AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

New Zealand Andes Expedition, 1960—Nevado Cayesh

New Zealand Andes Expedition, 1960—Nevado Cayesh

R. Maurice Davis, New Zealand Alpine Club

A number of New Zealand expeditions have climbed in the Himalayas and in recent years transport has become available for exploration and climbing parties to visit Antarctica, but until 1960 no expedition had been sent from New Zealand to the Andes. (In 1959, however, the New Zealanders, Tothill, Mackay and the Nelsons, all living in California, visited the Cordillera Blanca and made a number of ascents. See A.A.J., 1960, 12:1, pp. 142-144.—Editor.)

The problems of organization were considerable, made more difficult by the distance to our objective and the lack of information here. We are indebted to members of the American Alpine Club and to the Club Andinista Cordillera Blanca, who provided us with photographs and much valuable information. A six-man climbing team was organized under the leadership of Lloyd Warburton with Dr. Lindsay Stewart, Dick Wood, Dal Ryan, Maurice Davis and Lynn Crawford. The early decision to climb in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru was followed by the choice as primary objective of the Nevado Cayesh, a 18,770-foot virgin peak at the head of the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca, a major tributary of the Río Santa into which it flows at Huaraz.

The party assembled in Huaraz on the 24th of June after travelling by diverse routes. Most of the food was shipped from New Zealand; Wood and Crawford accompanied it from Panama to Callao, while the remainder were organizing transport and purchasing a small quantity of food locally. Having had a week of acclimatization at Huaraz, Warburton, Ryan and I left there early on the 26th with twelve well-laden donkeys and that night, in falling snow, established the Base Camp well below the icefalls in the Quebrada Cayesh, the south branch of the Quilcayhuanca. The site of Base Camp was determined by the deteriorating weather, the approach of darkness and the obvious fatigue of the donkeys rather than by a preference for a comfortable, sheltered place with plenty of firewood and a good water supply. When the camp was finally laid out the following day in bright sunshine, it was found to have all these attributes but was a half hour’s walk from the foot of the mountain. Our Quechua donkey man, Señor Depas, was dismissed and returned to Huaraz with one of his sons and the animals, leaving the elder boy, Jacinto, with us to assist with portering and to act as watchman in our absence from camp. On the second day in Base Camp we discovered that the low quality Peruvian kerosene would not burn in our pressure stoves, and Jacinto was sent to Huaraz for some white petrol. He returned with the petrol and his younger brother, José, for company. We had little option but to add him to the payroll, but his presence was later to prove most valuable, both boys being keen workers and cheery companions. Jacinto brought a note from Huaraz, in which Dr. Stewart told us that Crawford was suffering from congestive heart failure, so common in this area but virtually unknown to New Zealand climbers. (See A.A.J., 1960, 12:1, pp. 189-190 and also elsewhere in the present A.A.J.—Editor.) When Warburton and I returned from a brief reconnaissance of the route onto Cayesh, this news caught up with us and we decided to carry on and establish camps despite the reduced strength of the party.

See plates 57, 58, 59, 60.

An immediate start was made in carrying stores and equipment to the site of Camp I on the rocks below the névé at the west of Cayesh. Wood arrived up from Huaraz with the news that Crawford had passed the critical stage and was improving but that Dr. Stewart would remain with him for several days. We were relieved by this, particularly when we learned how seriously affected he had been and that his recovery was made only after a supply of oxygen had been obtained from the workshop of a mine in the valley. After three days of strenuous load carrying by the four members of the party and Jacinto, Camp I was established at 15,900 feet. On the first of July, while the others returned to Base, Warburton and I remained here and the following day crossed the névé to reconnoitre the route onto the west face of Cayesh. The first attempt by way of a traverse of a peak northwest of the mountain was unsuccessful; ice and snow in dangerous condition forced a retreat, but sufficient time was left to have a distant look at two possible routes on the face before returning to Camp I, now also occupied by Ryan and Wood, who had brought up more stores and another tent. The next day, Ryan, Wood and I left Camp I to try to get onto the face of the mountain. After cramponing for two and a quarter hours across the névé, this was achieved by crossing the schrund in the corner near the south face of the small subsidiary peak. Then we cut steps up steep snow to a rock ledge, fixed a 120-foot rope and returned to Camp I.

