Book Review: The Tower

“My heart rate pounded in my throat; I climbed as fast and as steadily as I could, finding a rhythm between force and touch, enough heft to sink my tools into the ten-inch-thick veneer of ice holding us to the mountain and light enough to conserve energy.” Kelly Chordes describes climbing Los Tiempos Perdidos to the Col of Hope en-route to a summit bid on Cerro Torre painting an engulfing picture of fear and triumph in his book, The Tower.

The book centers around the history of Cerro Torre the center piece of Patagonia. The center piece of this story however is a man by the name of Cesare Maestri. It captures a masterful account of the storied and controversial history of the region and the man. Kelly has taken care and time to research all conflicting accounts, interview all the players who are still alive and those who were close with the ones that aren’t, examine the evidence and come to his own conclusions.

Through his analysis of history, progression, and climbing ethics Chordes attempts to weight the impact and validity of two critical events.

  1. Did Maestri actually make the first ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959?
  2. Should Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk have removed Maestri’s 120 bolts after their fair-means ascent in 2012?

Peppered with stunning photography, explanatory maps and topos, and portraits any reader will gain insight into world of El Chalten and a significant story during the birth of today’s climbing standards, ethics and fast-and-light alpinism.

Below here there are a few spoilers so if you’d like to read the book stop here and BUY THE BOOK.

From the early chapters it is quite clear that Chordes (and anyone who has critically looked at the evidence) believes Maestri did not and could not have climbed to the summit of Cerro Torre in 1959. That he reached, at most, the top of a small snowfield on the East face a 1000ft below the summit. How do I know this? Because it is examined from every angle and presented many ways that Maestri in fact lied upon his return to Italy, the reasons for which are proposed in the book.

For me the book became very negative at this point, a constant pounding of this man who has lived with a lie and the death of a friend on his conscious for decades and still maintains his story to this day. It was almost enough for me to root that he did in fact climb it and Kelly is wrong. The evidence is damning and the reasons for examining so thoroughly it are justified as it leads into the second question of the book. Should K&K have removed less than 1/3 of the bolts from Maestri’s attempt a couple of years after his initial attempt?

The question has no good answer. There are arguments from all sides:

  • Maestri defaced Cerro Torre when he installed the bolts using a compressor given to him by his sponsor Atlas Copco.
  • K&K defaced history when the removed the bolts.
  • K&K restored Cerro Torre when the removed the bolts.
  • The route is now inaccessible to most climbers
  • All routes do not need to accessible to all climbers
  • The Argentinians have a stake in the history and lore of Maestris ascent. Plus tourism.
  • The Italians have a living legend who’s story is one of triumph in a time when Italy was defaced.
  • Who owns a route? A history? A first ascent that was never sent?
  • Should someone who aid climbs the route and uses bolt anchors have the right to remove bolts?

The list goes on and on. As I said there is no good answer. By the end of the book Kelly has walked the line gracefully and come to his own conclusions and opinions about what the right thing to do would have been.

As climbers we know the argument over ethics will continue far into the future. Standards that align with our personal ethics sustain the vertical worlds elusiveness and attractiveness. Somewhere between taking a helicopter to the summit and free-soloing there is some level of acceptance by everyone who participates on what is right and what is wrong. There will never be consensus but it does feel like the envelope of what is considered acceptable to the community is shrinking.

The Tower is a fantastic story with so much more than I’ve described above. It brings you into the world of alpinism, high performing athletes, and large egos in a way that makes you feel like you were there. By the second half of this book I could not put it down literally reading it at 6AM on the bike for Zone 1 workouts (A great companion I might add).

If you have any interest in alpinism, Patagonia, or climbing lore I highly recommended you pick up The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre

To see our other Book Reviews please visit OUR BOOKS PAGE.

I am very interested to hear everyone’s opinion about Maestri’s F.A., K&K’s F.A., and ultimately David Lama’s F.F.A and the removal of the bolts. Please comment it up!

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