American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru, Attempt on Yerupajá, Cordillera Huayhuash

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1964

Attempt on Yerupajá, Cordillera Huayhuash. Geoffrey S. Wood, Christopher J. Smith and I established Base Camp at 16,400 feet on the glacier, hoping to attack Jirishanca Norte from the west. Prior to this we had had a few very windy days with some snow, but the weather stayed superbly fine for a month afterwards. It took us a long time, about two weeks, to reach Base Camp from Soltero Kocha partly because we carried our own loads without porters and partly because of reconnaissance and difficulty of finding a suitable route. On June 28 we pitched Camp II at "Ghost Col” (17,635 feet) at the foot of the northwest wall of Yerupajá Chico. Getting there up the icefall with supplies was not entirely easy, as is known by previous Peruvian groups which tried to reach the airplane that crashed from the west into the wall just south of Jirishanca. Camp II put us into a good climbing position. We first walked down (north) to inspect the flutings on the northwest side of Jirishanca Norte. Not only were they as steep and long as we had expected, but they were also everywhere overhung by cornices. Moreover much rock showed in the lower and middle parts. It was vertical with few or no piton cracks, or slanted with a cover of verglas. Though equipped with expansion bolts, we decided against trying to force a route here on account of the danger of falling ice. (Later we observed avalanches here.) After our disappointing discovery, we sought other routes, but there are few if any safe ones from the west. We finally decided to approach the main peak of Jirishanca from the west- southwest. This would involve climbing the fluted wall near the crashed plane before ascending the high angle rock of Jirishanca, clearly a very difficult enterprise. In two days we worked our way up one-third of the fluted wall, establishing a fixed-rope route. The average angle of the ice was 60°, though in places it was vertical and required artificial aid. The highest point reached here, on June 30, was a big crevasse suitable for a camp at about 18,000 feet. However when we started to move up supplies, a small ice and snow avalanche nearly swept the lead man off. He was hit hard, but thanks to fixed rope, helmet and rucksack, avoided serious injury. Convinced that the route was unsafe, we rappelled off.

Though time was short, we turned to Yerupajá (21,759 feet). On the evening of July 3 we were bivouacked on the Yerupajá Glacier, equipped with food for eight days, a minimum of climbing gear, no tents, no fixed ropes. We had decided to try the northwest flank, on the edge between the big western snow and ice face and the nearly vertical triangular northern rock face. A sharp snow ridge leads into the face at about a third of the way from the glacier to the summit. Then 45°+ ice leads for over 1000 feet to gentler but irregular areas of broken ice and snow. About two-thirds of the way up, a large bergschrund cuts horizontally across the whole west face. Above are flutings, some overhung by gigantic cornices. We hoped to climb between two of these to gain the northern part of the summit ridge. Actually, the climb was harder and longer than we expected. The snow ridge alone took an extra day. We built two snow caves in it. During the night in the first one, we were shaken by an earthquake, which caused avalanches all over Yerupajá. After the snow ridge, we climbed at least 1000 feet of hard water-ice, exposed to falling debris, but without incident. Our highest camp, in an enormous cave under hanging ice, was at about 19,500 feet. On July 9 we reached our highest point at about 20,500 feet in the big schrund under the flutings. Out of both time and supplies, we were committed to return. It was clear that we could not have reached the summit without an additional camp or bivouac in the schrund. We were higher than all surrounding peaks, including Jirishanca. Before setting foot again on the Yerupajá Glacier on July 11, we observed an enormous avalanche which swept the south side of Yerupajá’s western face and covered all of the big glacier below with ice blocks up to 6½ feet high. Future expeditions must beware of the inviting big, flat glacier west of the peak. Wood and I reconnoitered the area north of Pico México and ascended the rock ridge (16,400 feet) north of Rondoy on July 16. We saw two lakes not on Kinzl’s Huayhuash map and were practically forced to retreat by seven hostile condors.

Leif Norman Patterson, Harvard Mountaineering Club

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