On his way up the Compressor Route on Patagonia’s formidable Cerro Torre last month, Austrian climber David Lama was surprised to run into Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy (read our indepth report on the controversial climb) on their way down, chopping bolts as they went. Their encounter was reported to be a bit chilly. After all, it would seem that Kruk and Kennedy’s chopping unintentionally sandbagged Lama.
For the past three years, the twenty-one-year-old has been trying to make the first true free ascent of the southeast ridge. On January 21, 2012, he and climbing partner Peter Ortner finished the climb, despite “the fact that Hayden and Jason had chopped Maestri’s bolts a couple of days ago.” Lama said it “made my endeavor even more challenging, especially mentally, as the protection was poor.” The absence of bolts forced Lama into “long run outs.” He rated his challenging climb 5.13b. Kruk and Kennedy pegged their own mostly free route at 5.11, A2.
Later Kruk and Kennedy praised Lama for his feat, calling his climb “inspirational” and “further proof the bolts were unnecessary.” In turn, Lama commended the pair for climbing without the bolts, but criticized the chopping—“I think they did not have the right to [remove the bolts].”
Back in February 2009, after his first Cerro Torre free climbing attempt, Lama came under heavy scrutiny. A filming team from his sponsor, Red Bull, accompanied him on the climb, fixing hundreds of meters of ropes and adding 30 bolts to a route already laden with bolts. Horrendous weather forced the team to abandon their mission. They left behind five haulbags of gear on the mountain and 700 meters of ropes fixed up the Compressor Route. More than a month later, Red Bull hired Argentine guides to clean up their mess.
Lama faced an onslaught of criticism. Colin Haley wrote, “As news spread, the climbing world was rightly outraged that the David Lama / Redbull expedition had added bolts to what is already the most over-bolted route in the world, and on terrain where not even Cesare Maestri had felt the need to place bolts.” But Rolando Garibotti, who made the first ascent of Cerro Torre’s north face, countered that the mess wasn’t Lama’s fault—“he was unfortunate enough to be at the mercy of a misguided head-rigger who thought that bolting…was okay.” The son of an Austrian mountain guide and a Sherpa, Lama was born with climbing in his veins. With his recent ascent, he’s become a mountaineering superstar.
This January, Lama climbed in impeccable style. “He has admitted his earlier mistakes, apologized for them, and that to me at least is sufficient,” says Garibotti. On the climbing website Supertopo.com, a few posters argued that Lama’s ascent was the true first “fair means” ascent and that it was a pity that “his achievement was overshadowed” by Kruk and Kennedy’s ascent. Stay tuned—the controversy is far from over.
By Kathryn Sall; Photographs by Lincoln Else, Red Bull Content Pool (top, bottom) and Corey Rich, Red Bull Content Pool (middle)