The Munich Andean Expedition
WOLFGANG WEINZIERL, Deutscher Alpenverein Translated by H. ADAMS CARTER
AT LONG LAST! For the first
time we could see the “White Cordillera” running diagonally away into the distance. We felt numb as the icy cold penetrated. We were at 13,500 feet. The Indios long since had wrapped themselves in their warm ponchos. Some of them snoozed, others stared motionless into space, unaware of what they were looking at. It was just this that made us hold our breath and awakened our hopes. At home we had nothing comparable. These were mountains of a kind we can not find in Europe: white faces, white ridges, white summits. There is no name more suitable than the Cordillera Blanca.
Slowly we dropped from the pass. The rattle-trap bus clattered down the Santa valley. Despite the all-night trip from Lima, we were wide awake. How else could we be with the colorful, cheery activity in the towns and with the peaks, which rose higher and higher above their bases? At eleven o’clock the bus halted at the Plaza de Armas in the center of Caraz. This was the town square without which no South American city or village is complete. We had arrived. Señor Ore’s reception was characteristic of the friendly, pure nature of the country. With true sacrifice he set about getting pack animals and an arriero or donkey driver. Thanks to him we were away early next morning into the Santa Cruz valley with five donkeys.
The calm was welcome after all the annoyances and difficulties that lie behind. We thought back with pleasure to the three-weeks’ voyage by Spanish freighter from Genoa to Venezuela. We had fond memories of the next three-weeks’ adventure, the motorcycle trip from Caracas through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Less pleasant were memories of the twenty frustrating days in Lima, waiting while our baggage lay in customs. That was now all in the past. With monotonous steps we trotted along after the donkeys. Cursed gnats, here in untold numbers, called us back to reality.
We had never lived through such a plague. Despite the heat every inch of skin had to remain covered. Not until evening could we to some extent protect ourselves in a smokey smudge fire. In a full day we had climbed to the end of the Santa Cruz valley, where we established Base Camp at 13,500 feet, two hours below the Punta Unión. That same night, after we had paid them, the arrieros started back down.
We found ourselves in the middle of a botanical garden, an exuberant glory of flowers seldom seen in Europe — lupines, rare mosses, patches of primeval forest — and all that at 13,500 feet! The queñual thickets extended all the way to 15,750 feet! Above the deep spicy green of the cochas (lakes) glittered the gleaming white of glaciers and faces. What a sorry contrast Hartmut Schmidt and I made! We could not understand why the altitude affected us so. Or were the gnats to blame for our complete apathy, which hardly let us crawl out of the tent, let alone cook a meal.
Before setting out again, Klaus Schreckenbach, Klaus Süssmilch and Hans Saler told us of their first climbs and adventures; we could only sit back and listen. On the fourth day Hartmut and I decided to go down to be cured in Lima, but during the night we felt better and a spark of hope sprang up. A stroll to Arhueicocha, a tiny lake that lies in a basin below Quitoraju and Alpamayo, convinced us of our complete regeneration. We began to eat, to devour food. That did us good; our spirits soared. Plans were made, torn apart and finally made anew. As we climbed a 16,500-foot bump on Artesonraju’s northeast ridge, we looked across at the east ridge of Alpamayo. Or was it Alpamayo? From this side the peak did not have its characteristic shape. Yet this mile-and-a-quarter ridge that rose in a straight line from col to summit stole our attention. Had it been climbed? When and by whom?* The ridge itself was equally questionable. Would it go? How long would it take? Question after question arose. Only by trying could we find out.
Two days after our recovery, on June 23, Hartmut and I left Base Camp. We felt the remnants of our illness more distinctly under our packs. Equipment and food were minimal, and yet it took us all day to climb the 3500 feet. The day was short; at six o’clock the sun sank into the Pacific behind the Cordillera Negra. Just before sundown we set up a luxury bivouac just south of the col. A small hollow was leveled for foam-rubber sleeping pads, sleeping bags and down jackets.
Overhead was the Southern Cross, beside us a yawning crevasse and above the strongly foreshortened east ridge. Obviously, the adventure had begun. Should we laboriously pack everything along or would we do it without comfort? The latter seemed more attractive. We calculated one day to the summit and another back. That called for a light bivouac; two down jackets, a bivouac sack, an extra 200-foot rope and food fitted into a single rucksack. The rest stayed on the col.
Although our bodies were dead tired, our spirits kept us from early sleep. Thoughts bounced from hopeful or foreboding presentiments back to the day’s experiences. The impression was overpowering. Our first night over 16,000 feet was delightful.
