American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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The Vilcamba and Salcantay

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1974

The Vilcabamba and Salcantay

Ian Harverson‡, Australian Andean Expedition, 1973, and Michael

G. Andrews, New Zealand Apline Club

The Pumasillo Group

THE Australian Andean Expedition 1973 entered the Pumasillo basin on June 1 via Cuzco and Santa Teresa, where twelve mules were hired for the four-day trip to Base Camp via Yanama. Our first objective was the west ridge of Pumasillo (19,915 feet), which we attempted using siege tactics. The highest point reached was just thirty feet below the summit; snow conditions rendered the final push too dangerous. Three camps had been established during the fourteen-day assault, the highest being at 19,300 feet.

Reverting in the next fortnight to more accustomed alpine methods, we climbed Jaiko, Redondo, Choquetacarpo, Pucapuca, Paccha and an unnamed 17,000-foot snow peak between the latter two. Jennings and Barton then made the third ascent of Mitra via steep, sustained climbing on the north face. Two days later, on Friday July 13, this climb was repeated by Johns and me, rashly ignoring the superstitious implications of that date. On July 25, Jennings and Barton retreated from the broken, unclimbed south ridge of Torayoc (c. 18,000 feet) because of bad weather and a lack of food. Meanwhile Johns and I had moved into an adjacent valley to attempt Lasunayoc. Five hundred feet above our highest camp at 18,900 feet, we abandoned our attempt on the northeast ridge because of rotten ice and dangerous cornices. However, on July 27, after seven days on the mountain, we completed the sixth ascent of the peak via a direct route on the east face.


Salcantay—the Southeast Ridge

In August, with two of the Australians, Peter Jennings and Wayne Barton, I spent twenty days in the Salcantay area. Salcantay is a truly magnificent and complex peak and our first problem was how to approach the mountain. After a reconnaissance to the col between it and Soray (Humantay), we decided on the eastern side and took our mules and supplies to a good Base Camp at 16,000 feet alongside the large glacier which flows past the south ridge. From here another two days were required to cross two ridges and a deep valley and place our first camp on the mountain below a prominent ice bulge on the southeast spur.

Our route, for the most part a new one, was up flutings and a steep ice pitch above this camp to gain the bulge and subsidiary face merging into the east ridge at 18,000 feet. Bad weather struck here and we spent two days in a comfortable campsite to which we retreated 500 feet lower down the mountain. On August 21 we reached the hard ice section of the east ridge for the second time. We traversed for six rope-lengths on 55° to 60° ice. Above, easy slopes led to a level campsite just below the low peak at 19,900 feet, our highest camp. We reached the middle peak on the 22nd in poor visibility, but an “unfortunate” clearing revealed the northern summit some distance further on. We judged it to be at least thirty feet higher.

It was a hard struggle merely to regain the middle peak the next day in high winds and on low food rations, but our spirits revived on the downhill section. We left a fixed rope at the 100-foot vertical pitch of soft, south-facing snow, halfway along the ridge, and we encountered no more problems beyond in making the ninth ascent of the high peak. There remained only the weary plod through the soft snow back to our high camp.


Summary of Statistics:

Area: Cordillera Vilcabamba, Peru.

Ascents: Kaiko, 17,061 feet, 7th ascent, June 30, 1973 (Harverson, Johns, Hewlett).

Redondo, 17,061 feet, 5th ascent, June 30 (Harverson, Johns, Hewlett); 6th ascent July 3 (Jennings, Barton).

Choquetacarpo, 18,111 feet, 3rd ascent, July 2 (Harverson, Johns, Hewlett); 4th ascent, July 7 (Jennings, Barton).

Pucapuca, 17,881* feet, 3rd ascent, July 7 (Harverson, Johns, Hewlett).

Paccha, 17,093* feet, 3rd ascent, July 8 (Hewlett, Johns).

Unnamed snow peak between Pucapuca and Paccha, c. 17,000 feet, July 8 (Harverson, Hewlett, Johns).

Mitra, 18,635 feet, 3rd ascent, July 11 (Jennings, Barton); 4th ascent July 13 (Harverson, Johns).

Lasunayoc, 19,910* feet, 6th ascent, July 27 (Johns, Harverson). Salcantay, 20,574 feet, new route: the southeast ridge, 9th ascent, August 23 (Jennings, Barton, Andrews).

Personnel: Peter Jennings, Wayne Barton, Ian Harverson, Murray Johns, Robert Hewlett, Australians; (on Salcantay only) Michael Andrews, New Zealander.

* Some authorities give 18,635 feet for Pucapuca, 18,498 feet for Paccha and 19,551 feet for Lasunayoc.—Editor.

‡Tragically killed along with Peter Jennings in a 1000-foot fall in the Andes of Columbia in December, 1973.

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