Vinicio Stefanello (www.planetmountain.com):
On 01 January 2010 Fabio Giacomelli, the 51 year old mountaineer from Trentino, Italy, died in an avalanche at the base of the East Face of Cerro Torre. After a three day search climbing partner Elio Orlandi managed to locate the lifeless body.
It all happened at 9.00 in the evening of the first day of the year. Fabio Giacomelli had just completed the long theory of abseil descents which brought him to the base of the East Face of Cerro Torre. Elio Orlandi, one of the most famous Patagonian mountaineers, was still up on the wall, descending. It had been snowing for two days... Fabio told Elio that he'd go on to their snow cave: he'd prepare some water and food while waiting for his partner. Elio and Fabio knew each other well, they were old hands at mountaineering and veterans of Patagonia.
This was the second year which, together, they attempted to establish a new route up the great East Face. Last season they had reached three-quarters height. This time they managed to climb higher still, circa 200m shy of the summit. Despite the fact that this year Patagonia had been terrible, relentless. So much so that snowstorms raged continuously from 20 - 26 December. And it was still snowing while Fabio and Elio descended from the Torre...
It was completely normal therefore for Fabio to set off towards the snow cave as quickly as possible. Just as it was completely normal for Elio to continue his descent and gather all the gear. He greeted his friend, yet there was no way he could know or even imagine this would be for the last time ever. It was dark, the weather was bad and during his descent Elio didn't notice anything. Only when he reached the cave did he begin to understand. Where was Fabio? He set off to search for him. Then a sudden clearing up enabled him to glimpse the bitter reality: a part of the slope had broken off. Fabio had been swept away...
Elio found the descender. Continued the search. Came across a ski stick. Abseiled into a crevasse, but found no trace of Fabio. Avalanches continued to sweep into the crevasse. No one knows what Elio went through and risked in those hours. No one who hasn't experienced something similar can understand. What is certain is that his solitary search continued for three days. Until, probing the front end of the avalanche, he came across Fabio's body. He dug him free. Transported the body to safety. Laid watch on his friend's lifeless body. Then, at 5 in the evening and not without difficulty, he reached the village El Chalten... wherethey are currently organising a squad to recuperate the unfortunate mountaineer's body.
Fabio and Elio had climbed that new route up the East Face of Cerro Torre to scatter the ashes of Cesarino Fava, their friend and unforgettable Trentino mountaineer who died in 2008 after having written the history of Cerro Torre. Nothing more needs adding. But this is only a detail which must have rendered the tragedy even more painful, should this be at all possible. What Elio Orlandi went through during those three days, alone, searching for his companion and then the descent, was certainly terrible.
Fabio Giacomelli was one of those mountaineers that few know about. Also because it wasn't his style to talk about his ascents. Rather, he was known for being sales manager at Lizard Italy, and on the R&D team. The mountains, climbing and alpinism have always been a part of his family's DNA, all of which are mountaineers. There can be no doubt that that he was a well-prepared and high calibre mountaineer. His numerous first ascents in the Dolomites, in particular in the Brenta Group and Valle del Sarca, leave no doubts about his worth. And his extraordinary passion for climbing and alpinism is undisputed. This is confirmed, should confirmation be needed, by his ascents in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, the sandstone towers in the Czech Republic and his last seasons on the peaks in Patagonia.
At his home at Sardagna di Trento Fabio leaves behind his wife Silvana and his children Alessio and Debora. The thoughts and embrace of all mountaineers go to them. An embrace which extends to Elio Orlandi.