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Avalanche Kills Giacomelli below Cerro Torre

Cerro Torre’s east face in sunlight. Italian climber Fabio Giacomelli died in an avalanche below the face on January 1 immediately after nearly completing a new route with Elio Orlandi. Searching alone, it took Orlandi three days to find the missing body of his partner. [Photo] Davide Brighenti

Italian alpinist Fabio Giacomelli died in an avalanche January 1 at the base of Cerro Torre.

Giacomelli and partner Elio Orlandi, both extraordinary climbers and Patagonia veterans, were descending that day after attempting a new route on the east face. Giacomelli reached the bottom of the rappels first and headed for their snow cave to melt water and prepare food. On his return, at approximately 9 p.m. when Orlandi was still on the face, an avalanche buried Giacomelli. Alone, Orlandi searched three days for his partner before finding his body in the avalanche debris.

The 51-year-old from Trentino, Italy came from a family of seasoned mountaineers. His many first ascents in the Dolomites, particularly in the Brenta Group and Valle del Sarca, were among his finest climbing achievements.

Giocomelli and Orlandi reached within 200 meters of Cerro Torre’s summit on their new route before turning back. They had attempted the same route a year prior, climbing about three-quarters of the route, shy of their high point this year. Their goal: to summit and scatter the ashes of another climber from Trentino, Cesarino Fava, who died in 2008 after publishing a history of that same mountain, Cerro Torre.

Orlandi found Giacomelli’s body after an exhaustive search, including a crevasse descent amid other avalanches. When Orlandi discovered his partner in the debris, he dug out the remains of Giacomelli, kept vigil, then headed to El Chalten, where he has organized a team to recover the body.

Giacomelli’s wife, Silvana, and his children, Alessio and Debora, survive him.