Cordillera Blanca, 1977
John Bouchard, A.A.C. and Groupe de Haute Montagne
NICOLAS Jaeger said that he hoped his expedition to the Cordillera Blanca would not be “banal”. The expedition accomplished eight new routes, repeated five major routes, soloed four new routes, repeated two routes solo, made a hang-glider descent from Huascarán, and produced a film. I suspect his hopes were realized.
There were seven team members. Nicolas Jaeger, the leader, was a Guide de Haute Montagne as well as a recent graduate of the University of Paris School of Medicine. Bernard Prud’Homme, also a Guide de Haute Montagne was an electrical engineer. Denis Ducroz, Guide de Haute Montagne, was the camera man for the team. Marie-Odile Meunier, a native of Chamonix, ran an art Gallery in California. René Ghilini, an Italian hang-gliding enthusiast, was a student at the University of Grenoble. I was an American student who had met the others climbing in Chamonix. Finally, Felipe Mautino, veteran of French expeditions since Terray and the leader of the first all-Peruvian ascent of Huascarán was our co-ordinator in the mountains.
I met the team in Huaraz on June 8, and learned that they had not been idle. Nicolas had soloed the southwest face of Alpamayo in two- and-one-half hours, Bernard and René had done the same climb in three-and-one-half hours. Then, Nicolas had soloed the first ascent of the north spur of Santa Cruz in seven-and-one-half hours while René and Bernard had done the first ascent of Santa Cruz’ northeast face in nine-and-one-half hours. Marie-Odile had been sick and had spent the last two weeks in Lima.
On June 11, we set up a Base Camp in the Cojup Valley below Ranrapalca, our main objective. The next morning, Nicolas was off to try its southeast face while Bernard, René, and I hiked up a knoll to survey possible routes. On June 13 we trudged out for an unattractive route on Palcaraju. Having left Lima five days before, I soon became ill from the altitude and returned to Base Camp where I remained for two days. Late on June 14, Nicolas walked into camp successful and smiling, followed by René and Bernard, unsuccessful and not smiling.
Sufficiently acclimatized, on June 16, I started out with René and Bernard for the east ridge of Ranrapalca. After two days of quite difficult ice climbing, we reached the summit where we bivouacked. I can not remember ever having such bad headaches and worse belays in the mountains. The next day we descended the east face to Base Camp.
Marie-Odile, who had just come up from Lima, greeted us with the news that Nicolas was again soloing—he intended to climb the northwest ridge of Pucaranra, descend it, then climb the southeast ridge of Palcaraju, descend it, and finally return to camp. Both summits were over 6000 meters and both routes were unclimbed. We all rested for a day speculating on Jaeger’s prospects. I bet a pair of socks against a new down parka on Jaeger’s making it and won; on June 20, he trotted into camp, beaming.
We left the valley on June 22, and returned to Huaraz for a week of hilarious rest. Brian Hall, and Adrian and Alan Burgess, elated by their spectacular ascent of the north face of Huascarán were excellent company for what some members of our team considered raucous exploits in Huaraz’s notorious El Saxo and El Scorpio.
But our timetable gave less than a week to relax. Jaeger’s schedule suggested that we establish a new Base Camp in the Llanganuco Valley. The main objective there was a traverse of Chacraraju which would link both summits.
One June 27, we went to the Llanganuco, set up camp, ate trout, and watched René hang-glide. At this point, the expedition had split itself into three teams for Chacraraju; Nicolas: team one; René, Bernard, and Denis: team two; and Marie-Odile and me: les Américans. “Les Américains” were not sure if they indeed composed a team. I viewed the five-foot-two Marie-Odile with the same suspicion she viewed me, the constantly coughing and wheezing American student who did not appear as organized as he claimed. So when Nicolas announced he was going to the Polish ridge on Huandoy Oeste to prepare himself for Chacraraju, Marie-Odile and I aimed ourselves at the southeast spur of Pisco— neither of us wanted to go on Chacraraju with an unknown. Pisco was an excellent training climb since it was technically difficult, yet had an easy descent. We bivouacked at the base of the spur and below the summit, then descended, and met the others at the new Base Camp at the foot of the south face of Chacraraju.
