The Compressor Route chopped… more thoughts


JJ Brooks eyeing Cerro Torre’s SE Ridge

Having slept on it, I find myself more uncomfortable with the news that the upper sections of Maestri’s Compressor Route were chopped by Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk as they descended after making the first “fair means” ascent of Cerro Torre’s Southeast Ridge than I was last night, when I first heard the news and briefly posted about it.

First off, I’m a climber and a historian and I love Patagonia and I think I’ve got the chops to prove all those claims.  I love the story of history — some of my first writings were the Goldline climbing stories that appeared in Rock & Ice in the mid-90s, and I’ve just finished writing a narrative non-fiction World War II flying story — ie, a history book — that I’ve been working on for the last eight YEARS.

(It’s called China’s Wings, and somewhat amazingly considering the current circumstances, the genesis of the idea came from my own adventures on the Compressor Route.)

I think all climbers can agree that Maestri’s Compressor Route is — or was — a world-renowned piece of climbing history, and I think all of us deplore the style and ethics of its first ascent.

However, I find myself lamenting its loss, and I’m hurt that members of my community have taken it away from me without giving me an opportunity to voice my opinion about whether or not it should stand. Without giving ANY of the rest of us that opportunity.

That route was our common possession, and now it’s gone. “The Compressor Route is no more,” as Rolando Garibotti posted last night.

But should we flatten the Pyramids because they were built with slave labor, and we deplore slavery? Should we plow under Auschwitz because of the horrible deeds and philosophies perpetrated within its walls? Obviously not.

In my mind, a great piece of history has been taken from us, and we are the poorer for its loss.

If The Compressor Route was to be removed, it should have been removed only after a long period of open and public debate in which all of us were given the opportunity to voice our opinions — and perhaps to cast votes. The manner of its recent removal is patently undemocratic, and of that, I do not approve.

We should have been afforded the opportunity to make the decision as a community.

Cerro Torre casts a long shadow

Also, the last time I looked, Cerro Torre was entirely in Argentina. If such a massive change were to be made to such a famous route, on such a marvelous mountain, in such a wonderful country, surely the actual action should have been taken by the Argentine climbing community?

A mountain can certainly be desecrated; I’m not so sure one can be consecrated.

Cerro Torre’s titanic indifference is what has always amazed me most.

*     *     *

[EDIT 1/24/12: Here are some of my best photos from the Compressor Route]

EP PB coverEnduring Patagonia, the book I wrote about my Patagonian adventures (which features my adventures on the Compressor Route and on Cerro Torre’s West Face in winter):

cover 3 Right Mate, Let’s Get On With It: about the incredible partnership between Andrew Lindblade and the late Athol Whimp, my favorite climbing article I’ve ever written, available on Amazon.com for $.99

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44 Responses to The Compressor Route chopped… more thoughts

  1. Pingback: The Compressor Route chopped! | Gregory Crouch

  2. Matt Desenberg says:

    Like with a lot of things, it’s easy to become empassioned and lose focus on the big picture. Bolt wars aside, I think you make some really good points here. Looking at it in terms of the historic value is a fresh point of view which holds important potential. I think most people (including myself) do not even consider it from this point of view, which could be something of a reality check for everyone.

    “However, I find myself lamenting its loss, and I’m hurt that members of my community have taken it away from me without even giving me an opportunity to voice my opinion about whether or not it should stand. Without giving ANY of the rest of us that opportunity. That route was our common possession, and now it’s gone…If The Compressor Route was to be removed, it should have been removed only after a long period of open and public debate in which all of us were given the opportunity to voice our opinions ”

    You’d like to think the community could discuss something like this, but discussion amidst climbers consistently degenerates into, “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of story” and the “discussion” part is left hanging out to dry. It’s a nice thought, but this sort of stuff is like the current American political climate; polarized and broken.

    “…surely the actual action should have been taken by the Argentine climbing community?”

