American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru, New Zealand Expedition to Quebrada Yanganuco, Cordillera Blanca

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1960

New Zealand Expedition to Quebrada Yanganuco, Cordillera Blanca. The inevitable problems of organization overcome, our party, John Tothill, Don Mackay, Jean and Michael Nelson, arrived in Huaraz on July 10. There we picked up our porters and hired a truck to take us to the Yanganuco lakes (12,600 feet). The following day, with eight laden donkeys to assist us, we established our Base Camp at 13,100 feet. We spent four days in this camp, making short excursions to the Portachuelo de Yanganuco and to the head of the valley in order to inspect the impressive south face of Chacraraju. On our fifth day in the valley we moved into a high camp (15,800 feet) on Yanapaccha. (First ascent on June 23, 1954 by Ayres, Creswell, Irvin, Matthews, Michael, and Ortenburger. A.A.J., 1955, 9:2, pp. 27-28—Editor.) This snow peak of 17,914 feet dominates the valley when viewed from the lakes at the end of the road. On July 18 Tothill and Mackay led off across the broad glacial shelf which crosses the west face of the mountain, then cut steps directly up the face, reaching the northwest ridge about 400 feet below the summit. They were on top six and a half hours after leaving camp. Two days later, Jean and I, with an earlier start giving better snow conditions, reached the peak via the prepared route in four hours and returned to Base Camp that night.

Our next objective was to have been Pisco (18,900 feet) but an Austrian expedition had attempted the peak ten days previously and was turned back by a schrund 300 feet from the summit. We therefore directed our efforts toward the 18,950-foot virgin peak, Pisco Este. Three days later we established a camp at 17,600 feet at the foot of the northeast ridge of the East Peak of Huandoy. On July 25 all four members of the party left the tent at 6:30 A.M. and descended about 400 feet to an avalanche-strewn face menaced by ice from the west ridge of Pisco. We hurriedly crossed this unsalubrious stretch and threaded our way through the icefall until about 9:30, when we reached a broad slope leading to the summit ridge. Deep snow slowed progress considerably and it was not until 2 p.m. that we emerged on the firm snow of the ridge at 18,500 feet, making the summit 30 minutes later. Our floundering descent through rapidly softening snow was extremely exhausting.

Back at Base Camp, we were joined by Colin Darbyshire from Lima and it was decided to attempt Chopicalqui without delay. Camp I was made on the glacier which drains the north face of Chopicalqui at 14,700 feet, and Camp II at 16,800 feet on the site used by both previous expeditions to the mountain. We sent the porters down from here and packed through the broken icefall to a point on the southwest ridge at about 18,350 feet, where we made camp. John, Jean and I roped up at 5:30 on the morning on July 31 and wearily trudged through soft, south-facing snow. Two-thirty P.M. found us on a steep ridge at about 21,000 feet burrowing out a chest- deep ditch in seemingly bottomless sugar snow. Our progress was painfully slow and there appeared to be considerable likelihood that the final pyramid, 300 feet above us, would be in the same condition. The decision was therefore made to turn back and as there was insufficient food for a second attempt, we returned to the valley next day.

Three days later we were all in Yungay preparing for an attempt on Huascarán. With the aid of eight burros, two horses, two porters and an arriero, we moved into Base Camp at 13,700 feet on the western slopes of this massive mountain on August 7. Two days were spent in relaying loads to Camp I at 15,000 feet. Tothill was suffering from dysentery and did not come above this camp. Camp II was established at 17,800 feet at the base of the 2000-foot icefall which leads to the Garganta. We spent three days searching this icefall before finding a satisfactory route which allowed us to move on to Camp III at 19,400 feet. The final climb was made on August 14 by Don, Jean, and myself following the conventional route from the Garganta to the south peak ; we took eight hours from camp to the summit (22,205 feet) and three hours for the return. The next day we descended to Base Camp and on to Yungay on August 16, leaving the porters to supervise the packing down of our remaining gear.

Michael Nelson, Canterbury Mountaineering Club

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