American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru, Rondoy, Cordillera Huayhuash

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1964

Rondoy, Cordillera Huayhuash. Tragedy struck the London School of Economics Expedition during the descent of six of its members from the first ascent of Rondoy (19,303 feet) when Peter C. Bebbington, leader, and Graham Sadler fell to their deaths. This extremely difficult peak had been attempted by an Italian expedition in 1961. Walter Bonatti and Andrea Oggioni had reached the north summit but declined to follow the ridge to the main peak. (A.A.J., 1962, 13:1, pp. 258-9.) The British group was plagued by bad weather. On their first attempt, Bebbington, Sadler, and the New Zealanders Victor M. Walsh and Peter Farrell from near Mitukocha (lake) climbed through an icefall to 16,500 feet, where they pitched Camp I, but further progress was barred by a storm. On the next attempt these four climbed a snow and ice slope above Camp I. Farrell describes the climb in the Peruvian Times of August 23. "The 2000-foot face gave us little trouble, but we struck very severe climbing while trying to gain the ridge just below the North peak. Our climbing aids, pitons and nylon slings, got us over a lot of difficulty on the vertical, sometimes overhanging ice. Just as the sun was about to desert us, Walsh, who was leading at the time, found us accommodation for the night. This was an ice cave, below the North summit, at about 18,500 feet. The following day called for more technical climbing. The last 100 feet to the North summit was made up of more near-vertical ice — to make things worse, it was rotten and crumbling in parts. From the North summit, we were aghast to find the high peak so distant, more than half a mile away, along a dangerously narrow corniced ridge. By late afternoon we had negotiated little more than half of this difficult stretch.” They descended to Base Camp and returned for a third attempt, strengthened by Charles Powell, David Condict and David Wall; Peter Westnidge remained at Base Camp, incapacitated by a sprained ankle sustained when he and Powell had attempted Ninashanka. Farrell further relates: "At 7 a.m. on August 6, three ropes of two departed Camp II. Bad weather set in right from the start, but we were well equipped and carried plenty of food… David Wall remained in the ice cave, three men on one rope would be too much of a handicap in this difficult country… The ridge traverse between the North and the high peak commanded all of our concentration. Both the snow cornices and the rotten rock made us tread our way carefully. Vic Walsh and I reached a big step in the ridge. It dropped down onto quite a broad snow saddle. The cloud cleared for a moment and we could see Rondoy’s summit. Once down off the 100-foot step, across the broad snow shelf, a steep 100-foot climb would then take us to the summit. We carried a rappel line of 150 feet. Throwing it down over the step, Vic and I roped down. Crossing the shelf was the only easy section on the ridge. It was late afternoon. The weather had deteriorated and steady snowfall had set in. Now and then the cloud did clear and the other two ropes were shown to us. They were making good progress not far behind. A narrow gully, filled with powdery snow and terminating in rotten ice led us to the summit. I remember Vic letting out a victorious yell when he climbed onto the ice cap. It was approximately 5:30 p.m., too late for the others to make the summit that day. Vic and I found ourselves a small crevasse, 20 feet below the summit. We enlarged it and crawled inside. The other four spent the night in a more exposed position. They managed to cut out a platform in the steep snow slope and anchor themselves to the rock with pitons and nylon slings. We were glad to be on the move again next day. Walsh and I began our descent while our friends climbed the remaining 30 feet to top Rondoy. If anything, the weather was worse — not so much snowing, but the cloud was thicker. Once down the gully, we made good time along the snow shelf. The big 100-foot step was immediately ahead of us. (It was here the accident later occurred.) Vic gave me a good belay and I proceeded to traverse across steep loose rock, which was covered with fresh snow. The approximate length of the traverse was 12 yards. I caught the rappel line and pulled myself to the top of this rock sentinel. Vic followed and we continued along the ridge. At this time, Walsh and I last saw Bebbington and Sadler, before their deaths. They were approaching the fixed rope section.” The pair apparently fell as the clouds enveloped them. Powell and Condict saw them just starting up this section when the clouds closed them in. Their bodies were found at the foot of the 3500-foot face some days later.

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