    Another good point that most people (again, including myself) probably didn’t think of. Devil’s advocates would likely say that if the Argentines cared enough the would have probably already chopped the route…but can you imagine if someone freed the Nose headwall and chopped it? There isn’t enough popcorn in the world…

    Cheers, Greg!

  3. Bob Banks says:

    Well said, Greg. I find their removal of the route as disturbing as their climbing was inspiring. This sets a very bad precedent.

  4. Gregory says:

    Thanks for your comments, Matt and Bob. I think this is a big loss, and I most definitely do not approve of the nature of the strike. This should only have come about as a result of a world-wide community decision.

  5. Ian Parnell says:

    Hi Greg, I guess I’m a little bit befuddled by your post – hey, I know you are working through some thoughts about a mountain and a climb that you obviously feel deeply about but I’m struggling with some of your stance. Climbing is about deeds – what was done was done and can never be undone – the piece of history you lament losing – happened. It’s not gone. None of us are likely to forget what Maestri did in 1970. Are you suggesting the paraphenalia (bolts, petrol compressors, old tents, fixed ropes, ladders, litter etc) be left from every historical climb so the it can exist like some mountaineering museum?
    We save the Pyramids because they are beautiful.
    We preserve Auchwitz because it teaches about how low mankind can go. Unfortunately the Compressor was left but we didn’t seem to learn the lessons – there were still many, many willing to use those bolts so they could summit the most beautiful mountain in the world. If they’d learnt from Maestri’s mistakes then they wouldn’t have touched that route with a barge-pole.

    • Gregory says:

      Ian, I climbed that thing via The Compressor Route in 1996, and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Took everything I had to get up it over the course of a difficult season (14 attempt in 58 days) and on it, I built friendships and memories that are going to last my entire life. I’m not going to apologize for having touched it. It’s about choice. I chose to climb it. I could also have chosen not to, and could have gone around to the West Side and climbed it there, instead. Which I did in the winter of 1999, having equally amazing experiences. I don’t see the mountain as having been “improved” or “worsened.” Cerro Torre is. Simple as that. I absolutely admire Hayden’s and Jason’s ascent. It’s the banging out on the way down I’m not so thrilled about.

      • Ian Parnell says:

        Greg, great that you had such a strong experience and I’m getting hot headed in the closing comments of my initial post, so apologies to yourself and others who choose to repeat Maestri’s route – I’m wrong to try and judge your experiences. For me I was one of those that stood at its base and turned away.

  6. Gregory says:

    What did you do instead, Ian? What an amazing cirque, no?

    • Ian Parnell says:

      Nothing of note, dug alot of snow holes and put in tracks to Egger, then got half way up Exocet but never got off the ground on Cerro Torre. We were there in winter, with bad weather but were still lame ;-) Despite my two little girls I can’t stop dreaming of going back though, West Face hopefully.

      • Gregory says:

        Patagonia can certainly lodge itself in a person’s imagination! That I can totally understand. Failure is a quintessential part of the experience, so I wouldn’t count yourself lame on any account. Very excellent that you decided to make a winter trip.

  7. geoff georges says:

    Greg,
    I agree with you on this. I am no fan of silly bolting and especially amazed that they left that compressor on the route. I get Ian’s point, but I don’t think of it as a climbing museum. I don’t think people would chop bolts on old classic first ascents here in north America. There are bolt ladders all over that many strong climbers are now free climbing past or even soloing that where put in on lead by the first ascent team. Old pitons on routes are usually eventually removed because new cams etc will fit. Rusty old bolts are replaced, but if they are near a good gear crack they may be ignored or chopped. I don’t think it should have been up to them alone to chop the route. But in the end the route is still there, just different pro is required

  8. Joe Bean says:

    I am an expert, my opinion is superior, look at my new book, here’s more about me, I love myself; those guys are bad for chopping a mess of bolts which had no business being there in the first place. Boohoo.

  9. Sam Lightner Jr. says:

    Please understand that I type with a smile and am not trying at all to be obnoxious. I’d actually sworn off the forum because of the way that people fight…. so i say that specifically bringing up a point by coldfinger.