On the morning of the 24th we could hardly hold ourselves back. We did not feel the icy morning chill as we quickly finished the preparation rituals. The sun warmed the ice and rock of the north face, where we climbed the first rope-lengths. With a 200-foot rope we made great progress. At times a 300-foot one would have been better. Suddenly Hartmut shouted, “Hey! Here’s an old rope!” Someone had tried it. Would we be the first to make it? Here and there the rope stuck out of the ice, but we could seldom make use of it. We felt doubts about the ridge and always tended towards the north face. Behind lay continuous but not too difficult ridge sections. We got our first experience with the dry ice of the Andes. By evening we had climbed about half of the length of the ridge, but we had to get back to the crest. Just before dark, Hartmut worked calmly and collectedly up a very steep ice slope onto the ridge top. As he shouted for me to follow, night took over, but I knew that the rope led to a secure spot. Hartmut had found the ideal bivouac in the upper lip of a snow-filled crevasse amid oversized ice sculptures. Our appetites were tiny, and well they should be; we had next to no food. After dividing a little chocolate, we feasted on the glorious view of the northern Cordillera Blanca from the Amazon to the Pacific.
The bivouac was less pleasant than the one on the col. We felt the cold that crept into our bones towards two o’clock. Bivouac sack and down jackets were not enough and we were happy when the first warm rays struck us. The sun, that giver of life, rose over Pucahirca. Pulling on boots, strapping on crampons, tying onto the stiff rope, all in powdery snow — these are hardly friendly memories. Only after a couple of rope-lengths did the body become warm. There would be no breakfast, lunch or supper; a couple of hard candies mixed with snow would have to do. The body has reserves and we used them. Since the preceding afternoon we had found no signs of previous attempts. The double-corniced ridge became more difficult. We looked up at the huge cornices that extended out over nothingness. If we could not bypass them on the side, we would not reach the summit that day either, if at all. By afternoon it was obvious that we should have to continue along the top of these double cornices. After hours of doubtful work, as we contemplated turning back, the fear of returning over these difficulties drove us forward. After surmounting the hardest pitches with ice screws and stirrups, we now had the feeling that only darkness could halt us. We smoothed a spot for our third bivouac at 18,700 feet, only 800 feet from the summit.
Hartmut worked his toes all night. I could not allow myself a single minute of sleep. Thus we enjoyed the whole of the long tropical night. Finally it ended, but we waited for the sun.
Two days without eating and drinking took their toll. The last rope-lengths were slow despite the comparatively smaller difficulties. Even if we had known that our companions were watching us with field glasses, we could not have gone faster. A 300-foot ice wall showed us its worst side and demanded a finely-honed ice technique. At one o’clock on June 26 Hartmut and I shook hands on the summit, but there was no jubilation yet; the struggle would go on.
We decided to descend the south ridge. The only possibility was to rappel over the cornice. That went well twice. Then the rope stuck. It took hours and all our strength to prusik and to climb back to the rope anchor. A daring descent seemed the only way out.
A frightfully steep couloir plunged directly down the south face to the glacier. The descent went like a picture book in one 200-foot rappel after another. We always found a rock prong for an anchor. It was night before we reached the glacier. A three-hour nocturnal road of pain brought us to the col, where beside our warm sleeping bags lay, most important of all, food.
The enchantment disappeared. We felt dog-tired. It became clear that our feet were frost-nipped. “It won’t be so bad,” we decided and slept long into the next sunny morning. A last summoning of strength brought us down the glacier to the moraine, where our friends met us with hot tea. On the one hand they were glad we were back, but there were reproaches, especially about our physical condition and about the risky descent. Alpine-style climbing here is a debatable method.
There are those who have brought expedition mountaineering to the Alps. But one can on the other hand try to heighten adventure and introduce alpine-style climbing to the larger mountains of the world. What a problem it will be for an expedition leader, who does have the responsibility, when this “new” style brings about casualties. I for one hope that this adventuresome bivouac-mountaineering becomes a reality and does not fall victim to perfectionist organizers.
