American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Bolivia, Nevados Chearoco, Calzada and Sihuaillusa, Cordillera Real

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1963

Nevados Chearoco, Calzada and Sihuaillusa, Cordillera Real. The Reading University Andean Expedition, Ronald H. F. Hunter leader, Robin G. Bradford, Edward F. J. Quicke, John Floodpage, Ray J. Fearon and Michael Smith, left La Paz for a seven-week stay in the Cordillera Real on July 12. Travel was at first by truck over the unsurfaced altiplano road adjacent to Lake Titicaca to the small town of Achacachi, whence we turned northeast towards the mountains. Previous information about how close the truck could drive to the mountains proved inaccurate, and we were dropped some fifteen miles farther from them than we anticipated. Without porters, and with some four dozen loads weighing 80 pounds apiece, this inaccuracy cost us several days and considerable perspiration, but was an excellent if brutal means of getting fit. A reconnaissance of the area and some preliminary surveying were accomplished in the next few days during which we relayed our equipment over the altiplano, after which our progress was established on a new footing, for one of our colleagues from the Club Andino Boliviano reached the mountains before us and dispatched Venancio, his camp servant, together with a herd of llamas and their attendant Indians to locate and transport the expedition into Base Camp. This convoy arrived at our temporary camp on the altiplano shortly after dawn and in one day of strenuous marching moved everything to the head of a glacial valley overlooked by the Calzada and Casiri peaks. At 15,600 feet this was to be our base for the next fortnight but before tackling any actual peaks, we spent a few days on the neighboring snow and ice slopes to get the feel of ice axe and crampons again and to acclimatize. However summits soared above us invitingly and on July 23 all of us climbed Calzada II (18,790 feet) by a route of snow and rock and two days later Calzada III (18,781 feet) by a steep ice face; on the former climb Fearon was replaced by the foremost Bolivian climber, Alfredo Martínez. The main Calzada peak (19,270 feet) was a tougher proposition altogether and much less easy of access, requiring an advanced camp placed at the foot of its main glacier. Our Bolivian friends, Alfredo Martínez and Peter Tichauer, accompanied us on this climb on July 27 and in fact reached the summit some considerable time before us, partly because we were not yet fully acclimatized and also because we somewhat enterprisingly tackled a steep icy gully in the northwest face rather than plod through deep snow! Two other peaks of 18,460 and 18,441 feet were climbed by Floodpage and myself, while Fearon, Quicke and Smith climbed Verity (17,211 feet) on July 29 during a reconnaissance of the unexplored area of 70 square miles. Two days later Floodpage and Tichauer ascended Casiri Chico (17,240 feet). Our surveyor, Mike Smith, had been working hard over this northern segment of the Cordillera Real. After he finished his theodolite work in the region of our Calzada Base Camp, the whole expedition set off to explore the seventy square miles left blank on the 1929 map of Carl Troll’s preliminary survey, uncharted mountains that had been in view for the last ten days.

At this stage our Bolivian friends returned to La Paz but left their excellent camp caretaker Venancio to accompany us for the next four weeks. His first duty was again to contact the Indians of the altiplano. Using their herd of llamas and some ponies, we made a two-day march over the Calzada Pass (16,400 feet) and through a network of glacial valleys to the Negruni Pass (15,900 feet) and so to our new Base Camp in the unexplored region, following the route our reconnaissance party had previously prospected.

This region contained two ranges bristling with unclimbed, uncharted peaks, and behind them lay the massive mountains of Chearoco and Chachacomani. The two lower ranges of some 18,000 feet are referred to as the Negruni range and the Rumca ridge. It was on these peaks that our energies were concentrated for the next two weeks. The Rumca ridge consisted of two high snow domes and seven other peaks and was of easy access from Base Camp. The two highest (18,721 and 18,514 feet) were climbed on August 5 by Fearon, Floodpage and Quicke, whilst Bradford and I were “hauled” to another part of the ridge by Venancio! Any lack of climbing technique was supplemented by his super-efficient lungs and great pluck, and the three of us made a harmonious rope for a ridge climb of four of these Rumca peaks (18,015 feet and the other three all about 17,750 feet). The last peak in the Rumca ridge (17,877 feet) was considerably steeper than the others and offered a mixed and exciting route to the summit. On August 6 Bradford and I enjoyed some yearned-for rock climbing during the approach to the main ridge. An exciting traverse of the 400-yard knife-edged summit took several hours more. Beyond the snow domes lay Sihuaillusa (18,343 feet), a Bolivian version of the Weisshorn with its steeply fluted ridges. This mountain necessitated an advance camp on the glacier before an attack could be launched. After exhausting climbing in deep snow, on August 7 Fearon and Floodpage gained the southeast ridge and shortly afterwards the summit. The Negruni range was the next focus for our attention and provided the most varied and exhilarating climbing and yet was within reach of a very early start from Base Camp. This aspect together with the absence of carrying equipment to an advanced camp made them so attractive that some peaks were climbed at least twice on different routes up the steep ridges. (First ascents: Negruni Ia (17,736 feet) and Negruni Ib (17,692 feet) August 7 by Bradford and Hunter; Negruni II (17,602 feet) August 9 by Bradford and Floodpage; Waruseuta (17,585 feet) August 10 by Fearon and Hunter; Negruni III (17,593 feet) August 11 by Bradford and Floodpage.)

The climax of the expedition was the assault from the east on the two 6000 metre peaks of Chearoco (first ascent from the west by Horeschowsky and Hortnagel, June 25, 1928—Editor) and Chachacomani (first ascent also from the west by Buchholtz, Fritz, Moller, Moore, Paz and Sanjinéz, January 1, 1947—Editor). To approach them we made a long descent of the hanging valley in which our Base Camp lay and so into the main Chearoco valley, from which we could gain access to both mountains along steep and slippery moraines. A dump of all the necessary provisions had been previously established in the Chearoco valley and from a camp in that region we proceeded up the lengthy valley onto respective moraines. Our 70-pound loads and the loose surface of the moraine made progress slow, but by dusk of the second day both parties had established assault camps high above the main glaciers. Unfortunately, the Chachacomani rope found their mountain very difficult with numerous icefalls and large crevasses; after two days of cutting a route towards the summit they reluctantly had to descend. The Nevado Chearoco (20,072 feet), although apparently better fortified with ice ramparts, nevertheless did succumb on August 19 to Floodpage, Quicke and myself after an exciting struggle. The lower part of the mountain consisted of steep glaciers and minor icefalls together with enormously deep crevasses but, luckily for us, these normally advertised their whereabouts. However, above the glacial section the mountain steepened considerably and a ridge had to be taken which went most of the way to the summit snowfield, but stopped some 500 feet short; the intervening section consisted of bulging cliffs of pure ice. We spent the rest of the day cutting an exposed route up one of the ice cliffs, a task made even more hazardous by a crevasse at the very foot of the cliff. After traversing around an overhanging corner, the angle of the cliff relented to facilitate an assault the next day. This duly took place and gaining the summit snowfield by means of a fixed rope we had all the three summits of Chearoco in our grasp. In addition to the survey, we also collected geological and botanical specimens.

Ronald F. H. Hunter, Cambridge University, England

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