    If we can write past wrongs, then, as you say, do we take down the pyramids as they were built with slave labor? Roman Coliseum? White House?

    There are plenty of transgressions that we simply accept in their physical embodiment because they have become part of history. To me, the Compressor Route was one of those things. If this had happened last year I would have been for the removal. However, it had fallen into the annals of history. People had climbed the route with the bolts, and many more had failed with the bolts. It had become a part of the mountains lore.

    Here is something else to consider. The route has been maligned partially not for the bolt ladders, but instead because he placed bolts next to cracks and next to obvious gear placements. Its been said he could have done it with 20% fewer bolts. So lets just say he had done it without the bolts next to cracks. It was bolt ladders like T-Trip or the Zodiac or Titan. Would we be opposed to its existence?

    I doubt it. I think Maestri made a knee jerk reaction to his friends death by bolting the crap out of the mountain. I think that climbers since have made a reaction to the number of bolts and their location… with a few wanting it to be a club without any bolt ladder at all and they have used that previous point to get a movement to remove the bolt ladders.

    What would have been nice is this:

    The boys do their ascent and get full credit.
    On the way down they chop any bolts next to obvious gear or free moves (moves on the ladders line, not pitches of a variation).
    We then have the option of their Variation or the original but needing a lot more gear.

    Instead, it sounds like they chopped the blankest bit.

  10. Sam Lightner Jr. says:

    The above was copied from my post on Mountain Project. I deleted the first two bit as they went towards comments someone else (coldfinger) had made. Somehow, the delete didn’t delete and its there nt making much sense.

  11. Chris Atkinson says:

    As with Gregory I come with an interesting perspective on climbing. At 50 years old (the age of the Compressor Route) I started out in the Willians sit harness, EB shoes and no cams era, the era where chalk was ethically debated! I now own more cams then I can remember, Nomic ice tools, 6000m boots, a hand drill and a power drill. Climbing evolves, its equipment, its style, its ethics and the skills of its participants.

    The Compressor Route is a historic ascent, as is the North Face of the Eiger, The Nose and The Dawn Wall, but are the bolts, pins, rope and tat left behind on climbs a testament to the achievement or a by-product of those achievements ? Are fixed ropes left behind so different then bolts and if a historic route was stripped of hundreds of metres of fixed rope instead of Maestri’s bolts would the reaction be the same ? So is a route a result of the passage of humans over the mountain’s landscape or the bolts that are left behind. If we can now climb through that same landscape without the bolts, do we need to leave them, should we leave them? The acts of climbing the routes will always remain, but by removing the bolts do we not set in history the era of the Compressor Route? Do we require the bolts in place to celebrate that era and the accomplishment. The Berlin Wall was brought down overnight and its removal celebrated. It is the removal that resets the historic clock and allows us to see the past, the present and the future with a clearer vision.

    The fact that I can no longer climb the Compressor Route is unimportant to me, my dreams and my ego. In order to climb Cerro Torre by ‘the standard route’, I now have to dream bigger, train harder, climb faster and commit even more. That is an exciting concept. The removal of the bolts means I now have to dedicate my self even more and commit more, not just to my climbing, but to the style in which I climb if I am to stand on top of Cerro Torre.

    I know when I climb Cerro Torre I will look at the Compressor Route with awe, I will also walk away with a more profound sense of accomplishment for not having clipped those bolts. Did the bolts need to be removed for me to experience that ? Maybe, maybe not, but I bet if they were there and you could still climb the original bolts, my experience wouldn’t be as powerful or as pure. So if the chopping of the bolts adds to a more pure and intense experience for climbers summitting Cerro Torre isn’t that the direction the climbing experience has been going in the fifty years since the bolts were first placed, isn’t that the evolution of our pursuit. The bolts would have eventually become unusable and the route impassable, so isn’t the chopping of them just a more profound ending to the inevitable outcome, as well as a statement on where we have taken the purity of climbing and the direction we should embrace and celebrate ?

