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South America, Bolivia, Ancohuma, Casiri Este and Other Peaks of the Cordillera Real

Ancohuma, Casiri Este and Other Peaks of the Cordillera Real. The University College, Bangor Andean Expedition, which consisted of the late Michael Birchall, leader, Robert Hall, Robert Winfield and me, left Britain on April 28. On May 23 we established Base Camp at just over 15,000 feet in the Coocó valley in the northwestern Cordillera Real encircled by the Viluyo, Hancopiti and Sorata massifs. We reached Base from La Paz by a 12-hour truck ride through the village of Sorata to the Mina Candelaria, some 2000 feet above the village of Coocó, followed by an eight-hour walk in, accomplished with the assistance of 45 llamas. Though relatively accessible, the Coocó valley had been visited by only two previous expeditions, in 1928 and 1964. Our aims were to map the untrodden area known as the Huma Hallanta to the east and to climb as many peaks as possible. We completed survey work by plane tabling coupled with photographs and thus joined the two existing maps. In 12 weeks in the mountains we climbed 21 peaks, 15 first ascents. All were over 18,000 feet and the highest was Ancohuma (21,082 feet). From Camp I three miles south of Base Camp, on May 31 we all climbed Yapuchanani (18,114 feet), the fourth peak south of Viluyo I. The next day we all climbed Makatania ("Easy Peak”; 18,433 feet), just northwest of an 18,300-foot col, which was later the site of Camp II. On June 5 the expedition was joined for three weeks by Wayne Wagner, an American Peace Corps volunteer. The third ascents of Viluyo I (18,500 feet) on June 10 and Viluyo III (18,350 feet) on June 13 were made by Wagner and me. We divided into two groups, one to commence survey work from Camp II and the other to lay siege to Ancohuma. In addition to surveying, Birchall, Winfield and Hall also made first ascents of Collo de Llinqui ("Crevasse Peak”; 18,129 feet) and Corona Ocaja ("Mitre”; 17,885 feet) on June 19; these rise on a ridge which runs east from the main ridge on which the Viluyo peaks lie, a mile east of Camp II. On the 20th the three made the first ascents of Mesquetanta ("Sugarloaf”; 18,463 feet) and Chamacahua ("Obscure Peak”; 18,922 feet), the two peaks immediately north of Casiri Este. Meanwhile Wagner and I had made an attempt on Ancohuma, pushing to 19,500 feet on the northwest ridge, a route which had been climbed once before by the Japanese in 1964, but too low a camp and soft snow stopped us. We camped higher, bivouacked at 20,000 feet and on June 26 completed the climb. The first ascent of Casiri Este (19,510 feet) was made by the southeast face on June 26 by Hall, Winfield and Birchall. However, tragedy struck during the descent when Birchall fell 500 feet to his death in a crevasse at the bottom of the face. Despite his dragging the other two with him, they survived as a result of the last man clearing the crevasse and so being able to arrest the second man suspended half way down the crevasse. It took Hall and Winfield 16 hours to extricate themselves from the site of the accident, and they owe their lives not only to the miracle of Winfield clearing the crevasse but also to the foresight of carrying full bivouac gear on every climb. After the formalities following the accident, we decided to return to the mountains. We were joined for the last month by Mr. and Mrs. Tony Smythe. On July 18 Hall, Smythe and I made the second ascent of Viluyo II (18,390 feet) and on July 21 that of Hancopiti I (19,249 feet). The next day we three traversed from the col west of the latter over Quimsacollo (19,332 feet) to Lloca de Ancohuma (19,873 feet), adjacent to Ancohuma, both first ascents. On July 22 we climbed an 18,200-foot peak a mile north of Hancopiti I, which we called "Buena Vista.” Winfield and Hall then completed the plane table survey, during which on July 28 they made the first ascent of San Pablo (18,634 feet) to the east of Camp II and the 18,300-foot pass. Smythe and I traversed the ridge west of the pass on June 29, making the second ascent of the twin peaks of Taparacu (Butterfly Peak; 18,857 and 18,819 feet) and the first of Haltatahua (c. 18,370 feet). On the 30th we two climbed Monte Triángulo (18,609 feet) between Mesquetanta and Taparacu. On the 31st we two climbed Pico de Línea (c. 18,400 feet), the next peak northeast of San Pablo. All four of us failed to climb Pico del Norte by its south ridge but on August 8 Smythe and I made the first ascent of Cunotahua ("Flake Peak”; 19,622 feet), which lies 2½ miles northeast of Ancohuma. Finally it remains to say that this expedition was on the whole successful despite the loss of Michael Birchall, a fine leader of great potential and a great friend to all of us. He died fulfilling his greatest ambition, and if exploration in the mountains is worthwhile, then it is worth such a sacrifice. (Edited from personal communications and the expedition report.)

David H. Challis, Castle Camps, Cambridge, England