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South America, Peru, Cordillera Vilcanota

Cordillera Vilcanota. A four-man German expedition, led by Günter Hauser, spent this summer climbing in the Cordilleras’ Blanca and Vilcanota, of Peru. The results of their efforts were extremely rewarding, giving them a total of thirteen first ascents in as many attempts. Among these two stand out in particular, the Nevado Alpamayo and the Pirámide de Parron both in the Cordillera Blanca. The Franco-Belgian expedition of 1951 reached the south summit of the former under bad weather conditions and mistakenly assumed it to be the top. George Band’s 1956 expedition made several attempts on the Pirámide but was unable to reach the summit.

I joined the expedition in Lima while preparations were being made for the Vilcanota following their ascents in the Cordillera Blanca. The area for which we were headed lies about 20 miles south of Cusco in southern Peru, and had been the object of only two previous expeditions. Our primary goal was Jatunhuma, a 20,100-foot peak that lay hidden well behind the initial fringe of the range. Three days with mules and horses got us from the town of Yanama to Base Camp at about 15,500 feet. As all my previous climbing had been in the Alps this was already higher than I had ever been before. We set up two subsequent camps as we followed the glacier to the foot of the peak. Our route initially followed the northwestern ridge until a series of cornices forced us out onto the western face. The sixty-degree slope necessitated cutting a good many steps, but the snow was firm and we made good time. At about 19,500 feet we came to the overhanging ice wall that had stopped the Harvard Andean Expedition two weeks earlier. A delicate traverse under the wall led us into a fissure that we hoped would take us through the wall and onto the summit ridge beyond. Bernhard Kuhn, one of Germany’s finest young climbers, did a beautiful job of leading this particularly difficult pitch. This was the only time during the expedition that pitons were placed. From there it was only a matter of minutes to the summit, and the wonderful feeling that every mountaineer knows on finding himself at the top.

We subsequently divided ourselves into two parties, with Wiedmann and Knauss returning to Base Camp to do two of the nearby nineteen-thousanders, while Hauser, Kuhn, and Achilles went on to try Cayangate I. Not being as well acclimatized as the others I stayed at Camp III (18,300 feet) while they went on to claim another summit. On returning to Base Camp we found that the first party had climbed Kakakiru (18,865 feet) and were well on their way up Mariposa (19,125 feet). In the interim the three of us climbed Caracol, which in spite of its formidable looks turned out to be a relatively straightforward climb. Our final objective took four days with mules and horses, skirting the Cordillera to the south, before being able to set up a new Base Camp. Once again Hauser, Kuhn, and I were on the same rope, while the other two went back to Yanama to handle the massive correspondence due to some seventy percent of their equipment and clothing having been donated for advertising purposes by various factories. This is one problem American expeditions do not seem to have. Meanwhile the three of us fought bad weather and poor snow conditions for the expedition’s sixth first ascent, Yayamari (19,710 feet). Although not a technically difficult ascent it proved to be long and tiring. The high camp put us within seven climbing hours of the summit. The climb itself went without incident, but all three of us suffered from mild cases of snow blindness for two or three days following the descent.

The expedition had taken a little over five weeks ; five wonderful weeks of climbing with four of the nicest possible companions to whom I will always feel deeply indebted.

T. C. Achilles, Jr.