Tragedy in Patagonia : Korra Pesce died on Cerro Torre

They are five at the top of Cerro Torre, on January 27. Five like the fingers of a hand, united to reach this summit which more than any other, seems inhuman. A rare event, two rope parties opened a new route on the East face of the Torre simultaneously. With his companions David Baci and Matteo De Zaiacomo, the Italian Matteo Della Bordella had the “pleasant surprise” of meeting up with the other team, the Argentine Thomas Aguilo and the Italian based in Chamonix Korra Pesce, who had switched to the north face like them. “Korra is the freshest and strongest, he takes the lead (…) following him is a huge advantage “*. United, the five climbers all meet at the end of the afternoon at the summit of Cerro Torre. A few minutes of immeasurable joy on this ice mushroom, which Korra has once again climbed.  

But each team has planned a different descent. That of the three Italians, who spend the night on the summit before descending by the southeast ridge. Korra and Thomas, who are making a night descent on their ascent tracks, to, according to Matteo, “minimize the risk of collapse [of falling frost or ice blocks]”. Each team is trying to convince the other of their idea, but each is following its own plan. Korra and Thomas have left their belongings at the bivouac on their route, and when they reach it in the middle of the night, they stop to rest for a few hours. It is there that an avalanche of ice blocks reaches them. Korra is so badly hit that he cannot move. Thomas is wounded, but starts the descent by warning the help.

Korra Pesce ©Ulysse Lefebvre

On the other side of the immense mountain, Matteo and his companions have no idea of the tragedy. After about 30 abseils, they set foot on the glacier and came across a team that was going up to rescue the two climbers who had been hit on the east face. They all joined forces to pull Thomas Aguilo, severely injured, from the mountain, and climbed up difficult pitches to the Argentinian, without reaching the top, where Korra remained. The solidarity brings together 40 local rescuers – volunteers – and several top climbers, Roger Schaeli, Thomas Huber, among others. Further down, Thomas Aguilo is taken to hospital by a reckless helicopter pilot. Up there, on the Cerro Torre, at three o’clock in the morning, Roger and Matteo stop, exhausted. They understand that they cannot persevere in the bad weather. “The decision is bitter, (…) we understand that Korra will remain forever on this mountain”. 

“The decision is bitter, (…) we understand that Korra will remain forever on this mountain”. Matteo Della Bordella.

As I write these words, I think of Korra’s family, her loved ones, devastated by the loss, stunned by the idea that the mountain could be so cruel. Messner said that the mountain was neither fair nor unfair, only dangerous, but that is not enough to soothe the terrible feeling of discovering the sequence of events. Sitting at my overheated desk, far from the wind and the “cosas patagonicas”, those stories that always bring back the lovers of Patagonia like Korra Pesce, I think of the beautiful stories written in the Alps last week: the ascents of the Eiger, the Jorasses, without forgetting the one that made the headlines and the morning show on France Inter, the solo of Charles Dubouloz. A reader wrote to me to say how much these stories of happy mountaineers made him dream. They make us dream.

Korra Pesce. ©Ulysse Lefebvre

What to think after such a tragedy, that of a climber nailed by fate, bad luck, call it what you will, despite all the talent, experience, and humility he showed, which made him, Korra Pesce, one of the best climbers of his generation. What else can be said that the impulse of the climbers and the locals of El Chalten shows that the solidarity in the mountains is so strong that it allowed to save Thomas. That this great and beautiful solidarity does not compensate the loss of a man.

Nevertheless, the incredible beauty of Cerro Torre will still attract climbers who want to live more intense hours, for the satisfaction of having gone to the end of themselves. To find the light more beautiful, the water more tasty than ever. Because without desire, men and women are not alive.

In our minds will remain these paths of freedom that Korra Pesce drew all over the mountains, this way of surveying the world with arms and legs rather than with a computer screen, this discreet, essential way of reminding us, who are in an office this Monday, that other worlds exist, elsewhere and differently.



* The story of Matteo Della Bordella is published by his italian climbing club, Ragni di Lecco, here.