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Lama Speaks Out on Compressor Debacle

Editor’s Note: In a June 1, 2010 NewsWire, reported that dozens of bolts had been added to the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre in support of David Lama’s attempt to free the iconic route. The story incited a heated ethical debate that resounded in the climbing world. On July 25, Lama responded to the controversy on his website. What follows is a translation of the German that Lama posted on

Over the last few months my sponsor Red Bull and I have been confronted with heavy criticism. Precisely it dealt with the film production from my project on Cerro Torre and the leaving of material on the mountain.

After my alpine projects in the Dolomites and Mont Blanc and the competitions in Chamonix and Arco, it is high time to put down some thoughts on this subject on paper.

I, as well as all the other people involved in the project, am exceedingly unhappy with the current state of the thing. The following lines are intended to give a glimpse into the future of my project and above all to narrate the events up to this time from my point of view for those who wish to deal with this topic:

In December 2008 a friend gave me the idea to climb the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre free. This idea would not leave me alone, completely the opposite; the more I though about this project, the deeper the idea drove, becoming almost a type of vision.

Because such an expedition is a costly affair, I was glad to have a partner on my side who would lend an open ear to my dream and vision. Above all, Red Bull was excited by this project and the idea of making a high quality documentary film of it. I was surprised and excited by the significance ascribed to my enterprise. Both Red Bull and I knew the difficulty in the logistics of filming on the mountain because, unlike other shootings, on this terrain it would be impossible for me concentrate on anything other than my own climbing, not even on the safety of the crew. I was happy that Red Bull understood this, and I gave the job of seeing to the crew’s safety to a three-man mountain guide team. The jobs were clearly separated so I could concentrate on my climbing, and the crew on the documentary.

For the mountain guides, it naturally was most important to guarantee the safety of the team. For me it was especially important to make sure that the mountain was polluted as little as possible and not to interfere with other climbers’ attempts.

Therefore our lead guide determined that it made the most sense to set a fixed line from the highpoint to the foot of the shoulder. For this goal 12 bolts were placed above the shoulder and 14 placed below, that for the most part were placed far to the side of the actual route. [Editor’s Note: When questioned by Alpinist in May 2010, neither David Lama nor his film crew nor Red Bull denied that roughly 50-60 bolts were placed. This number was cited by Horacio Graton, an Argentine guide hired by Red Bull to clean rope and other gear left by Lama and his team. Furthermore, Rolando Garibotti asserts that the bolts in question were placed along the routeline–visible to and within reach of climbers on route–not “far to the side.”] The normal rappel route from the shoulder was too dangerous due to icefall.

It was very important for us, after the completion of our project, to leave the mountain clean. During production we cut down ropes left by previous teams, brought them down to the valley and disposed of them. This was also our plan for our own equipment. Naturally, we had planned for a lot of poor weather, but with such heavy snow it became clear that after a month we would not reach the shoulder. Because of this, before our departure, Argentine guides were hired to bring our fixed ropes and abandoned gear down to the valley as soon as conditions allowed. One haulbag and the bolts were the only things that could not be secured. These will of course be removed in the coming season. The material that was left in Nipo Nino, a camp between El Chalten and the shoulder, was cached by us.

The critical voices from the scene have not left us unmoved. Cleaning bolts and not placing them in the first place are two separate issues. The critics have made me think, and above all conversations with friendly alpinists have sharpened my views on these issues.

It is true that the stone is crossed with many crack systems, with opportunities for removable protection, which the camera crew could have used to jumar. But that is easy to say when you are not the one responsible for the lives and well being of the people who work on these placements meter after meter after a violent storm. I would not want this responsibility and understand the decision of our lead guide to place a limited number of bolts.

Bolts or no bolts, for many the controversy lies in whether or not someone should even attempt a production like ours on such a mountain. That question is what divides climbers. Film projects and photo shootings will always be a part of professional climbing and with that also a part of my life. I have without a doubt accepted the consequences from my critics and agreed with Red Bull that for the next attempt on this project other tactics will be used, and no additional bolts will be placed for the production. This decision will have consequences on the quality of the production, but I am happy that Red Bull is with me in this resolution. If it turns out that the film project is no longer possible, and the production abandoned, I will not change my plan–to attempt to free Cerro Torre.

Translated by Keese Lane