Fat chance. Still, when two climbing legends—Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and American Alpine Journal editor Kelly Cordes—add their voices to a mountaineering debate, it’s probably worth listening. This is no exception.
In case you’ve been living under a rock—or, better yet, out climbing them instead of parked in front of a computer—the latest controversy to rock the climbing world is the unilateral unbolting of Cerro Torre’s Compressor Route by climbers Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk.
For some background, Cerro Torre is a 10,262-foot Patagonian spire that many consider to be the world’s most beautiful mountain. In 1970, over the course of two climbing seasons, Italian climber Cesare Maestri hauled a 300-pound gas-powered compressor up its southeast ridge to drill some 400 bolts into the rock. Under pressure from teammates and worsening weather, he abandoned his siege 100 feet from the summit, leaving behind the compressor (hence the “Compressor Route”) and all but about 20 bolts. The perfect mountain was, in the words of a Mountain magazine cover story at the time, “desecrated.”
In mid-January of this year, two young climbers—Kennedy and Kruk—made the first “fair means” ascent of the southeast ridge. They climbed with speed and style, putting up the route in 13 hours, while avoiding Maestri’s mess of bolts that litter the line of the Compressor Route. On their descent, though, they chopped about 120 of the bolts, “freeing” the mountain to an extent, and raising a shitstorm of controversy.
Who are they to decide what’s best for the whole climbing community? After all, they’re just kids (Kennedy is 22, Kruk 24). They’ve stolen the mountain from less talented climbers!
Chouinard and Cordes recently chimed in, both praising the young climbers. In a post titled “A Word” (and, honestly, it’s not much longer than that) on his company’s blog, The Cleanest Line, Chouinard was characteristically direct, declaring “Thank God there are a few young climbers like Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk who exemplify the best qualities of alpinism. The magnificent southeast ridge of Cerro Torre has been unshackled…”
Cordes penned a longer, worthwhile analysis of the debate surrounding the bolt-chopping, as well as a detailed history of Cerro Torre that comes from his 10 years at the American Alpine Journal. “As with great art, great climbs are not made by consensus,” he writes. “So in a self-regulated world where the participants broadly cite expression, anarchy and freedom as fundamental values—as they have since climbing began—who decides what to do with a controversial line of bolts?”
The answer, he declares, is “the ones with the courage and the skill to unravel and accept the mysteries of Cerro Torre’s spectacular southeast ridge.
In other words, Kennedy and Kruk.
[ed’s note: Kennedy and Cordes are alpine climbing ambassadors at Chouinard’s company, Patagonia.]
To read more on the Cerro Torre debate:
- Kennedy and Kruk’s official CT statement/trip report.
- “Patagonia’s Cerro Torre Gets the Chop: Maestri Unbolted” A solid story by climbing author and The Active Times contributor David Roberts.