Cerro Murallon (2656m), in deepest Patagonia, must be earned – to put it mildly! Jérôme Sullivan and his mates spent 35 self-sufficient days in its extreme surroundings, opening up a superb climbing route. On its southeast pillar, in particularly hostile conditions, they created “El Pilar del Sol Naciente” (The Pillar of the Rising Sun), a 1000m-long route up the rock face. A tremendous technical achievement and an unforgettable human adventure, in a stunning windswept setting.
8 November 2012
12 December 2012
HUNGRY FOR THE UNEXPLORED
“This project was driven by a desire for the unknown and the unexplored. Emotions, sharing and discovering were our only expectations.”
The man behind the “Zion in Murallon” project was Jérôme Sullivan. This aspirant guide had no trouble persuading François Poncet, aka “Pompon”, and Jérémy Stagnetto, aka “Djamel”, to join him on this slightly crazy adventure. They’re old friends, with complementary skillsets – they have scaled many mountains together, which has given them a tight-knit bond.
“Some of us had explored the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy ranges in 2011. After this exceptional experience, we wanted to go further, and we were immediately attracted by the wild, remote character of Cerro Murallon,” explained Sullivan in his MXP entry form.
The clincher was a conversation with Bruno Sourzac, a teacher at France’s National Ski Mountaineering School (ENSA) and a specialist on Patagonia. “He showed us his photos of his attempt on the east face, and right then, we were hooked.”
There were only four established routes up Cerro Murallon. Its east face had never been climbed. And – it has to be said – its location placed it at the epicentre of Patagonia’s meteorological vagaries. But for the trio, it was still “a legendary land, like Zion”!
“We were immediately attracted by the wild, remote character of Cerro Murallon.”
A MOUNTAIN FRIENDSHIP
The trio of buddies were joined by female climber Lise Billon and Spanish alpinist Pedro Angel Galan Diaz. That same year, in the winter season, Pedro and Jérôme had already scaled the west face of Les Drus via the “Les Papas” route and the Bonatti Pillar. A (very small) taster of what lay in store! “For us, says Jérôme, “the mountains are above all about friendship. When other buddies want to tag along, we never say no.”
Their adventure began in November. “To get as close as possible to the glacier, at the point it falls into the lake, the simplest thing was to take a tourist boat then 4WDs as far as the Upsala refuge,” explains Lise. “After that, we walked for a day to get to the Pascal refuge with the first part of our load.”
They then repeated the operation: it would have been hard to carry ten 30kg bags in one go!
“From the Pascal refuge, it took two to four days to reach the foot of Cerro Murallon,” Jérôme goes on. “The length of the transfer depended on our load. We did two return trips, so we did a hell of a lot of walking!”
A TECHNICAL AND HUMAN CHALLENGE
November 15th was the big day. It was also Jérôme’s 29th birthday, and his present was the first pitch in this windswept spot on the edge of the world!
“We climbed the first 300 metres, then bad weather caused an interruption of several days.” Rain, fierce squalls, snow – they weren’t spared! “To be honest, it’s not a human-friendly place!” concedes Jérémy.
In the end, they took nine days to conquer this major route, which had already rebutted several attempts. Its technical spec says it all: 1000m, with difficulty grades of 7b, A1, WI 6 and M6!
What is etched most deeply in their memory? “The lack of weather news,” says Jérôme. “The satphone stopped working, which was really stressful.”
Their last night, just 50 metres from the summit in sub-zero cold, was also a memorable experience. “The last pitch was barring our way. We really thought we’d come to a halt right there, so near to the top of the pillar.”
But they did it!
“If there was one line that was waiting to be climbed, it was that one!”
PATAGONIA AGAIN IN 2014
“We all trusted each other, and were hugely motivated to climb these Patagonian giants – that’s how we completed this human and sporting adventure,” says Jérôme.
The climbers have since continued to spend plenty of time together. They rounded off 2013 with two months’ climbing in Joshua Tree, California. And in March 2014, Lise, Pedro and Jérôme are heading to Alaska and its Revelation Glacier with the firm intention of opening further routes.
In autumn 2014, they plan to return to Patagonia to climb another remote summit with beautiful unscaled faces: Riso Patron. Love conquers all...