On Thursday, January 27, two teams of climbers summited Cerro Torre together after completing two new, parallel routes up the Patagonian tower. But while they were descending, an avalanche injured Tomas “Tommy” Roy Aguilo (Argentina) and killed 41-year-old Corrado “Korra” Pesce (Italy).
Two days prior, Tommy Aguilo and Korra Pesce had started up the tower around the same time as another team composed of David Bacci, Matteo Della Bordella and Matteo “Giga” De Zaiacomo from Italy. The two groups had watched each other’s progress as they continued on separate new routes. At times they were within 50 to 150 meters of each other before they intersected near the summit on January 27.
Matteo Della Bordella later described the scene on the Ragni di Lecco website:
At 5 p.m. Tommy and Korra reach the top of Cerro Torre, they have opened a great route on the most beautiful mountain in the world. Half an hour later David, Giga and I join them on the summit. We too have opened a new route on the legendary Cerro Torre, this is not only a great dream, but it is certainly the most beautiful, important and difficult route we have ever traveled in our lives.
Moments after congratulating each other, our paths diverge. Tommy and Korra had planned [to descend at night] (to minimize the danger of collapses and discharges) along the north face. We instead planned to bivouac at the top and then descend the following day along the Southeast Ridge, the so-called “Compressor Route.” They try to convince us to go down with them, [and] vice versa we try to convince them to go down with us, but [we] all decide to respect [our] original intentions.
Bordella went on to explain how Tommy and Korra went back down the north face in the dark to where they had left their bivy gear. There, they stopped to rest. During that time, they were pummeled by an avalanche of ice and rock. Korra was “completely paralyzed” while Tommy was badly injured but able to move, Bordella wrote.
They’d also lost most of their gear, but Tommy managed to continue the descent. According to a report by Anthony Walsh on Climbing.com, Tommy eventually found their satellite messenger device in the snow and called for help. He was within about 300 meters of the ground by Friday evening, January 28.
Meanwhile, during the night on top of the tower, Bordella, Bacci and Zaicomo were unaware of the events. They didn’t learn what had happened until they reached the ground after 30 rappels at 5 p.m. on January 28 and they encountered rescuers who were heading up. At that point the trio was “at the limit of our strength,” Bordella wrote. But they wanted to go back up the mountain to assist their friends, so they joined the rescue party.
Bordella said that members of that rescue party included Thomas Huber (Germany), Roger Schaeli (Switzerland) and Roberto Treu (Argentina). Ultimately more than 40 people were involved, he recalled.
A drone helped find Tommy on the mountain and the rescue started in earnest at 6 p.m. Three hours later, with Bordella in the lead, the rescuers had retraced seven pitches of the Italians’ route to reach Tommy on the prominent hanging snowfield on the face. But there was still no sign of Korra.
Roger and I, we wait until 3 a.m. in the cold and wind on the triangular snowfield waiting for some positive implication, which however does not arrive. When, I start to have some blunders, no longer feel my feet from the cold and hear music in my head, I understand that it’s time to get off, because I could hardly look after myself in those conditions. The decision is bitter, but unfortunately we are already well beyond our physical and psychological limits, we understand that Korra will remain forever on that mountain. In retrospect we will be informed by the emergency medical team that in Korra’s condition, any hope of finding him alive would have been in vain.
A huge thanks goes to all the mountaineers involved in the rescue, in particular to Thomas Huber, who with his lucid vision was able to coordinate the operations on the wall. And also to all the people who participated in the rescue of Tommy, to transport him from the foot of the wall to the Nipo Nino camp. It was an incredible teamwork with more than 40 people involved, both Argentines and of other nationalities, who, all night long and at the expense of personal risks, mobilized from the town of El Chalten, staying for 40 hours in a row without sleeping to get Tommy to safety. Yet another great demonstration of solidarity in the mountaineering world.
“Korra was extremely close to my heart, and that I and Matteo could not climb higher in the middle of the night has hurt brutally, and it still hurts,” Schaeli told Alpinist in an email. “Fortunately we were able to bring Tommy, who is also a friend of mine, to the base of the wall.”
In the aftermath, Bordella, Bacci and Zaiacomo named their route “Brothers In Arms.” Condolences and memories have since flooded social media.
Brette Harrington wrote on an Instagram story: “He finally completed his dream project that he’d been working [on] for many years with [Tommy] Aguilo. I remember watching them for two years making progress up the wall while I was over on the East Pillar of [Torre] Egger. He will always remain a huge inspiration as an alpinist and friend.”