Warburton, Ryan and I made an early start on the 4th of July to carry the route further. Following the previous day’s steps, we were just below the schrund when an avalanche of large lumps of snow hurtled down, striking both Warburton and me. After another half hour of route finding, we were forced to return to camp to nurse our badly bruised ribs. The next day Dr. Stewart joined us in Camp I, having spent several days at Base Camp. Wood returned there to ease a sinus complaint, while Warburton and I were still not fit after the avalanche incident. Crawford was at Huaraz but recovering rapidly. The party was, at this stage, anything but strong, and to make matters worse, a deterioration of the weather became evident. Despite this, on the 6th Stewart and Ryan traversed a ledge southwards low on the face of Cayesh to a prominent rock buttress; then climbing directly up this onto the snow again, at 3:45 they reached the ice cliff just below the ridge at a long shallow depression well south of the summit. They left immediately to return to Camp I. We who watched from the névé were elated but soon, when a snowstorm blocked them from view, our elation gave way to anxiety. The snow eased at 6:30 and an hour later the pair arrived, exhausted but well satisfied with the day’s work. The 7th of July was cloudy and cool, but that mattered little, for it was a rest day for all. Though we knew that fresh snow filled our steps, we were still pleased with the prospects.

Ryan and Stewart spent the 8th on the face of the mountain, recutting steps and preparing the route, but after reaching the summit ridge, they again returned after dark to Camp I in heavy snow. We were certain at this stage that it would be necessary to establish a camp high on the mountain for the final assault on the summit. For this purpose and to restock Camp I, another food lift was organized. We resigned ourselves to snowstorms as a daily occurrence and although these continued for another three days, ruling out work higher on the mountain, on the 10th and 11th food dumps were established on the névé. On the 12th, Wood had a bad fall and injured his back when he slipped on ice in the water supply at Camp I. Warburton was resting in Base Camp and because Stewart had contracted an infection, he was unfit for climbing. As the weather had cleared and promised to remain fine, Ryan and I set out from Camp I at three p.m., retrieved the food dumps and set up a camp on the névé near the face of the mountain where an early start could be made to recut the route. Warburton returned to Camp I with Crawford, who had made a complete recovery, and on the 13th we four set out to put in Camp II. With heavy loads, new snow and much verglas, progress was slow, and much step cutting was required. Warburton and Crawford dumped their loads below the ridge at 3:30 for Ryan and me to carry the remaining distance to the camp site. On their descent, because of a faulty torch, they were forced to cross the big schrund by matchlight and arrived in camp at 11:30 at night. Camp II was pitched in darkness in a depression on the ridge, the only reasonably level area on the mountain.

After a comfortable night, Ryan and I were away at 9:15 on the 14th for the first attempt on the summit ridge. A brief look at the huge, overhanging ice formations on the ridge near the camp made us decide to climb around rather than over them, using the steps of the last part of the ascent to Camp II to gain the west face below the ice cliff. From there, a level traverse northwards below the impressive ice sculpture led to a rocky ridge up which we climbed; with successive traverses below the ice bulges and short ascents we reached a steep snow slope, which allowed us finally to gain the ridge six and a half hours after leaving camp. From this point we returned as rapidly as conditions and fatigue would allow, but did not get back to Camp II until after dark.

