David Lama And The Controversial ‘Cerro Torre’ Ascend

David Lama and Peter Ortner made headlines around the world in 2012 after making the first free ascent of Cerro Torre’s Compressor Route, a line steeped in mountaineering lore. It was Lama’s third attempt on the mountain. Cerro Torre – A Snowball’s Chance in Hell is the story of David and Peters adventure that goes beyond the typical questions of technical and mental fitness. It’s about determination, authenticity and taking a stance on what you believe in and want to achieve.

‘I knew if it would not hold my weight I would take a huge fall.’


The notoriously extreme weather of Patagonia and the challenge of the climb weren’t the only things Lama had to overcome. He also had to face criticism for placing bolts during his first visit in 2010. “Understanding and overcoming the controversy to me has been my biggest achievement,” says Lama.

The Compressor route is haunted by controversy. First put up by Cesare Maestre in 1970 to silence critics who doubted his claims of an ascent 11 years earlier, it takes its name from the gas-powered drill he used to place hundreds of bolts into the mountain. It was an act that was criticized across the mountaineering community as a sacrilege. Watch scene:

Fast forward almost 40 years and it’s easy to see how a young David Lama, fresh from a sport climbing background – where bolts are commonplace – also caused upset by placing bolts. “I came from a world of rules and regulations and stepped into the world of alpinism – a world where it’s all about the attitude you have towards a mountain. Back in 2009 I didn’t have that attitude,” acknowledges Lama today.


A lesser individual would have walked away but Lama, determined to make the first free ascent returned in 2011 and 2012. Matters took an unexpected turn when two climbers removed Maestre’s bolts in January of 2012, leaving Lama and Ortner no choice but to free it. Fortunately, the experience leaves only positive memories for Lama. “The moment that I first climbed to the summit I will never forget. My partner and I had been climbing for more than 24 hours. It was 10pm and I stood up there in a golden light, the last light that came across the Patagonian ice fields and everything below me was in the dark.”


But there were some scary moments. “Just 10m from the summit ice field I had to step onto a big block, where I was not sure if it would hold my weight or not. I knew if it would not hold, I would take a huge fall onto some bad gear and the chances that the block would cut one of my two ropes was quite big as well.”


Cerro Torre – A Snowball’s Chance in Hell is an amazing doco about courage and determination The intense climbing scenes were shot either by a film crew in nearby helicopters or POV cameras fastened to the climbers’ helmets for a more in-depth look that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Words by Red Bull  

If you live in Australia or New Zealand, you can watch the full movie streaming now at Garage Entertainment, here: