Another Lithuanian Hero!

On February 24, Marius Gružauskas became the first Lithuanian to climb the Cerro Torre peak of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in South America. He shared his experience with readers. Patagonia is a region encompassing the vast southernmost tip of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile, with the Andes Mountains as its dividing line. The Argentine side features arid steppes, grasslands and deserts, while the Chilean has glacial fjords and temperate rainforest.

Gružauskas explains that Cerro Torre (3,128 m), is one of the region’s main peaks, situated between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the mountain has a frosted top, like a snow mushroom, due to the special climatic conditions. “As you admire the magnificent spectacle of snow and mountains from afar, you realize that it won’t be easy to climb.” Climbing it requires specific equipment, and sometimes you need to climb vertical ice caves. Strong winds and high rainfall mean that the summit is constantly being reshaped. Nature creates a different shape of snow and ice every year. There are seasons when the conditions are insurmountable.

Marius and his teammates, Kazakhstani Omar Asserbekov and Grigoriy Chshukin, waited almost 20 days for the right conditions on the mountain and a long enough “weather window” during which it was safe to climb. Conditions that were too sunny and warm make the route dangerous: rocks start to crumble, snow and ice are soft, and hanging “mushrooms” at the top can start to break.

Waiting for suitable weather, they climbed three other peaks: Mojon Rojo, Aguja Poincenot, and Aguja Medialuna. This warm-up helped them to get to know the region, the weather, the ice and rock conditions, and to gather additional information from local climbers about the main climb.

It took six days to climb the peak of Cerro Torre. First, they had to cover over 50 kilometres with heavy backpacks to get closer to the mountain. The road led through mountain fields and forests and stone moraines. They had to cross a river, climb a mountain pass, and descend onto the very large and wide Viedma Glacier, where they had to find the shortest way to the mountain by wandering through the crevasses of the ice. This took two days.

The actual climb to the top, which requires mountaineering skills and specific equipment, took three days. On the way up, they slept like birds for two nights, with tents folded up on small ledges, a pitch dug out, and ropes tied around.

The team climbed a route called Ragni. It is one of the most unique routes in the world, rated at the highest difficulty level 6 or “extremely difficult”. It is ice combined with rocks. The average steepness is about 70 degrees, and in some places – 90 degrees.

The most difficult part was overcoming the frosted snow mushrooms. Here, the team was faced with the limited possibility of organizing safety points, and some of the mushrooms were more “hanging” than vertical. On February 24, at 15:31 Lithuanian time, the team successfully reached the actual summit and, after raising their national flags, descended along the same route. The descent procedures are technically quicker, so they were already at the campsite on the Viedma Glacier by the evening of the same day.

The next day, despite the fatigue of the climb was palpable and the heavy backpakcs, team spirit was great, and they reached the town in 14 hours. The last kilometres down were monotonous. A few kilometres before the town, in the darkness of the night, they saw an animal’s eyes fixed on them – and all fatigue disappeared. Getting closer, they realized from the animal’s silhouette that it was a puma! The encounter was “like a good cup of espresso for the team”, waking them up for the urgent final kilometres.

The Cerro Torre Ragni route was first climbed exactly 50 years ago. It was done by Italian climbers Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri. Marius and his friends became the 3rd team to reach the summit this season. And for the first time, the Lithuanian tricolour was hoisted on the summit!