With an earlier start the following day we reached the ridge by ten o’clock, then cut steps along a precarious arête leading to a large, rocky tower. After wasting much time in trying to climb this, we had a brief look at a more promising alternative route around the west side of the tower, but at three had to turn back. Ryan lost his ice axe while descending a steep verglas-coated gulley below the ridge and I had to belay him the remainder of the slow climb back to Camp II, which we reached exhausted at 6:15. The loss of the ice axe made it imperative to return to Camp I the next day. As Warburton and Crawford were due to move up to the high camp on the 16th, we left early, meeting the others at the foot of the snow slope for a brief route discussion. While we continued down to Base Camp, Warburton and Crawford climbed to Camp II and spent the day there resting. On the 17th they followed the now well-formed route towards the summit, found a way around the tower and regained the ridge above. With only sufficient daylight left to return to Camp II, they were forced to retreat. Supplies at the camp were now getting so low that on the 18th Warburton and Crawford descended to Camp I, while Ryan and Stewart moved up there from Base Camp. Wood, whose back still bothered him, remained at Base with me. I had traced my trouble to a broken rib. We were joined by Warburton on the 20th, while Ryan, Stewart and Crawford moved up to Camp II. The clear, windless weather gave high hopes for the success of this attempt. Making good time, they carried food and extra sleeping gear to Camp II. After a 6:45 start the following morning, the 21st, they were at the end of the prepared route by nine. Progress was slow under the large overhanging ice bulges with steep ascents to short, slender arêtes on the ridge.

They are not just sure how many ice bumps they turned and cut around, but finally only two large steps were left to conquer. A short, steep climb, a long, level traverse on hard ice, then another steep climb and all that remained to the summit was a gentle slope over easy snow. This last lap was well photographed but seemed interminable to us as we watched from the valley, passing binoculars rapidly around to five pairs of anxious eyes. Then moving cautiously but steadily, Ryan, Stewart and Crawford moved onto the summit at 4:30 p.m., while the Quechua boys in recognition set fire to a large portion of the slopes of San Juan. In perfectly clear weather the view was superb, but it was late. Since darkness comes quickly in the Cordillera Blanca and with it intense cold, they left the summit after a brief but comprehensive round of photographs. Altitude, with resultant fatigue and the exacting demands of the climb, slowed progress and only a very short distance had been covered when failing light further reduced the pace. On the ascent, they had passed a convenient ice cave and discussed its merits as an overnight shelter. Not far away, it was the only place that offered a comfortable chance of survival. The three men reached it in complete darkness at 6:30, drove an ice piton and lowered themselves over the top lip into the cave. Not unduly cold with all their clothing on, they slept, if somewhat fitfully, though dawn was slow to break. The weather remained fine, and at seven o’clock there was sufficient light to find the previous day’s tracks to Camp II, which they reached shortly before noon. After a rest and a meal, they continued on to Camp I, where Warburton awaited them, and on to Base Camp that same night. Having seen the torches coming down the valley, Wood restoked the fire and had another brew of tea ready for their arrival at 10:30. It was a happy occasion, and over cups of tea and large pieces of fruit cake the story of the final assault was shared. A bottle of whisky brought from Invercargill was broached in honour of Cayesh and six very happy men crawled into their sleeping bags in the comfort of Base Camp at half past one in the morning.

The climbers at Base Camp continued for the next two days the work of evacuating the upper camps. On July 25 we left Base Camp for good and turned down the valley, pleased with our success but having no regrets at leaving Cayesh. It had been a long and difficult ascent and we had more than our share of troubles.

As well as Cayesh, we had made two ascents of a peak we called “Condor Peak,” southeast of the quebrada, between Cayesh, Huantsán and San Juan. It was climbed by Dr. Stewart with Jacinto on the 16th of July after the former had been recuperating at Base Camp, and on the 18th by Wood and me.

Our return to Huaraz coincided with preparations for the 28th of July Fiesta, which was to be an interesting diversion for the next two days as we again enjoyed the comfort and hospitality of the Hotel Los Pinos with its ever helpful Señor Matellini.

