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South America, Peru, Santa Rosa, Cordillera Raura

Santa Rosa, Cordillera Raura. On August 19 Stuart Turner, Chuck Satterfield and I stood on the summit of Santa Rosa (18,758 feet) after a long climb via the hitherto unapproached east side and north ridge, having made what was probably the fourth ascent. Some two weeks before, we had been in Huancayo, guests of Stan Shepard and a friendly band of Peace Corps Volunteers. Stan told us of the range which was "somewhere northwest of Cerro de Pasco” and promised "good climbing.” This proved to be a classic understatement. We spent three days in Cerro de Pasco digging into the mining company files, the government road bureau and listening to the "rumor fountain” with only the barest of results. We obtained a letter of introduction from the local police captain to the lieutenant in the next town along the way after being challenged in our hotel hallway by six policemen with leveled submachine guns. Not only did this explain that we were not communist guerillas, but also paved the trail all the way to the mountain. The only problem was to find the trail. Our investigations led to the small town of Yanahuanca, 40 miles to the northwest, whose friendly people provided all we could ask for. In the day that followed we gathered information from the police, the local school teachers, their students and the ever present experts of the plaza. Finally we decided to take our gear to Lago Manconcocha, as we were assured that the highest mountain in the area rose right from its shores. The 20-mile hike led upwards through an open valley to an hacienda where we ate a native lunch and changed burros. From there we entered a high walled, rock bound canyon which twisted upwards and eventually opened on the high rolling pampas characteristic of this area. These stretched on and on, and as the day grew late, we wondered where the mountains were and where night would find us. Finally, around a corner, the peak loomed up, silhouetted in the sunset. More by luck than skill, we found the only level, dry spot along the lake shore. The next day, we split up and studied the peak. The north ridge was our choice. A 2000-foot rock buttress lead to the long, narrow, twisting, corniced ridge broken by three small rock steps. An alternate approach, through an icefall, would allow us to gain the ridge proper at the top of the buttress. On the 16th, Chuck and I started for the buttress, leaving Stu to bring the ice and high altitude gear, for a cache. We had intended to fix ropes on the three overhangs of the buttress in order to have a flying start the next day. The rock was brittle, sharply eroded limestone, with generally moderate but very exposed climbing. We found a by-pass to the first overhang and as we looked upward to the second, Chuck and I turned to each other with the same thought: it would go all the way. All we needed was Stu and we could try for the summit that day. As we stood thus musing, Stu appeared below, and we were on our way. The buttress ended at 17,000 feet and the ridge soared upward in long sweeping curves. As we pushed along the ridge, the climbing got more exposed. In places, the knee-deep mush slowed us down, but the snow was generally firm and the rock steps proved to be fourth class, even with overboots and crampons. The only difficulties in this part of the climb were the short ice pitches encountered whilst crossing the ridge to avoid particularly imposing cornices. On the upper 750 feet of the peak, our progress was slowed by crevasse problems. By five p.m. we stood a few hundred feet below the top, but were wrapped in a white-out. Every afternoon, storms enveloped the peak, as the wet season approached. We retreated down the ridge and bivouacked at the top of the rock buttress about ten p.m. The sky cleared and a memorable sojourn under the wind and the stars lasted into the ruddy dawn. From Base Camp the following day, we decided that, having climbed the buttress, we would try to reach the ridge again via the unexplored eastern icefall. After leaving the moraine, the route passed through a maze of snowed-over crevasses and skirted the tracks of almost continuous avalanches. From high camp in a basin at 16,500 feet we climbed a headwall covered with hip-deep snow and rejoined the north ridge just above the buttress. Following our two-day-old tracks, we made good time and stood, again wrapped in storm, beneath the final pyramid by noon. An hour’s wait rewarded us with a slight clearing and we climbed on. This proved to be the crux of the climb with two difficult crevasse problems and a final steep ridge composed of fragile filigree ice. We climbed this as much by faith as technique, only to discover that the summit was an overhanging cornice on three sides. Trusting to our long ropes and double belays, we crawled, one at a time, to the summit. The return to Yanahuanca, through two-and-a-half days of continuous precipitation, proved that we had finished the climb none to soon.

Jonathan Hough