“Ermanno was considered the strongest climber in Patagonia, with good reason. For decades (he was) the great protagonist in South America. There is no doubt about that. He excelled in every terrain, braved the worst storms, adapted to every situation and never gave up.” That’s what top Italian mountaineer Hervé Barmasse wrote on Instagram about his late compatriot Ermanno Salvaterra, who had made headlines on the international scene mainly for his climbs in Patagonia.
On Friday, Salvaterra had died on Campanile Alto, a 2,937-meter-high Dolomite mountain in the Brenta massif, in a 20-meter fall at around 2,750 meters. The 68-year-old mountain guide had been leading a client who remained unharmed. Mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner pointed out that the Brenta massif had been the “true home” of the victim of the accident. “A handhold must have given way: A Salvaterra doesn’t normally fall there,” Messner said. The 78-year-old spoke of a tragedy. Salvaterra had been “a truly outstanding figure in alpinism,” Messner said.
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For over four decades, Salvaterra was a constant on the granite mountains of Patagonia. In 1985, together with his Italian compatriots Paolo Caruso, Maurizio Giarolli, Andrea Sarchi, he succeeded in the first winter ascent of the legendary Cerro Torre. Salvaterra opened a total of five new routes on the 3,128-meter-high mountain on the Argentine-Chilean border. Not for nothing was he called “the Torre man.”
Salvaterra was a “master of the vertical,” writes Herve Barmasse: “So much experience in one person. All that remains for me are his words, never casually spoken, with a beer in his hand, his serious and gentle, thoughtful and sharp gaze, and his voice. Somewhere between a call to order, to think, and a joke. And then these messages, this idea, this route… In short, Ermanno, every time I crossed your path, I had the feeling of being in the presence of one of the greatest mountaineers of all time, on the one hand, and of someone you could trust unconditionally, on the other.”
Salvaterra had inspired generations of climbers in Patagonia with his ideas, German climber Thomas Huber, the elder of the Huber brothers, wrote on Instagram: “His path ended in the Brenta, Dolomites, but the winds in the mountains, especially around the granite towers of Patagonia, continue whispering his name and carry him over the horizon. Ermanno, thanks for your inspiration, for everything!”