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Climbs In The Cordillera Blanca
June 2006 :: Peru :: Cordillera Blanca

I went to Peru in early June of 2006 for three months, hoping to climb some of the finest mountains on Earth. After arriving in Lima I headed straight to Huaraz, the "Chamonix of South America." Once I had acclimatized on four smaller peaks, I went to the Ishinca Valley, intending to climb the west face of Tocallraju (6,032 meters).

After a failed attempt due to stomach problems, I teamed up with Evan Sloan of Boulder, Colorado, and climbed the left side of the west face, staying well to the left of the normal route. The route consisted of about nine pitches of mostly ice and snow climbing, averaging 60 to 70 degrees, with a short overhanging "snice" pitch to get out of the bergschrund. This possible new route/variation (many variations and lines have been climbed on this face and are hard to tell apart) ended about 100 meters below the summit, and followed the normal route up the northwest ridge for the last bit. We climbed the line in a 24-hour round-trip push from base camp and encountered typically perfect Peruvian weather.

With a good moderate alpine route now completed, I moved on to La Esphinge for a bit of rock climbing. I went to the base camp in mid-July with one of my Californian friends, Matt Meinzer (also of Sacramento), intending to seek out a new line on the east or southeast face. We made a very comfortable base camp under the building-size boulder five minutes from the base of the original route, with the help of our four porters. We scoped both faces in search of a natural new line, and decided upon the steep, orange and red wall about a hundred meters to the right of the original east face route.

As we climbed the start of the route Matt was starting to get very sick, and after two pitches he was forced down by the illness, leaving me alone to climb the route. Since solo big wall climbing is my passion, I wasn't at all hesitant to continue, but was a bit saddened to see Matt have to bail in the state he was in.

In the six days I was on the face, I was subject to snow and high winds almost every night, but had beautiful daytime climbing conditions. The climb went very well and naturally, with a total only seven hand-drilled holes, which were necessary on pitches four and five. The length of the route is about 650 meters and is almost completely independent, topping out on the last few easy pitches of Lobo Etepretario.

After La Esphinge I wanted to climb another challenging alpine route, so I headed to the Llanganuco Valley. This time I was headed to the southwest buttress area of 6,160-meter Huandoy Sur, which borders the immense granite wall of the south face. My plan was simple: to climb fast, light, and alone on a new route. I hiked to camp with a light pack after catching an afternoon bus from Huaraz. After a brief nap, I headed up with no rope, stove, or bivy gear on the mixed spur that separates the south face from the southwest buttress route. The route turned out to be much harder and steeper it had looked through the clouds the previous evening, with continuous mixed climbing and some steep, unconsolidated snow patches. After climbing about 700 meters of terrain, I came upon the final crux, an overhanging cornice blocking access to the ridge. It was unavoidable and I was too high to turn back, so I wallowed up the pitch using every technique I could come up with.

I crested the summit ridge at dawn after climbing for six and a half hours from the 'schrund, just in time to see summit area before a storm hit. I hurridly continued up until it was impossible to see where I was going. I knew I was about 100 vertical meters from the elusive summit, but was unsure if I could continue and still make it back without any bivy gear. I raced down the southwest buttress and eventually found my tracks on the glacier leading back to my other gear. I was back in Huaraz 28 hours after leaving. I was happy with the climbing, but a bit disappointed that the last few easy meters eluded me.

With so many beautiful mountains here, I will surely come back. I would like to thank the American Alpine Club, Black Diamond, and Five Ten for their generous support on this expedition.