American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Yurac Janka, Guide to the Peruvian Andes, Part I, Cordilleras Blanca and Rosco

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  • Publication Year: 1978

Yurac Janka, Guide to the Peruvian Andes, Part I, Cordilleras Blanca and Rosco, by John F. Ricker. Banff: Alpine Club of Canada, and New York: American Alpine Club. 1977. 180 pages, 4 maps (separate), 11 panoramas, 45 photographs, and sketch maps. Price: $11.50.

Along with the Himalaya and Karakoram, the Cordillera Blanca stands in the first rank among the world’s ranges in importance and attractiveness to mountaineers from all nations. This relatively small but magnificent range has a multitude of inviting qualities: high altitude( almost 30 peaks over 6000 meters (19,685 feet) with the highest peak at 22,205 feet); absence of political permission requirements; ease of access (as little as three days from the United States to Base Camp); a wide range of difficulty (from gentle snow walks to yet unclimbed faces and ridges, and major peaks with but a single ascent); good weather (as a rule, but not without exceptions); and the availability of an excellent corps of porters, the Andean equivalent of the better known Sherpas of Nepal.

This major new work by John Ricker, Yurac Janka, has finally provided the world with a replacement for the Kinzl and Schneider “bible,” Cordillera Blanca, published in 1950. The generation which separates the two books has seen the volume of climbing grow from two expeditions during the summer of 1952 to nearly a hundred climbing groups during the summer of 1977. Ricker’s book provides a comprehensive account of the multitude of new climbs which have been made during this quarter century.

There are four constituents of Yurac Janka: the introductory chapters, the route descriptions, the maps, and the photographs. The introduction holds an excellent history of climbing in Peru and in the Blanca by Echevarría and Ricker, providing a number of interesting and little known items such as the fact that Pizarro passed through the Callejón de Huaylas, the valley which parallels the range, and that an important battle was waged by General Santa Cruz at the foot of the Huandoy peaks. The medical section by Barry Hagen, M.D., provides almost complete information for the prospective Andean climber, although perhaps something might have been included regarding the availability of iodine tablets, and the new and nearly miraculous PABA (para aminobenzoic acid) for high altitude sunburn prevention.

Since climbing style and equipment vary so widely, almost any reader may find something to disagree with in the section on expedition equipment. Nevertheless, the advice is generally sound, such as the recommendation for small rather than large climbing groups or expeditions. One must disagree with some of the suggestions, such as the use of two small trips by arrieros and burros to carry gear to Base Camp for an extended stay. A single larger trip will in most all cases cost less. The reader should be cautioned, in stronger terms than the text provides, to provide someone, such as a salaried camp tender, to protect the contents of Base Camp from theft. Other aspects of equipment which deserve some additional emphasis are the usefulness of snow pickets (as opposed to screws), northwall hammers, and long axes (as opposed to the short style which is the current fad) for the snow and ice conditions which prevail. Deadmen, which are perhaps the greatest advance in climbing equipment in the last 50 years, receive their deserved recommendation in the text. Recent experience suggests that dried fruit is not easily found in Peru, contrary to what is indicated in this chapter.

The introduction contains excellent discussions of access to the peaks, information sources, and the snow and ice conditions to be found on the way to the summits. In his descripiton of Huascarán National Park, Ricker makes his plea for conservation, emphasizing the requirement to remove all trash, a common courtesy which is not uniformly practiced by all the trekking parties now turning a profit from the spectacular beauty of the range.

Ricker provides some admirable advice: the Cordillera Blanca climber should have learned the techniques of mountaineering before venturing into these high peaks. This range is not the place to learn the climbing game, since there is no rescue service available in any form. In this sense at least, the Blanca remains unspoiled in spite of the increasing numbers of climbers and trekkers.

The route descriptions are titled by dates and not by descriptive names. This seems unfortunate since it is more convenient to speak of the East Ridge of Chopicalqui, rather than simply the route of 1932. And the brevity of the descriptions in some cases limits their usefulness. For example, the Andean novice will be hard pressed to understand where to go and how to climb in order to reach Nevado Copa, one of the better peaks in the range for acclimatization purposes. The existence of a small lake at the base of the approach glacier and a trail to this lake is never mentioned. However, each route has a very good bibliography. A feature which is missing altogether from the route descriptions is any type of difficulty rating. The descriptions do, however, usually provide an indication of the number of days required for the ascent from a campsite.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of this climbing guidebook is the emphasis on transliteration from the local Quechua language. Ricker’s considerable interest in Quechua is shown in the five (!) illustrations of the human vocal tract which are to be found in the book and the maps. Because of this emphasis on correct transliteration, Ricker made rather large changes in the spelling of names which have been established in the literature for 45 years. For example, instead of the familiar Milluacocha there is Millwaqocha; instead of Alpamayo, Allpamayo; for Quitaraju, Kitaraju; for Huamashraju, Wamashraju; for Chacraraju, Chakraraju.

A commendable feature is the attempt to be consistent with place names, distinguishing more or less official names from unofficial, separating native Quechua names from recent foreign imports. The rejection of flagrantly foreign names, such as those gvien by some Italian expeditions, seems fully warranted.

One of the most useful features is the set of four maps which accompany this book. These ridge-line and stream maps, rendered in three colors, provide much information adding to the now out-dated DÖAV maps although recent road-building leaves even these new maps slightly behind times. A curiosity of these maps is that the scale (about, but not exactly 1:100,000) is nowhere stated on the maps. There are a few important omissions such as the trail from Musho to the standard Base Camp on Huascarán; and a few inconsistencies such as the listing of 6113m for Huantsán Norte in the book, with 6119m on the map. But it is a pleasure to see the various baños listed since these natural hot baths are one of the primary attractions of the region!

The photographs, especially the panoramas, form one of the strong features of the book. The accuracy of the peak identifications on these photographs is impressive; only one slight error could be detected.

One useful, final section of the book is a list of climbing terms with equivalents in several languages: English, Spanish, German, French and Italian. This will assist the climber with less than a fluent command of Spanish.

Some features of the book design are unfortunate. There is no pocket provided for the maps. In fact, if they are slipped within the covers they will soon break the binding. Major sections do not start with a new page, presumably for economy; yet the abbreviations are duplicated, both on pages 53 and 54 and again on pages 131 and 132. Some aspects of proof reading were apparently shortcut; witness the typographical errors, inconsistent bibliographical reference style, Quechua transliterations and peak names (Nevado Huandoy on page 79 and Huandoy Norte on page 142); and an error in the references (number 41, page 135, is Part II, not Part 1).

Ricker is most generous with acknowledgements, an admirable quality that more authors should emulate. Perhaps the length of this list of contributions is yet another indication of the magnitude of John Ricker’s labors.

In summary, a mountain range which has attained a position of first rank in world-wide mountaineering interest deserves an adequate, up-to-date treatise to delineate the individual peaks, their difficulties, their histories, and their routes. This John Ricker has done in splendid fashion for the Cordillera Blanca, one of the finest ranges in the world for snow-and-ice mountaineers. The book can clearly be recommended as a near necessity for both the first-time Peruvian climber as well as the Andean veteran. The defects which a careful reviewer is obliged to mention are in sum minor, and the route descriptions, the photographs, and the maps will contribute greatly in making the visiting climber’s stay in Peru more efficient and enjoyable, minimizing lost time and maximizing his hours on the high peaks of the Andes.

Leigh N. Ortenburger

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