It was an emotional moment for Stephan Siegrist. When the Swiss top climber and his compatriots Lukas Hinterberger and Nicolas Hojac reached the summit of the 2,600-meter-high Cerro Cachet in northern Patagonia, the now 47-year-old dropped a little doll at the highest point of the mountain. This gesture was for his friend and climbing partner Julian Zanker, who died in February 2019 at the age of only 28 years in a fall in the upper part of the Eiger North Face. Zanker was actually supposed to have been part of the Swiss Patagonia expedition. In fall 2017, Siegrist, together with Zanker and the German top climber Thomas Huber, had first climbed the central Northwest Face of the 6,150-meter-high Cerro Kishtwar in the Indian part of the troubled Kashmir province.
Discovering the new goal from the summit
Siegrist, Hinterberger and Hojac set off for Chile last November. Their destination was not the region around Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, which is highly frequented by climbers from all over the world, but the mountains in the northern part of the Patagonian Ice Sheet, some 270 kilometers away. After having sat out two weeks of bad weather that is almost typical for the region, they used the first sunny day to climb the 2,799-meter-high Cerro Largo. From the summit they discovered their new goal, the still unclimbed Northeast Face of Cerro Cachet. The mountain had been first climbed in 1972 by a New Zealand expedition led by Robert Gunn, via an easier ramp from the ice sheet.
Falling ice in the wall
The approximately 600-meter-high headwall was quite a challenge. “A vertical and wild ice line marked the logical route, but after having climbed the first pitch we already had to swerve to the left into the rocks. The sun caused more falling ice than we would have liked”, writes Lukas Hinterberger in his expedition report. After ten hours of climbing, during which “solid nerves” had been required in some tricky passages, they finally overcame the summit cornice and reached the highest point. According to the 26-year-old, it became dangerous on the descent when “rime ice the size of cars came off and we were actually bombed for an hour. A rather unpleasant loss of control, because there was no way to swerve – but luck was on our side”.
In memoriam Zanker, Steck and Lama
The three climbers named the new route through the Cerro Cachet Northeast Face “Homenaje a los amigos perdidos”, homage to lost friends. Besides Julian Zanker, the Swiss trio also dedicated their success to their compatriot Ueli Steck and the Austrian David Lama. Steck had fallen to his death in April 2017 in Nepal on the almost eight-thousander Nuptse. Lama had died in April 2019 with Hansjörg Auer and Jess Roskelley in an avalanche in Canada.