American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru, San Juan, Cordillera Blanca

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1958

San Juan, Cordillera Blanca. On June 4 Thomas McCormack and Rodman L. Tidrick arrived in Lima nine days ahead of Nick Clinch and Virgil Day to buy all the food and part of the equipment to avoid shipping costs and Peruvian customs difficulties. Shortly after our arrival, news reached us that a German expedition had made the first ascent of the Pirámide de Garcilaso, our original objective. Further disrupting our plans, the porters for whom we had made arrangements several months ahead were being used by the Germans and would not be released until the end of June. As a new objective we picked unclimbed San Juan (19,170 feet), only 1½ days march from Huaraz. Upon our arrival in Huaraz, we were fortunate in acquiring as porters two very fine men, Augusto Jamanca Rosales and Eustaquio Henostroza Vargas, who had pottered for three previous expeditions.

On June 16, with 22 days of food and equipment loaded on eight burros, we left Huaraz and headed up the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca and branched off into the Quebrada Cayesh, where Base Camp was established at 14,000 feet, June 17. Next day, Nick and I pitched Camp I at 16,000 feet, just off the glacier, and on June 19 scouted out a route to the pass and looked at the not too promising icefall that blocked our way to the south ridge of San Juan. The north ridge immediately above Camp I offered no possibility of a route to the summit. Though bad weather hampered our reconnaissance, we spent until June 23 unsuccessfully trying to push through the crevasses and unfavorable snow of the icefall. On that afternoon we climbed onto the rocky north ridge of San Juan and viewed for the first time the possibility of a route to the summit via the northwest face. On June 26 we left camp at the crack of dawn to try this route, but had to turn back by 11:30. After more unsuccessful reconnaissance in the icefall, we turned our attention to the northeast ridge. Carrying one tent and three days rations, we packed over the northwest ridge, dropped into a small hanging valley at the foot of the northwest face, and followed a rock buttress to a snow slope which gave access to the northeast ridge. One June 30 we established camp at 17,000 feet, where the rock buttress joined the snow. At dawn next morning we set out, reaching the crest of the northeast ridge without undue difficulty. We started to traverse along the ridge, but high angle ice climbing with inadequate belays, a dangerous cornice and worsening snow conditions forced us to turn back at noon. Nick had only two days left, so we returned the entire distance back to Camp I on July 2 to make a desperate try for the summit by the icefall route and the south ridge. The following day we left camp at 5 A.M., an hour before daylight, in the hope of getting through the icefall before the sun made the crevassed ice too dangerous. By 8:30 we had found a way and were at the base of the south ridge at 10:30. Since it was obvious that a bivouac would be necessary, Virg turned back with Tom, who was sick. At noon we had to wait for 15 minutes to allow the mist to clear and let us see the final obstacles, a huge mushroom with a double-corniced ridge and the final summit ridge itself. The snow on a southern ridge does not have the full benefit of the sun and is therefore unconsolidated. After spending three hours on steep, soft-snow slopes and on a delicate ice traverse on the eastern side of the mushroom, we reached the summit in thigh-deep snow at 4:30 P.M. Spending just enough time to take pictures, we retreated to a crevasse several hundred feet below the summit to wait out the long night. Suffering no ill effects other than fatigue, hunger, and thirst, we climbed out of the crevasse into the cold northwesterly wind at 7 A.M., returned to Camp I, and with the others descended to Base Camp by 6 P.M. The next day Nick left for Huaraz en route to the United States since his leave from the Air Force was over.

In the Quebrada Ishinca the rest us would have access to unclimbed Ocshapalca (19,925 feet), and to Ranrapalca (20,217 feet) and Tocllaraju (19,780 feet), both climbed by the Austrians in 1939, and to several peaks of about 18,000 feet. On June 9 Tom, Virg, and I left Huaraz with 17 days of food and the next noon established Base Camp at 16,000 feet. By the 13th we had placed our camp for Ranrapalca at the foot of its northeast face, at 17,000 feet. On the 14th, accompanied by Alberto Morales Arnao, we were turned back from the mountain at 18,000 feet by a 200-foot icefall. After a quick look at Ocshapalca from camp at 17,000 feet, near the base of its difficult northwest ridge, the only possible route, we gave up the idea of trying it because of lack of time and returned to Ranrapalca. At 5 A.M. on July 17 we set out and found a route through the icefall. The ice face leading to the summit ridge was about 1500 feet high, 45° on the lower portion and increasing possibly up to 60° at the top. At 1:30 P.M. we turned back only 300 feet from the summit ridge and about 500 feet below the summit. The next day Tom, Virg, and the porters climbed two unnamed peaks of about 18,000 feet while I broke camp. We all returned to Base Camp. On July 19 Virg left for Panamá, as his Army leave ended. Tom and I, with the porters, established Base Camp for Tocllaraju at 14,000 feet, and the next day a high camp at 17,000 feet. On the 22nd we were turned back 600 feet from the summit of Tocllaraju by a crevasse that extended the whole length of the northwest face.

After returning to Huaraz on the 26th we tried Huascarán (22,206 feet), the highest mountain in Peru. A group of Peruvian climbers had failed on July 23 because of crevasses and deep snow. On July 31 we preceded to the mountain a second group of Peruvians who had invited us to join them, but who could not leave as soon as we could. On August 6 we were turned back at 19,000 feet just below the garganta by deep powder-snow. We could also see that a crevasse between the north and south peaks blocked the route to the garganta. The next day we returned with the Peruvians to take one last look at the garganta and to confirm our reports of the day before.

Rodman L. Tidrick

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