    The scars of war heal as we rebuild and we remember with history and monuments.
    A lone compressor hanging from the Compressor Route would, perhaps, be a fitting testament and monument to Maestri’s ascent. Would not the removal of the aid climbing bolts be a fitting tribute to fifty years of trying to climb the mountain in a style more fitting Cerro Torre’s character and a testament to where we have all taken climbing since then ?

    … and in the end, what would the Dali Lama say ??? Peace and acceptance all ….

  12. david albert says:

    Chris.
    Peace and acceptance is something that the climbers that destroy the route don´t know.
    The sense in the sentiment of the comunity here is the sense of a violation.
    Now, 102 of the pitons of the Compressor route are in a bag at the police station in El Chaltén where i live and work as a guide, the rest dissapear in anonimous and not so anonimous pockets at Niponino.
    Sad.
    Those bolts WERE A ROUTE that you as a climber could choose to use or not.
    Many routes ARE the traces of the material they left behind, if your are a climber you know what i mean. If you go to those places , should be your decision to take that route, or made a new one , or take the most difficult.
    The climbing is made of decisions, is up on you the way you take to the summit.
    These guys took a decision in the name of his own ego, they never though in the rest of the climbers or in the history of the area that not belongs to them, that belongs to everybody.
    With the bolts there , many people along the years decided to take another route, but they did not take off the material they did not use.
    If you need to destroy the easiest routes of every mountain to not to be temped to use them, then the process of destruction wil be endless.
    Maybe you need to exercise your power of decision instead of your skills as a climber.
    Today is a sunny, windless, beautifull day here in El Chaltén, many friends are climbing now, from the window i can see the Cerro Torre shinning in the distance and the sentiment is different to the one that we had each time we saw that jewell.
    The pitons that were part of the route that nobody can choose to climb now because of the choose of two are in a dark corner at the police station instead to be amazing somebody in the EASY way to the top of Cerro Torre.
    Is difficult to feel the freedom of the mountains these days.

    • Gregory says:

      Thanks for those thoughts, David. I can certainly see how many members of your Chalten community might feel violated. Also, I’m envious of your view. Mine isn’t quite so good, although it will be by this evening, when I’m meeting two friends for some top-shelf surfing. (Okay, not quite so good, but still pretty good.)

    • Ronda says:

      Very well said David.

  13. Sam Lightner Jr. says:

    One more point…. if this was to be done, then it should have been done by Argentine climbers. Not Americans. Look at how much the Camp 4 crowd thinks they own Yosemite. How would they feel if Rolo chopped The Nose?

  14. This is a very interesting debate and reminds me of the “crew” that removed the fixed draws at the Red to “lessen the impact of climbers on the area.” I wonder what comments Kennedy and Kruk would give for their reasons for chopping the bolts?

    Was one act of arrogance more than the other?

    I do find it interesting that in one respect, the climbing community has been decrying the bolts on the compressor route for decades as an affront to the natural beauty of the mountain. But at the same time, as soon as something is done about them, their attitudes changed regarding the historical and practical value of the bolts, not to mention that it is an insult to the climbing community.

    breakinginmyshoes.wordpress.com

  15. Pat Deavoll says:

    So what happens to the rest of the bolts? Are they going back up to get them? Surely the reason for removing the bolts in the first place is because they deface a beautiful mountain. Finish the job!

  16. Julie Rodriguez says:

    Fascinating post followed by equalling fascinating comments/rebuttals. I’m particularly taken with the idea of comparing the two excellent analogies of taking down the Compressor Route to razing the Pyramids because of the circumstances of their creation (Greg’s) and to knocking down the Berlin Wall because of what it represented (Chris Atkinson’s). I’ll be thinking about this one for a while and will also be bringing it up in conversation with whomever will suffer me. Right now, I’m leaning towards Chris, especially for his two compelling ideas of the action’s ‘setting the era in history,’ and being ‘a more profound ending to the inevitable outcome.’ In other concerns, can the AAC or some other reputable steward (perhaps one based in Patagonia?) acquire these bolts for preservation before they disappear?

