South America, Peru, Other Ranges, Cordillera Barroso and Salcantay, Cordillera Vilcabamba

Publication Year: 1969.

Cordillera Barroso and Salcantay, Cordillera Vilcabamba. The Fritz Kasparek Memorial Expedition consisted of Raimund Heinzel, leader, Franz Hawelka, Bruno Klausbruckner and me. Its main objective was a mountain-climbing and cartographic exploration of the Cordillera Barroso in southern Peru near the Chilean frontier. The second objective was the fifth ascent of Salcantay, where Fritz Kasparek and Toni Matzenauer were killed in 1954, preferably by a new route. We left Vienna on March 16 and returned on September 9, spending five weeks in the Cordillera Barroso and three weeks climbing Salcantay. After long delays in Lima to clear our gear through customs, we finally on April 30 drove by rented truck to Talabaya, the last Indian settlement at the foot of the Cordillera Barroso. At noon on the second day of our trek from there the arrieros staged a strike at 15,400 feet and so we were forced to make our Base Camp at that dusty spot. The Cordillera Barroso is a volcanic range, yellowish-red in color, which runs north and south on the Peruvian-Chilean border. (Unfortunately the Tacora group, highest in the range, lay in Chile and thus beyond our reach.) We found no definite craters. There were many sulphur deposits; the water in the infrequent streams was mostly sulphurous and therefore unappetizing. The northern slopes are snow-covered from 16,400 feet and snow line is lower on the southern slopes, often with penitentes. There were remnants of glaciers in the northern part of the range. The main range is broken into northern and southern chains by deep Paucarani Pass, to the west of which lay Base Camp. The southern chain begins with Churivico (17,924 feet), a nearly snowless rock block. The highest summits lie here, including Nevado Barroso (18,835 feet), the highest peak in the Peruvian part, which gives the Cordillera its name. From Achacollo (18,701 feet) a ridge branches off to the east which then runs to the south parallel to the main chain; the highest peak on this is Ancochaullane (18,176 feet); here lie also Chañaconcurane (17,989 feet) and Huancune (17,949 feet); the ridge ends at the deeply cut Paso del Viento. Beyond, in Chile, lies the Tacora group. The northern chain is dominated by Coruna (18,678 feet), a wild rock horn. Farther north it forks with the northwest branch ending in Chontacollo (17,920 feet) and the northeast branch having its highest point in Casiri ( 18,439 feet). Blue Casiri Lake lies to the north. Hawelka had to be evacuated to Tacna for a week because of a pinched nerve in his neck but returned to full activity. For a month we climbed in the region. All notable summits were climbed, some 66 in all, and 21 twice. On three peaks we found cairns, indicating a previous ascent.1 The large number of ascents indicates the nature of the climbs: with few exceptions, all peaks were easy. Klausbruckner made a survey with theodolite and compass. The peaks named on the Peruvian maps were ascended on the following dates: Barroso and Achacollo on May 19 by Axt, Heinzel, Saxinger and on May 20 by Hawelka, Klausbruckner; Churivico on May 19 by Hawelka, Klausbruckner; Chontocollo on May 14 by Axt, Saxinger and on May 25 by Hawelka, Klausbruckner; Coruna on May 4 by Axt, Klausbruckner and May 29 by Hawelka, Klausbruckner; Chañaconcurane on May 23 by Axt, Heinzel, Saxinger; Ancochaullane and Huancune on May 24 by Axt.

We set out for Salcantay from Limatambo on June 19. Our endless march lasted for two days over lonely, grassy high valleys. We crossed three passes, the highest and steepest being 15,000-foot Palcay Pass. On July 22, we established Base Camp at 14,750 feet below the northeast ridge in dense fog which rose above the Amazon basin. The first ascent of Salcantay had been made by the northwest spur. Kasparek had been lost on an attempt on the northeast ridge, which was later climbed by the Japanese. We wanted a new route, the 4250-foot-high north face.2 On the morning of June 27, with heavy packs Hawelka, Klausbruckner, Saxinger and I started up the cliffs of the lower northeast ridge. We reached the spot where we could traverse on a snow terrace into the broken north face. We got into the central zone of séracs of the face, where we worked out a dangerous way under the burning sun. We had to move simultaneously on the extremely steep ice to keep from using too much time, a nerve-wracking procedure. At sundown we bivouacked under overhanging ice at 17,500 feet. On the morning of June 28 we climbed through several threatening zones and passed a last obstacle, a giant transverse crevasse, before the way stood open to the foresummit. We bivouacked some 200 feet below this at 19,650 feet, spending much of the night melting snow to quench our thirst. We got to the foresummit at 9:30 on June 29, still a long way from the main summit (19,951 feet), which we reached at 11:30. There was room on top for only one at a time. We returned to the lower bivouac site just by dark and to Base Camp the next day. The pack train did not arrive on schedule. Then the worst snowstorm in memory fell from July 5 to 7. We had to carry equipment in hip-deep snow over the Palcay Pass ourselves since the pass would have been impassible for animals for several weeks. This took us five days. Meanwhile I hurried ahead to look for mules and bumped into a huge "rescue" expedition, which had been organized to look for us. Finally on July 13 the whole expedition got back to Cuzco. (This account unfortunately had to be much shortened.—Editor.)

wolfgang Axt, Österreichischer Alpenverein

1Some of these peaks may have been climbed before by American and Peruvian surveyors (particularly Fritz du Bois, César Díaz, Norman Fassett and Tom MacShane) of a joint party sent by the Interamerican Geodetic Survey before 1955. Although this party mentioned only Ticano (17,200 feet), Sorpresani ( 17,085 feet) and Pisacane (17,450 feet), it is understood that other mountain tops were used as signal and survey stations. (See National Geographic Magazine, CIX, 3, March 1956, pages 335-362.)—Evelio Echevarría.

2Since the French-Dutch-Swiss party of 1956, Lionel Terray, de Booy and Jenny, made the second ascent of the peak by the north face, the Editor requested more information. Herr Axt has kindly supplied the following. "We believe that the Terray party traversed in the upper part of the northern cliffs and did not continue to climb straight up. Terray used a rib in the upper portion to the right of our route. We continued up the direct fall-line to the eastern summit, where we encountered very great technical difficulties on the ice. Ours could be called the 'direct north face of the east peak’.”