Negotiating Ice and Thermals

Fabian Buhl climbs Cerro Torre and paraglides from the summit

Feature type Story

Read time 10 min read

Published Apr 28, 2020

Author Fabian Buhl

Fabian Buhl

Bavarian Climber, alpinist and Komperdell sponsored athlete Fabian Buhl reopens the Ragni route on Cerro Torre and Paraglides from the summit

On New Year’s I met with Colin Haley in Buenos Aires where we hatched a plan to head down to Chalten in Patagonia. We were both looking for spectacular climbs although we knew the weather forecast wasn’t that good – more rain fall than the average for this time of year. But you always have to gamble with the weather in Patagonia. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not.

Everyday in Chalten, we’d wake to check the forecasts: NOAA, Windy and anything else we could get our hands on. Waiting for the right weather system became quite frustrating but we tried to stay positive and make sure we were ready as soon as weather changed.

No one had climbed the route this year so I didn’t know what kind of conditions to expect. Some years it’s perfect, some years not.

Unfortunately time went by and besides a few day trips, we didn’t get much climbing in the entire month. Nevertheless we had a lot of fun and Colin taught me a lot about the area. Spending 3 years of his life in this beautiful mountain range makes him a Patagonia expert. Just before I had to return to Europe, the forecast showed a good but cold weather window. The amount of precipitation predicted still put allow rock climbing out of question, so I decided I needed an alternative plan.

We weighed up our options and decided to climb the Ragni route of Cerro Torre and paraglide from the summit. The absolute king line of Torre, the rime formation (rime ice forms when supercooled water liquid droplets freeze onto surfaces) on this route is just unique. No one had climbed the route this year so I didn’t know what kind of conditions to expect. Some years it’s perfect, some years not. Nevertheless I wanted to take the chance and be part of the first team to reopen the route this year. To reopen a route is always something special, the feeling of being first in those spectacular, surreal places is very unique.

We went up to the summit mushroom before sunrise and enjoyed the breath taking view. To my surprise wind was already pretty gusty and from the wrong direction. Knowing my take-off spot just from pictures which Rolo Garibotti studied with me, I prepared myself.

The take-off was 5m below the summit and more sheltered from the wind. I focussed, intent on making the right decisions. There was a gap in the wind and I prepared to go when a sideways gust blasted. I stopped and adjusted my path. This shortened my acceleration phase but after another 3 steps the ground beneath me was so steep that I was already in the air.

Just off the ground above the 60° snow field before the glider came over the lip, the 1500 vertical meters between me and the ground. I knew the take-off was far from perfect, and my adrenaline was pumping.

So our team assembled. Christophe Ogier, JB Tapie, Mathieu Perrussel, Raphaela Haug, Laura Tiefenthaler and myself. We split into two groups and made sure to arrive a bit earlier than all the other teams at the base. Reopening the route means also a lot of rime cleaning. I was impressed by the amount of rime we had to clean, especially on the headwall – usually an ice pitch, there was about 20cm of rime so that meant a lot of effort cleaning it. We proceeded slow and steady as we took all our gear with us.

After a beautiful but exhausting ascent, as we passed the last summit mushroom it turned out to be too windy to fly off the same day. My focus was on the flight though so I decided to let the other team lead the last pitch and bivouac here instead. Getting up before sunrise next morning would give me the best chance of no thermal activity nor exchange winds.

1500 vertical meters between me and the ground. I knew the take-off was far from perfect, and my adrenaline was pumping.

Flying between the Fitz and Torre Range during sunrise was one of the most magical moments I’ve had paragliding. After 17 minutes of pure joy in such beautiful surroundings I landed super smooth on the glacier. I swapped my wing to my Komperdell trekking poles and started the walk back to Chalten. By lunchtime I was back in town, sipping a coffee and thinking of my friends who were still rappelling and trekking to get back in town.

To be able to fly from such peaks you need a lot of luck on your side. 1988 the Pin brothers also climbed Rangi and wanted to fly down but they had no luck with the wind and had to rappel. To date, Cerro Torre has been flown just three times from the summit.

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