  17. Ronda says:

    So many egos, so many climbs. When I climb, I climb for myself, with my own set of personal goals. I do not judge a climber on how they choose to climb, it is their climb. The Compressor Route is named for a reason and all climbers know it as such. If Hayden & Jason wanted to remove bolts responsibly they would have cleaned bolts that were near areas that gear could have easily been placed, i.e., next to cracks. Hayden & Jason chose their climb why do they feel the need to choose it for others. In my opinion, their egos have become bigger than themselves.

  18. Pingback: More on the Compressor Route | Gregory Crouch

  19. steph davis says:

    Hi Greg. Thanks for posting on this. I heard about Hayden’s and Jason’s nice ascent a few days ago and was (and still am) really happy for them. I heard about this chopping just now, and I am not happy about it at all. Frankly, it bursts the pleasant bubble of happiness I was carrying around after hearing of the ascent they made.

    Maybe I’m confused, and communication can change stories. But what I understand is that the Compressor Route is no more because the guys chopped it. If this is truly the case, I think this situation is a real shame. First, I don’t think Americans should alter a (legendary) route in Argentina. That is extremely presumptuous, and as an American, it makes me feel embarrassed. David Albert’s comment basically sums this up. I would hope Argentines will not go fill pin scars, remove webbing and chop bolts on the Nose, the Salathe Wall, Moonlight Buttress or any of the other revered, classic routes in America that exist only thanks to metal and hammers. Somehow I doubt they will.

    Second, I don’t approve at all of the message of this action, which to me says, “I did a better climb, and that makes me the Decider, and now that I’ve climbed this peak in my good way, I Decided that everyone must follow my style if they want to climb it.” That seems extremely presumptuous, and it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

    I also loved the history of the Compressor Route, simply for the crazy, baroque nature of its story. Of all the classic routes down there, I never climbed it, and maybe I never would have gotten back down to Patagonia for it, but it was always floating around on the bottom of my list just to share the experience that so many have had, the legend of the Compressor Route. I spent a lot of time below those torres, and I pondered the spirit and the passion of that story many times. I definitely thought I’d climb it sometime, just to see it for myself. It bothers me that someone else just decided I won’t.

    • Gregory says:

      Well said, Steph, and thanks for checking in… and from skimming the recent posts in the supertopo thread, it sounds like any chopping of the Nose is much more likely to be done by irate Italian climbers. I’m totally embarrassed about that, too.

      • Nicola Ciancaglini says:

        … as if it were the Italians that go around the world imposing their way of doing, going and think about everything…

        Regardless, excellent post and very compelling reply by Steph.

        Nic

  20. Tony Quirini says:

    I have enjoyed reading all the posts above and the resounding message I have concluded is that this team lacked any “ethics” when they decided to chop these bolts. I hope this act doesn’t set the precedent of other famous and historical routes being chopped – but I have no doubt that this will happen more and more, especially with the younger climbers.

    Indeed, change is the only certainty in life …

  21. vanillagorilla says:

    I have never been to Patagonia, nor will I ever climb Cerro Torre, but I find it poetic and just that one of the greatest transgressions of alpine ethics ever perpetuated was removed by two of the strongest and most visionary climbers that have yet existed.

    Maestri went to Cerro Torre to embarrass his detractors. His decisions were not based on rational thinking or respect for his craft, unlike, for example, Royal Robbins, drilling through the night.

    Maestri’s route was crafted out of anger with a wicked disregard for moral conduct or the environment. This is what sets it apart from the analogous situations that many above have compared it to.

    My hat is off to the two talented young climbers whose ethical standards are strong enough to grow the balls it took to seek out this level of criticism. Whether or not they eventually regret this decision, I think the level of devotion they are showing demonstrates that the future of alpine climbing is bright indeed. Hopefully they will spearhead a new generation of climbers whose standards are higher even than those of their predecessors.

    I do understand the conflicting points of view, and I must say, Greg, that I greatly enjoyed reading about your struggles in Patagonia.

    And on an entirely pragmatic footnote, aren’t all the drilled holes still up there? Seems that anybody with a handful of removable bolts can still climb the Compressor Route.

