Climbing: New route up Monte Sarmiento East

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PlanetMountain.com - Interview with Chilean alpinist Camilo Rada after the first ascent, carried out with Natalia Martinez from Argentina, of a new route up the North Face of Monte Sarmiento in Patagonia. Suerte de Sarmiento is only the second route to the East summit after the first ascent carried out by Clemente Maffei and Carlo Mauri in 1956.
 
Monte Sarmiento doesn't often appear in mountaineering news. Is this perhaps the reason why it is one of the legendary mountains of Patagonia? And further afield too? Apart from being located in a total remote and inhospitable position - at the western tip of Cordillera Darwin in the Chilean part of the Tierra del Fuego - its mountaineering history is shrouded in a veil of mystery and fascination as thick as the clouds that envelope its summit. After a long "courtship" this splendid peak was first climbed on 7 March 1956 by two of the finest Italian climbers of that era, Clemente Maffei and Carlo Mauri during an expedition organised by another historic Patagonian explorer, Father Alberto Maria de Agostini. Mauri and Maffei succeeded in reaching the East summit of Monte Sarmiento and theirs was an astounding climb, a unique, unrepeatable moment. So much so that no one else set foot on the East summit until last August. Despite numerous attempts by talented alpinists, the other (few) successes were carried out exclusively on the nearby West summit of Sarmiento. This included, obviously, the first ascent of the West summit carried out by the Italian Ragni di Lecco expedition; Salvatore Panzeri, Lorenzo Mazzoleni, Bruno Pennati, Pinuccio Castelnuovo and Gianmaria Confalonieri all reached the West summit. They were followed in 1995 by John Roskelley, Tim Macartney-Snape and Stephen Venables, and by Ralf Gantzhorn, Jörn Heller and Robert Jasper in 2010. But, as we mentioned, the East summit, the highest point, remained untouched until 24 August 2013 when Natalia Martinez and Camilo Rada climbed a beautiful direct line up the North Face in winter. For them - and not only for them - Monte Sarmiento is a legendary mountain. Camilo explains why.
 
Why is Sarmiento such a magical mountain. Tell us more about its early history that makes it so legendary
Wow, that question could easily be the beginning of a new book! But I'll try to summarise... From what is known, Mount Sarmiento first entered our history books in the summer of 1579-80 when Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa was sent to chase the pirate Sir Francis Drake at the Magellan Strait. Before that Mount Sarmiento was probably a central icon of the Yaghan and Selk'nam but all this was lost when these people were slaughtered. Sarmiento de Gamboa was very impressed by this mountain and he named it "Volcán Nevado" (Snowy Volcano). Since then and for more than a century the maps showed a mysterious volcano dominating the featureless and unexplored island of Tierra del Fuego, some times filled with drawings of giant Indians, often surrounded by marine monsters. The British Admiralty explorations carried out between 1826 and 1836 unravelled the real topography of Tierra del Fuego, thanks in particular to the figures like Robert Fitz Roy, Charles Darwin and Phillipe Parker King. King realised that the "Volcán Nevado" wasn't a volcano after all and decided to rename it Mount Sarmiento, after its discoverer.

Thanks to proper charts and steam engines the Magellan Strait started a gold era and while thousands of travelers knew about this mysterious mountain, always hidden between clouds, only the lucky ones got a glimpse of it. All were astonished by the massive size of Mount Sarmiento rising 2200m straight from the sea: even by modern standards it is not easy to find something similar! It is a omnipresent sentinel mentioned in all exploration tales that talk of these remote lands, and it is also known also as a superb natural weather forecast: even today every fisherman in Magallanes knows that if Mount Sarmiento is visible, a storm is coming. Jules Verne, in his novel "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" published in 1870, mentions the mountains forecast properties when the submarine Nautilus, navigating near Cape Horn, ascends to the surface and gets a clear view of Mount Sarmiento in the distance...
 
Then the time came for people to try and climb it
It was first attempted by Domenico Lovisato in 1882, but the first expedition set up with the aim of climbing Mount Sarmiento was in 1898, organised by Sir Martin Conway who came to America to climb Mount Aconcagua and Mount Sarmiento. This gives you an idea of the relevance of this mountain at that time. Although Conway failed, he discovered the best access route to the mountains upper reaches, the same that many followed, including us. You can find many quotes of travelers and explorers deeply moved by Mount Sarmiento's appearance but it was the Italian priest Alberto Maria De Agostini who got charmed the most. After three attempts between 1913 and 1914, at times spending up to two months on the mountain, he spent his life dreaming about "the ice sphinx" ("La Sfinge di ghiaccio"), and at the age of 73 he organized a big multidisciplinary expedition with the main objective of climbing Mount Sarmiento. For this he recruited some of the best Italian climbers at the time that included the likes of Carlo Mauri, Clemente Maffei, Luis Carrel, Luigi Barmasse, Camilo Pellissier and others. In total they spent 57 days on the mountain and after failing a few times on the north face, right at the last moment Mauri and Maffei launched a quick attempt along the south ridge, reaching the summit after a epic ascent enveloped in clouds and battered by strong winds.  Read more here..
 

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