask for? Inspiring times are these. David's ascent was no doubt impressive. You can’t climb a mountain in a much ‘cleaner’ way than he did.  

Look out for a Patagonia special report in Climb 86

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