    • Gregory says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Vanilla. Appreciate you checking and and sharing your point of view. Cheers, GC

  22. Pingback: Ascent of Patagonia’s famed Cerro Torre sparks controversy

  23. Michael Freeman says:

    I occasionally read and hear about this stuff from time-to-time and think to myself … it just never ends, does it? Ahhhh … it’s good to be an “armchair crag rat!”
    –mf

  24. gianni battimelli says:

    Hi Greg, I’m a moderate climber from Italy, who never has been to Patagonia and most likely never will, and in any case no longer to climb on Torre or anywhere else, being now well over 60… Days ago, in the burst of revived interest about this story spurred by the chopping and all the fuss about it, I went again on your story on the “Cerro Torre Odissey” on Ascent (yeah, I’m one of the few proud Italian owners, collectors and estimators of that revered journal, which since 1970 has always been one of my main sources of inspiration) and I just want to say how the good feelings emerging from that reading contrast with most of the (verbal) violence, acritical thinking and aggressive behaviour found on too many of the comments I could read these days on the matter, especially on supertopo…
    Ah, and regarding that, please be sure that no one irate climber from Italy will actually go and chop the bolts on the Nose in retaliation… It was just, from the part of the people who kept raising this argument, a way to confront the “pure ethical elitists” with one among the several contradictory realities that some would ignore and on the contrary, in my humble opinion, are the sauce of this crazy world of climbing.
    Sorry for the fuzzy logic of this post, english not being my mother language it is sometimes hard to render properly the nuances of thoughts that are not black-and-white cut.

    • Gregory says:

      What a fine comment, Gianni. Thank you for checking in. Totally fabulous that you’re a long-time reader of Ascent. I really enjoyed writing that story — and I especially enjoyed working with Steve Roper, who’s an excellent editor. Very happy to hear that it communicates inspiration and good feelings to you, even after all this time. I had a marvelous experience on the Compressor Route. One of the highlights of my life.

      And don’t worry about your English. To my shame, it’s a lot better than my Italian.

      Cheers, Greg

  25. E Aldrich says:

    I posted on the Supertopo thread, but feel you and others like Steph have revealed a more nuanced and mature vision of climbing history here. Actions taken by ‘advocates’ of any stripe have a way of aggravating the general consensus, and often over time their strident views look more and more out of touch with the community. Maestri was obviously out of line, even for his era, but I think it would have been both more appropriate and more relevant had someone promptly removed the Compressor route at that point in time. For climbers who weren’t even born yet to make this “statement” today seems misguided and overindulgent. Yes, the route was generally ‘dissed from the start; unfortunately, akin to the “Trade Route” up Everest, its existence became an attractive nuisance that provided the most accessible avenue up a classic mountain, and the traffic reveals the tastes and inclinations of the masses, a ‘statement’ in itself. If the throngs had boycotted the line, except for “fair means” attempts, the subsequent chopping might have been in accord with popular sentiment. Unfortunately, the use of that route evolved into something very different from Maestri’s dubious purpose, and the current ‘statement’ came 40 years too late.
    It seemed appropriate, somehow, that by its existence the Comp’ Route was a form of temptation – test yourself, resist, or succumb. Try to convince yourself you’d done a real climb, but know that you were always compromising something.

    In many ways, Maestri’s taint on that mountain contaminates the route to this day; his ghost darkens the ridge and the hearts of climbers, so that no matter how the thing is approached, something bad and unsavory comes along. The mountain is great, and legendary, but that route is cursed, perhaps best left unrepeated and ignored, whatever one’s ostensible style.

    • Gregory says:

      Interesting thought about temptation… I succumbed, and I had one of the best experiences of my entire life. Then I went around and had an equally excellent experience on the West Face.

  26. Drew Peacock says:

    It is a tricky question as to the removal of the bolts. Personally, I think that that was a very important part of climbing history so it should have been left alone. The best climbing is in Awesome Montgomery.

    Montgomery is awesome!!

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