Last week the weather forecast showed one of the most promising windows of the 2013-2014 Chalten climbing season (which doesn’t say much this year), and Rolo and I hiked into Niponino on the 22nd with ambitious plans. When we went to sleep it was snowing heavily, but we felt confident it would stop soon. When are alarm went off at 2:30am it was still snowing heavily, and we reset the alarm for 4:00. At 4:00 it was still dumping, and we reset the alarm for 5:30. At 5:30 it was still dumping and we turned off the alarm…
When we finally got out of bed at 8:00am Niponino was a snowy place, but it had finally stopped snowing, and the skies were starting to brighten up. It was far too late to stick with our original plan, but we quickly racked our brains for a backup plan. At 8:30 we took off towards Cerro Pier Giorgio, intending to repeat the original route up the east chimney.
For our third time this season, Rolo and I climbed up the icefall at the head of the Torre Valley to the Boquete del Pier Giorgio. By the time we reached the Boquete del Pier Giorgio it was turning into a beautiful day, and it felt kind of silly to be still approaching our objective in full sun at midday. The last slopes up to the bergshrund had very deep snow, and after some simul-soloing on the lower ice apron it wasn’t until after 1:30pm that we finally started the technical climbing.
We climbed the chimney itself in five pitches, two of which were fairly short. The climbing was mostly very enjoyable mixed climbing, but we also climbed two sections of A1, which would’ve been a time-consuming affair, except that early attempts on Pier Giorgio had left a bunch of pitons in place.
Above the chimney we simul-climbed easy ice up and left to near the summit. One more pitch of mixed climbing brought us to the col just south of the summit, and about 25 meters below the summit, where a wooden wedge in a crack marked the highpoint of the original 1963 Skvarca-Skvarca climb. Like the Skvarca brothers, we first tried to climb to the summit directly, but found it to be just 30cm of rime over blank rock. Looking to the right, we found a flake and made a 15m diagonal rappel on the east side. From here we climbed directly to the summit via a narrow ice chimney on the east side, at one point climbing behind a chockstone in a chimney that we barely fit through – a bit like a mixed-climbing version of the Harding Slot (but fortunately easier!).
We finally reached the summit of Pier Giorgio at 8:30pm, 12 hours after leaving Niponino. The views were spectacular and the skies were beautifully clear, but we didn’t linger long since we knew it would be dark quite soon. Our descent was of course mostly done by headlamp, but went smoothly, with always double-rope rappels, and not a single stuck rope. We made it back to Niponino shortly after 3am, happy with an awesome day in the mountains, despite having not attempted our original objective.
Upon reaching Pier Giorgio’s summit, both Rolo and I began to wonder if the summit had ever been reached before, but we were unsure. Only after some days of research have we realized that we did indeed make the first complete ascent of Cerro Pier Giorgio. We found a copy of the report from the 1963 climb by the Skvarca brothers, where they clearly state that they turned around from the col 25m below the summit. The east chimney saw its second ascent in 2010 by British alpinists Jon Griffith and Will Sim, but they climbed to a lower point further north on the summit ridge. The east chimney was climbed for the third time earlier this season by Swiss alpinists Marcel Schenk and Lukas Mathis, but also not to Pier Giorgio’s summit. A handful of other routes have been climbed to the summit ridge of Pier Giorgio, but none of them had managed to traverse the long, tricky gendarmed ridge to the summit. Cerro Pier Giorgio is a bit like Chalten’s version of Les Droites, in that the summit ridge is very long, technical and gendarmed, and traversing to the summit is in many cases just as difficult as the climbing up to the summit ridge.
Regardless of one’s views on what constitutes an “ascent,” there is a long history in the Chalten Massif of impressive climbs abruptly ending very close to the summit of the mountain. This is undoubtably because very few of the mountains here have easy summit ridges, and the last pitch to the summit is often the most difficult on the mountain. In the case of Cerro Pier Giorgio, the only reason the summit had not been reached until now is because the summit was “claimed” in 1963, and thus climbers turned their attention elsewhere. Our ascent was by no means a particularly difficult or significant climb by today’s standards, but it is astounding that in 2014 we’ve become the first to reach the summit of Cerro Pier Giorgio, one of the most spectacular peaks in the massif.