Our next objective was an attempt on the unclimbed east ridge of Nevado Huascarán, 22,205 feet, the highest in Peru. Food for two weeks was sorted out and packed and preparations made for departure. The organizing of transport can be frustrating at any time in this area, but in the joyous aftermath of the fiesta this became so impossible that we waited for a couple of days before getting a truck to transport our equipment and stores to Yungay and thence to the end of the road in the Llanganuco where we waited a day for the donkeys to arrive. In such pleasant surroundings this was not hard to do, but as time was running out, we were anxious to come to grips with Huascarán. We left the Llanganuco (often and less correctly spelled “Yanganuco”—Editor.) lakes late on the 31st and set up Base Camp in the dark in the valley between Huascarán and Chopicalqui just above the track over the Llanganuco Pass to Huaripampa. On August 1 we started to pack stores for Camp I, which was occupied that night by Crawford and Stewart, the others returning to Base Camp. Camp I was located at the top of a long ridge leading from the eastern lateral moraine to a bold rock outcrop below the glacier which flows from the saddle between Huascarán and Chopicalqui. The route from Base Camp to Camp I followed the east side of the stream and then went along the trench between the lateral moraine and Chopicalqui to the ridge. A deterioration in the weather with frequent rain, delayed further trips to Camp I with food, but Stewart and Crawford managed a brief reconnaissance. When the weather cleared on the 5th, they moved up to the saddle and there set up Camp II while the others packed equipment to Camp I. Warburton and Ryan remained there overnight to carry on to Camp II on the 6th. Wood and I packed more food to Camp I and in turn stayed there on the 7th, moving on to Camp II on the following day.

Stewart and Crawford left Camp II on the 6th to attempt the east ridge of the south peak of Huascarán. Difficult snow conditions demanded constant step cutting on steep slopes or along slender ridges. The intention was to reconnoitre for a site for Camp III, but both men carried clothing in readiness for a night out. Because of their strong desire not to have to descend over this route, Stewart decided to press on to the summit and descend to the Quebrada Ulta via the southeast ridge. They spent the night of the 6th sitting on the ridge in the partial shelter of an ice formation. With little to eat and drink in the bitter cold, sleep was almost impossible, and despite the difficulties of the ridge, it was some comfort to be moving again at dawn. What promised at first to be an improvement in the gradient near the shoulder below the summit, proved to be a severely serrated ridge similar to that on Cayesh which demanded continuous step cutting. At two o’clock and about 300 feet below the summit they recognized defeat and began a reluctant retreat. The climbers descended until it was too dark to see the steps and there sat down in the snow to pass another miserable night, whipped by a cold wind and light snow showers. Without food and shivering uncontrollably, they could endure the situation only because their senses were dulled by sheer fatigue. Crawford complained of tight crampon straps, but the effort to relieve them seemed too great. At dawn on the 8th, the descent was continued at a reduced pace, fortunately in still comfortable but cloudy weather.

At Camp II Warburton and Ryan, anxious over the prolonged absence and fearing the worst, set out to climb in search. Wood and I, coming up from Camp I, found Camp II deserted and it was with great relief that shortly after midday we heard an exchange of greetings high on the mountain. Warburton and Ryan assisted the climbers down to Camp II, which they reached at five p.m. Early in the evening Crawford complained of numbness in two of his toes and Dr. Stewart started immediate treatment for frostbite, which continued through the night. A late start was made at both camps the following morning. Crawford was able to walk, though slowly, with his gear carried by the others, and the party was reunited at Base Camp before dark. For the return to the end of the road at the lake in the Llanganuco, we were able to obtain at the hacienda about three miles down the valley six donkeys for the equipment and one for Crawford, whose injuries from frostbite were not as serious as first thought.

Although disappointed at not climbing Huascarán by the new route, we did prove that given time to establish a camp on the ridge, it could have been climbed. Stewart estimated the time required from their highest point to the summit would be five hours. During the 1960 season, conditions in the Cordillera Blanca were not good, neither the weather nor the snow being up to the expected standards, but we all left the Andes very satisfied and most impressed by this grand climbing area.

Summary of Statistics

Area: Cordillera Blanca, Peru.


“Condor Peak,” 17,075 feet, July 16, 1960 (Stewart, Jacinto Depas)— first ascent; July 18, 1960 (Wood, Davis).

Nevado Cayesh, 18,770 feet, July 21, 1960 (Ryan, Stewart, Crawford) —first ascent.

Attempted Ascent:

Huascarán, 22,205 feet, August 7, 1960 (Stewart, Crawford)—to 21,900 feet on east ridge.

Personnel: Lloyd Warburton, Dr. Lindsay Stewart, Lynn Crawford, R. Maurice Davis, Dalmore Ryan, Richard Wood.