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Ancohuma's South-Southeast Ridge

Ancohuma's South-Southeast Ridge

David Isles

Jorge Urioste is a persuasive man, and very enthusiastic about mountaineering possibilities in his native Bolivia. While climbing in New Hampshire, he would describe to us the fine weather of the Cordillera Real, new routes on easily accessible peaks and the help we could expect from his numerous friends in La Paz. These arguments, plus the more intangible feeling that Bolivia was more "remote,” less "climbed-in,” finally persuaded Paul Doyle, Jim Strum and me to go to that country rather than Peru. We were lucky to be able to add to our party four more members: Earle Whipple, also from Boston, and Barry Hagen, Esther and Martin Kafer, from British Columbia.

It was complicated to decide on a goal with such contradictory testimony on what had, or had not, been climbed. On arrival in Bolivia, we found that the recording of ascents has been a chance affair until quite recently. From Jorge’s photographs and advice we more or less narrowed our considerations to the neighboring peaks of Ancohuma (21,082 feet) and Illampu (20,873 feet), some 75 miles north of La Paz.

On Thursday, June 13, the whole group got together in La Paz. Also for the first time we met our Bolivian contingent: Gustavo Iturralde and Rodolfo Gutiérrez, teachers at the Colegio San Calixto, and two of their students, Federico Aliaga ("Fuqui”) and José Villarreal ("Pepe”). Thanks to these men and the assistance of Ian Maar, a local climber, preparations for the trip went like clockwork. Our most urgent need, a truck, was supplied at a cut rate by Señor Bocangel, the owner of the mine at the end of the road we were to travel.

Purchasing was completed by Saturday and on the 16th we left La Paz to drive north over the altiplano. After six hours of dust, washboard and magnificent views of the Cordillera Real, we reached the northern edge of the high plain; in two hours we zigzaged down from a barren 12,000 feet to the sub-tropical town of Sorata at 8000 feet. Off again before dawn, the truck climbed around the northern end of Illampu over a 15,000-foot pass, dropped and ascended again to the end of the road at the Mina Candelaria. On these impressive roads we jockeyed for positions at the inboard side of the open truck and the chance of a jump if the truck went over the edge. After sorting out gear, most of the party set off up the Coocó valley toward the eastern flanks of Illampu and Ancohuma. The next day Gutiérrez and I followed with eight Indian mine workers, who had volunteered to porter. Though mostly boys of about 14, they all went four times as fast as I could. After a very tiring day, we reached Valley Camp at 14,000 feet, just across from the terminal moraine of the Illampu Glacier. The rest of our supplies arrived the next day by llama train. By June 21 we were set up in Moraine Camp at feet.

We had to decide on Illampu, Ancohuma, or both. On the 21st parties went to look at the two. A swift and convenient approach could be made over the glacier to the base of Ancohuma, which we might try by a new route, the south-southeast ridge. Illampu was a much more serious proposition. From this side the only possible way to reach the summit would be to get to a notch at the end of the mountain’s south ridge, scale a 350-foot rock step and then work up along the heavily corniced ridge. We decided against this fine route as time was short.

All of us now aided in carrying food, fuel, tents and equipment to the high glacier camp at 17,500 feet on the nearly flat glacier beneath the east wall of Ancohuma. Rock and ice would clatter down the huge couloirs from the hanging glacier above. To the east the ice seemed to merge with the cloud cover over the jungle.

On June 24, Barry Hagen and Esther Kafer climbed two smaller peaks, Lloca de Ancohuma and Quimsacolla to look at our proposed route. These lie southeast of Ancohuma along the ridge. It seemed steep and straightforward except where intervening ice cliffs hid the view. Martin Kafer and Iturralde prepared the way to the saddle between Ancohuma and Lloca de Ancohuma. On the 26th we dug a snow cave there at feet. The Kafers, Iturralde, Hagen and I spent that night in the cave in a space that was only big enough for three and so were anxious to get moving as soon as the sky lightened. The fine weather of the past few weeks continued good although with a slight wind and high clouds. The climb up the ridge was fairly anticlimactic; for the most part we walked together over steep but reasonably solid corn snow. There was hardly an occasion to cut a step. At 2:30 on June 27 we arrived at the huge, flat summit, broke out cameras and flags (American, Bolivian and Canadian), and enjoyed the view. Seen at close range, the proposed route on Illampu looked hard; we felt that we had made the right decision not to try it. In the west the blue of Lake Titicaca contrasted startlingly with the bleak altiplano. Sajama, Bolivia’s highest peak, shimmered on the southwest horizon over 100 miles away. We could look along the axis of the Cordillera Real as far as Huayna Potosí. Iturralde was particularly happy, since this was the first Bolivian ascent of Ancohuma. A tiring and somewhat hazardous descent brought us back to Glacier Camp shortly before sunset. That night all eleven of us gathered in our Co-op Cascade tent for an orgy of cocoa and canned peaches. Under the crowded conditions someone would periodically disappear under the other bodies but a frantically waving hand always allowed us to locate and rescue the victim. Two days later, Doyle, Strum and Gutiérrez repeated the climb in even better weather and brought down the rest of the gear from the snow cave.

On June 30 we pulled back to Moraine Camp where Whipple was still suffering from a severe cough. We were glad to see the Indians and llamas appear to help us break camp and move out. A long day’s walk on July 1 brought us to the Indian village of Coocoyo below the Mina Candelabria. The truck was late. We spent most of the next day looking around, taking pictures and bargaining with the Indians for flutes and slings, while Barry Hagen, our expedition doctor, did what he could for the sick. The mine seemed incredible: narrow passages, all the ore hauled out by hand, most of the miners boys about 14, at a pay of 80 cents per day! In spite of this, many Indians want these jobs, for bad as it it, a mining job is preferable to farming stones.

By the time the truck came on July 3, we had run out of food. It was a ravenous crew that arrived that night at the last restaurant open in Sorata. Summary of Statistics.

Area: Cordillera Real, Bolivia.

Ascents: Ancohuma, 21,082 feet, by a new route, the South-Southeast Ridge, June 27, 1968 (Hagen, Isles, Iturralde, both Kafers) and June 29, 1968 (Doyle, Gutiérrez, Strum).

Lloca de Ancohuma, 19,873 feet, and Quimsacolla, 19,324 feet, both second ascents, June 24, 1968 (Hagen, Esther Kafer).

Chuyma Chiara, c. 18,300 feet, first ascent, June 27 (Doyle, Strum, Aliaga, Villarreal). (This peak lies a mile east of Pico DYM.)

Pico DYM (Dios y Montaña), c. 19,000 feet, first ascent, June 28, 1968 (Hagen, Aliaga, Villarreal). (This peak lies on the ridge southeast of Quimsacolla.)

Personnel: Rodolfo Gutiérrez, Gustavo Iturralde, Federico Aliaga, José Villarreal, Bolivians; Barry Hagen, Esther and Martin Kafer, Canadians; Paul Doyle, David Isles, James Strum, Earle Whipple, Americans.