Outside Magazine does a decent summary here with lots of links.
|Maestri's Compressor from http://www.climbmagazine.com/news/2012/01/rolando-garibotti-interview|
The justification most often cited was that of preserving history, that is, the complex and even tragic history of Cesare Maestri's encounters with the mountain, first in 1959 and then in 1970, when the bolts were put in on the Southeast Ridge. For many, the bolt ladders and the compressor itself formed a kind of archive, I suppose, a tangible reminder of the Maestri controversy, a controversy marked by the classic essay, "Murder of the Impossible" written by Reinhold Messner and published in Mountain in, 1971.
|Reinhold Messner at Outdoor Retailer learning from Michael Kennedy what Hayden did on Cerro Torre|
The first of these is the paradoxical nature of adventure in climbing. I have already written about the demise of the impossible and I stand by the argument. While it is obtuse and destructive to install bolt ladders on just about anything these days, it is also getting harder and hard to envision any ascent as carrying genuine historical significance beyond a kind of closing of the frontier. That is to say that any piece of rock or ice that is climbable will be climbed sooner or later. It is inevitable. The murder of the impossible has been superseded by the obsolescence of the impossible. Conceptually speaking, everything is merely a project.
It is incredible to me to read of the debates about bolts on a jagged ice-encrusted spire at the other end of the world. Is it possible, even likely, that wherever debates like this rage, the bluebird of adventure (or to quote Hegel, the owl of Athena) has long since flown away? Not to say that people can't have a really hard or scary time in Patagonia, or anywhere else, but isn't the adventure now merely personal, not historically significant.
So were/are the Maestri bolts historically significant? I think they were as they clearly sounded the deathknell of heroic siege-style alpinism. This was echoed in two other contemporary ascents, that of Warren Harding on the Dawn Wall and the Annapurna South Face British expedition. All were more or less successful (Maestri never gained the true "summit, the Annapurna expedition missed the 2nd ascent, and the Harding route earned the wrath of Royal Robbins) but they all seemed to point to a dead end. This dead end was not merely the application of massive amounts of time and material but that of the mega-climb in general. Ensuing decades have confirmed this with light fast ascents of the most remote and difficult routes all over the world. I think they mark the dead-end of an attitude toward climbing rooted in conquest and an old vision of history.
So if the bolts are historically significant should they remain in situ? I think this debate is perhaps a sign of the senescence (or to be more fair, the maturity) of the sport, that there is any discussion of the historical significance of fixed gear on any route beyond a strictly utilitarian purpose. Those in favor of the bolt removal regard the bolts as an act of vandalism, a kind of desecration that should never have happened in the first place. Those against argue that the bolts are as much part of the route as the geological feature that, for now, we call the Southeast Ridge of Cerro Torre. I have to admit that the vandalism argument has some merit but not all vandalism is created equal. The bolt ladders, fixed pitons and fixed cables, even huts, that adorn a significant number of important mountains and faces point to an impulse to leave substantial signs of human presence in otherwise remote and wild places. Yet no one is calling for the removal of huts and cables from say the Matterhorn, which is strikingly like Cerro Torre in its form and tragic events surrounding the first ascent.
So there is something different about the Cerro Torre bolts, something that creates a special case. I would suggest that their lack of utility, the seemingly random profusion of them, phenomena that many have commented on already, that arouses a particular ire. They have no utility, no clear sense of purpose. The purpose of alpinism seems to have been lost somewhere up there, the meaning of climbing warped or rendered null and void. Something very strange happened up there, something that has haunted the life of Cesare Maestri and the minds of anyone who has either climbed or thought about the mountain since.
The second problem is the idea of the climb as the work of art, a notion that many have appealed to over time. There are many ways to respond to the Cerro Torre situation using this analogy, that the mountain was a blank canvas, or a beautiful painting, that was defaced by an incompetent climber. I am not so sure this analogy holds up under investigation. I don't believe that Cerro Torre can be considered a work of art but if we did, we would want to remember the complex and flawed aspects of even world-renowned masterpieces, works which are often, unbeknownst to the average viewer, composed of re-assemblies and restorations with complex and difficult histories of their own. There is no such thing as the pure work of art and holding up this ideal does a disservice to the reality of being human, our flaws and our irrational natures.
I don't have an easy answer to these questions. The ideals of pure alpinism and adventure climbing are, as I have argued above, are falling victim to their own success. The frontier is closed. The rules and objectives are understood. Though I ultimately think Maestri's hardware should not remain on the mountain, I do not consider the mountain somehow reconsecrated or purified. That is in the minds of true believers and I am an agnostic on the point of whether mountains or nature or climbing can ever be considered pure. What interests me is the story of how we sometimes succeed and all too often fail in our desires to make more of ourselves than what we are. Maestri's bolts and compressor are mute testimony to how far that irrational desire can take us until, halfway between heaven and earth, climbing on an idea as much as anything else, reality and the ideal collide and we see that in the end, we are not gods but merely human.