Tommy Aguila posted on Instagram February 2 (auto-translated version):
Korra! We climbed up north!!! Finally after so many years dreaming and attempting this beautiful wall, on the most beautiful mountain in the world… El Cerro Torre. But dreams sometimes cost us dearly. Today I miss you, I think of you and I remember you…. I had the privilege of sharing your last days, the last hours, the last talks. Friend, I love you so much and you will always be in the memory and in the hearts of the many people who had the honor of knowing you. I want to deeply thank all the people who helped make the rescue possible, and that I was here today to tell it, hug my son and all the loved ones. May you rest in peace my friend. Thank you.
Matteo Della Bordella, February 1 (the following is an edited blend of Bordella’s English version and the auto-translated version from Italian to preserve the most poetic qualities):
Any mountain, any ascent, any route, even if it’s the most beautiful, difficult and important thing I’ve ever done, can never have the same value as a human life.
In the turbine of emotions that has overwhelmed me these days, now there is nothing left but sadness for the loss of one of the best alpinists in the world, a friend, a person for whom I had enormous respect. The awareness of having done everything possible to save him, but the huge bitterness that this wasn’t enough.
Korra was a direct and frank person. Introverted. It wasn’t easy to bond with him. We had parallel dreams: two new routes on Cerro Torre, which ran elegantly and direct on the east face then on the north face. Calling these routes mere “dreams” would be an understatement. Opening these routes, for Korra, as it was for me, was a reason to live. I’m sure of that. It was what made sense of our existence.
We knew each other at the foot of this mountain and our destinies have crossed for three years in the hope of climbing to the summit of the “scream of stone.” You were an alpinist “all facts and no smoke,” highly regarded in our world even though the mass media were never able to communicate your real value to the main public. Earning your esteem was a reason for me to have great pride. I’m grateful for all the days we spent together, I’ll never forget our meeting on the north face of Cerro Torre, and I’ll never forget [how] your boldness, confidence and speed led us out of that wall. Deep condolences to all your family.
Patagonia Vertical reposted an update from the non-governmental organization El Centro Andino El Chalten on February 1:
We wish to convey our deepest sorrow for the loss of Korra, and send our condolences and affection to his daughter, family and friends.
From the Comision de Auxilio (rescue team) and @centroandinoelchalten we would like to thank all those who collaborated voluntarily and wholeheartedly leaving aside their personal lives to respond to a call for help. We cannot name everyone, but we wish to acknowledge the many that collaborate directly or indirectly.
Finally, we would like to emphasize that this task of bringing Tommy back and trying to reach Korra was possible thanks to the teamwork of several institutions, the Army, National Park Administration, as well as the climbing community, that did not hesitate to give their best in the most difficult moments, demonstrating once more that in this town at the foot of the mountains, we are all part of the rescue team.
Thomas Huber, February 2:
When dreamy days in the mountains turn into a nightmare….
We had spent the past days also climbing on the Fitz Roy side. It was warm, sunny and couldn’t be better, until the moment climbers saw an SOS light signal on the Torres, early in the morning of Friday [January] 28. That was the moment when a dark cloud loomed over all the beauty of the past few days.
An ice avalanche hit Tommy Aguilo and Korra Pesce high on Cerro Torre while descending, after completing one of the best climbs in Patagonia.
All the climbers in the valley began to strategize for a rescue opportunity. This set in motion a chain reaction. We soon discovered that [Tommy] could abseil with a small piece of rope. Korra was badly injured and unable to move. Tommy made it to the Triangle snowfield, 400 meters above the ground. I went to the base of Cerro Torre with a small team. [Luka Lindic] and Luka [Krajnc] made observations from the other side of the valley with [binoculars]. They gave information about the action on the wall via radio. Luckily [Matteo Della Bordella] and his team managed to descend from Cerro Torre via the Compressor Route and [Roger Schaeli] arrived with the first group of the rescue team. We joined a fast evacuation team and climbed the lower part to the snowfield within three hours. We reached Tommy before dark. He was injured, very weak but very clear in his mind and could still move his feet. Tommy had an incredible desire to survive. This was nothing short of a miracle. I organized Tommy abseiling with [Roberto Indio Treu], an Argentine member of the rescue team. Matteo and Roger tried to continue climbing to Korra.
At the end we all pushed ourselves to the limit that night and we ended up going 30 hours nonstop without sleep. At the end we rescued Tommy but we couldn’t reach Korra. It was an unbelievable team effort by Argentinian and international climbers, which can be rated far above a summit success on Cerro Torre. But in the end it remains a painful loss of a great friend and climber. Korra Pesce, be free.