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South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Pucahirca Oeste, Tayapampa, Alpamayo, Cordillera Blanca

Pucahirca Oeste, Tayapampa, Alpamayo, Cordillera Blanca. We arrived in the Quebrada Tayapampa towards the end of May, setting up Base Camp in the disused campamento on the shore of Pucacocha at 14,750 feet. Jim Jolly, our leader, who was suffering from bronchitis, was delayed in Huaraz, and our medical officer, John Stanton, stayed behind with him for about a week. The rest of us, John Glasgow, Peter Gough, David White, Alex Buchanan and I, began the acclimatization and scientific programmes and before long directed our efforts to reconnoitring a route on the 6000-meter virgin, Pucahirca Oeste. John Stanton returned on about May 28 but worked for a few days with the Lake-Control people at Jatuna, an hour’s walk away. At the time of the earthquake on May 31, he was walking back up to Base Camp and survived uninjured on a bog, though rockfalls came very close to him. We five had descended from the slopes of Pucahirca Oeste on May 30 for a rest and were at Base Camp when the awesome quake occurred. Although there were huge avalanches of rock, ice and snow all around us, the camp suffered only very slight damage. We spent quite a lot of time taking people over the col at the foot of the east ridge of Alpamayo, but it was long before we learned the full story of what had happened in the Callejón de Huaylas and elsewhere; in fact, not until we crossed the pass again to look for Jim Jolly and found him coming up the Santa Cruz valley with an American now resident in Chile, Steve Milard. Jolly was in the Hotel Ancash in Huaraz when the earthquake occurred and was very lucky to survive. He spent several days in relief work, including some time in the Llanganuco near the Czechs’ ill-fated campsite. We did not learn until much later that Pip Buchanan, the wife of an expedition member, and her friend Jeni Williman, had also miraculously escaped in the canyon of the Quebrada Santa Cruz. (See article on the earthquake.) Despite the earthquake and more bad weather than expected, we climbed five peaks and narrowly missed climbing a sixth. All were by new routes and three were traversed. The ascents follow. (New routes are marked by an asterisk.) Jancarurish (18,537 feet) on June 6 by Wilson, Stanton via north ridge; on June 12 by Gough, Glasgow via south ridge* and descent by north ridge; Tayapampa (18,620 feet) on June 13 by Wilson, Stanton via east ridge* and descent by south ridge; Pucahirca Oeste (c. 19,685 feet; first ascent) on July 16 by White, Gough, Glasgow, Wilson, Stanton via west buttress*; Pucarashta (c. 18,200 feet) on July 4 by Buchanan, Wilson, Milard via northeast glacier and snow face*; Alpamayo (19,510 feet) on July 6 by Jolly, Stanton, via north face* and descent by north ridge. Jolly and Wilson also attempted the unnamed virgin peak between Pucahirca and Pucarashta but were turned back 100 feet from the top owing to lack of time. The dates given are when the summit was reached. We used alpine-type methods, as in New Zealand; that is to say we used almost no fixed rope and made natural bivouacs such as schrunds rather than carrying tents. We spent a cold night on Tayapampa 200 feet below the top. On Alpamayo we had three such bivouac sites. On Pucahirca Oeste we finally slept in a natural ice-cave at 18,300 feet on very spectacular flutings. The earthquake affected the mountains considerably. Pucahirca Oeste lost its summit cone. The continual aftershocks sometimes made us wonder if further difficult climbing was justified. We made studies of the geology, botany and insect fauna of the region.

Hugh Wilson, New Zealand Alpine Club