We rested, waited out some storms and finally all left for the face on July 6. Marie-Odile and I began the route to the west summit, Nicolas started up below the east summit, and René, Bernard, and Denis, also walked across the glacier toward the east summit. The face had a dilferent guise up close. The gray patches I had assumed were ice patches were steep granite slabs lightly coated with snow and ice. The obvious gullies were barred in places by enormous ice towers. And the low clouds prevented my seeing where the route broke through the towers to the summit. I was not amused.
We bivouacked in the bergschrund as another storm began to cover us with snow. We remained in the bivouac one more night until the storm was finished. Finally, at two A.M. on July 8 we started up the face. Doing three-hundred-foot pitches, we wove through the initial rock bands and got into the obvious summit chute. We met our first nearly vertical ice-covered rock band in the early afternoon. I was somewhat disconcerted to see the ice I was climbing fall away from my crampons as I moved up leaving blank patches of granite. An overhanging mushroom presented itself for a perfect bivouac, and so we stopped.
The next day was more of the same—steep ice and steeper rock and ice bands. We quit climbing in darkness, stupidly groping for a bivouac.
In the morning I realized we were in trouble. The ice towers closed us off. I went up and down on some coral-like ice mushrooms before I gave in to the facts. I would have to traverse across the towers to my right and hope there was an exit on the other side. I dropped one end of the doubled rope to give myself 300 feet until I had to belay—there was no way I wanted to stop in the middle of the towers. To make a long story short, a tower collapsed with me on it. I fell over fifty feet, cracking a rib and a crampon. But, the tower which barred our way was gone, and the way to the summit was clear. Then, two 300-foot pitches below the summit, a storm closed in.
Once on the summit our difficulties began in earnest. We traversed the mountain in an off-and-on snow storm trying to avoid the cornice over the south face. A deadman stopped a slide that would have otherwise ended 3000 feet later. Finally, we bivouacked just before the col separating the two summits and ate the remaining food—one dinner, some tea bags, three squares of chocolate, and no sugar.
In the early morning, the weather briefly cleared and we began our descent with absolutely no intention of traversing to the east summit and completing the project. The clouds moved in again as we began our descent to the glacier. Seventeen rappels later with one remaining ice screw, we crossed the schrund. Nicolas was waiting for us and he led us through the crevassed glacier to Base Camp. We had spent six days on the mountain. The others, having renounced their climb because the conditions on their route were unacceptable, gave us a rather memorable reception.
For Marie-Odile and me, the expedition was over. We made a halfhearted attempt on the north face of Huascarán Norte and carried some loads for the others. René succeeded in his flight off Huascarán, which Denis filmed, and Nicolas successfully soloed the northeast ridge of Huascarán (the Spanish route), which Denis also filmed.
Summary of Statistics:
Area: Cordillera Blanca, Peru.
Ascents: Quitaraju. 19,850 feet, via north face on May 25, 1977 (Ghilini, Prud’Homme).
Alpamayo, 19,510 feet, Second Ascent of Southwest Face in 2½ hours on May 26 (Jaeger) and Third Ascent on May 27 (Ghilini, Prud’Homme).
Santa Cruz, 20,535 feet, New Route via North Ridge on May 31 (Jaeger); New Route via Northeast Face on May 31 (Ghilini, Prud’Homme).
Ranrapalca, 20,216 feet, New Route via Southeast Face on June 13 (Jaeger); New Route via East Ridge on June 17 and 18 (Bouchard, Ghilini, Prud’Homme).
Pucaranra, 20,168 feet, New Route via Northwest Ridge on June 19 (Jaeger).
Palcaraju, 20,583 feet, New Route via Southeast Ridge on June 20 (Jaeger).
Pisco Oeste, c. 19,029 feet, Second Ascent of Southeast Spur on June 29 and 30 (Bouchard, Meunier).
Chacraraju, 20,055 feet, New Route via South Face Direct on July 8, 9 and 10 (Bouchard, Meunier).
Huascarán, 22,208 feet, via normal route, from July 14 to 18 (Ducroz, Ghilini, Prud’Homme). These three camped at 22,000 feet, awaiting favorable flying weather. On July 20 Ghilini took off in his hang-glider and descended in one hour to Mitapampa at 8000 feet.
Huascarán, Second Ascent of Northeast Ridge on July 25 (Jaeger).
Personnel: Nicolas Jaeger, leader; Bernard Prud’Homme, Denis Ducroz, René Ghilini, Marie-Odile Meunier, French; John Bouchard, American.