Summary of the Expedition
While Hartmut and I lay weak at Base Camp the first five days, Klaus Schreckenbach, Süssmilch and Saler made two climbs. On June 17 they made the second ascent of P 5390 (17,684 feet; called “Gentile” or “Sentilo”; first climbed by Huber, Koch, Schmidt, 1955) by a new route, the west side. This peak lies two miles northeast of Artesonraju. The next day they made the first ascent of Arhueikaka (c. 5400 meters or 17,717 feet) west of the Quebrada Arhueicocha on a southerly outlying ridge from Quitoraju. They then attacked their first big objective, Artesonraju (19,766 feet) by its south face. A first attempt failed. Then on June 22, as we headed for Alpamayo, they started up the steep south face, which they climbed in three days with two bivouacs. The leader’s brother, Bernd Schreckenbach, joined us at Base Camp on June 28. All six of us then headed for Quitoraju’s impressive south ridge. For five days we struggled on the peak against ice and cornice. We bivouacked twice in snow caves and finally on July 6 stood on the 19,850-foot summit. We made another bivouac in the snow on the descent. This we made via the northwest ridge and over a pass west of the peak back to the Quebrada Santa Cruz before staggering back to Base Camp on the fifth day. On July 11, the Schreckenbach brothers climbed P 5450, a lovely 17,880-foot peak, east of the Quebrada Arhueicocha on the ridge that descends south from the Pucahirca group.
In two parties, one on motorcycles and the other by local transport — bus, truck and train — we headed for La Paz. The motorcycles proved the slower, giving Bernd Schreckenbach, Helmut Schmidt and me an extra week, which we used for a quick trip into the Cordillera Vilcanota. On the evening of July 27 our tent stood below Kakakiri. We carried everything ourselves. The next day we left for five days to climb the northeast ridge of Ausangate (20,788 feet). Schreckenbach had to turn back because of a cold. In three and a half days of glorious weather we climbed the ridge, reaching the summit on July 31. Rotten ice, dangerous bivouacs on or in cornices and friable rock towers made this a serious undertaking. We descended the south face and returned to Base via the col between Ausangate and Kakakiri.
Our motorcycling friends rejoined us in La Paz on August 9. We hoped to enter the Cordillera Apolobamba and to traverse from Chaupi Orco to Chaupi Orco Norte. With minimum equipment, we took the weekly truck for Pelechuco. A day later our tent stood above Lago Soral. After a day’s reconnaissance, on August 19, we started up the northeast ridge, where we created a kind of rock fortress for the night. Schmidt had to turn back because of his physical condition. The next day we climbed until two o’clock when a heavy fog forced us to bivouac in a crevasse. On the 21st we reached the top of Chaupi Orco (18,830 feet) before continuing north along the north ridge over three unclimbed 19,000-foot summits to Chaupi Orco Norte (19,685 feet). We bivouacked once more on the descent. On August 25 Klaus Schreckenbach soloed two unclimbed peaks on the ridge between Chaupi Orco and Soral Oeste, both about 18,200 feet. These were the second and third peaks on the ridge northwest of Soral Oeste.
Summary of Statistics:
AREAS: Cordilleras Blanca and Vilcanota; Peru; Cordillera Apolobamba, Bolivia.
ASCENTS: Cordillera Blanca:
P 5390 (“Gentile” or “Sentilo”), 17,684 feet, new route: west side, June 17, 1969 (K. Schreckenbach, Süssmilch, Saler).
Arhueikaka, c. 17,717 feet, first ascent, June 18, 1969 (K.
Schreckenbach, Süssmilch, Saler).
Artesonraju, 19,766 feet, new route: south face, descent via north ridge, June 24, 1969 (K. Schreckenbach, Saler, Süssmilch). Alpamayo, 19,510 feet, new route: east ridge, descent via south face, June 26, 1969 (Schmidt, Weinzierl).
Quitoraju, 19,850 feet, new route: south ridge, July 6, 1969 (whole party).
P 5450, 17,880 feet, first ascent, July 11, 1969 (K. and B. Schreckenbach).
Ausangate, 20,788 feet, new route: northeast ridge, July 31, 1969 (Weinzierl, Schmidt).
Chaupi Orco, 19,830 feet, by northeast ridge; P 5850, 19,193 feet; P 5900, 19,357 feet; P 5950, 19,521 feet, the last three first ascents; Chaupi Orco Norte, 19,685 feet, August 21, 1969 (K. and B. Schreckenbach, Weinzierl, Saler, Süssmilch).
P 5500, 18,045 feet; and P 5600, 18,373 feet, first ascents, August 25, 1969 (K. Schreckenbach).
PERSONNEL: Klaus Schreckenbach, leader; Bernd Schreckenbach, Hans Saler, Klaus Süssmilch, Hartmut Schmidt, Wolfgang Weinzierl.
*It was attempted by New Zealanders Harold Jacobs and Ed Cotter in 1964. After Jacobs broke his leg on the descent from a reconnaissance, that attempt turned into a difficult rescue operation. (A.A.J., 1965, 12:2, p. 453.) The ridge was again attempted in 1968 by a Canadian-New Zealand-British group led by John Ricker. Plagued by two weeks of bad weather and bad conditions, they gave up their attempt after climbing the bottom third of the ridge. – Editor.