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Kitaraju, Alpamayo, Southwest Face and Tragedy

Kitaraju, Allpamayo, Southwest Face and Tragedy. Peter Millar and I made Base Camp at the junction of the Quebradas Arweiqocha and Santa Cruz. After several days, we camped in the Allpamayo-Kitaraju col. On July 18 we enjoyed a climb on the north face of Kitaraju with Steve Connolly. After a day’s rest, Millar and I bivouacked at the base of the southwest face of Allpamayo. A cold night kept us in our bivouac sacks longer than expected, allowing two French climbers, Serge Beriol and Bernard Lay, to beat us onto the route. We gave them a bit of a head start before starting up the face 100 meters behind them. A bend in the flute we were climbing prevented our seeing exactly what happened and probably saved our lives. One of the massive ice towers below the summit collapsed either under its own or the lead French climber’s weight. All we heard was a roar and seconds later the flute was filled with blocks of ice. The face is so steep near the top that the ice avalanche passed over us as we hugged the face and tried to make ourselves as small as possible. After the slide stopped and the debris cleared, I looked up to find one of the French climbers hanging upside down ten meters from me. He must have been killed instantly. As his rope was still taut and leading toward the summit, we continued up the face in hopes of finding the second climber. We did not see his actual position until the following day, after we had descended the western edge of the southwest face. He was hanging 300 meters below his partner in the adjacent flute. Several attempts to rescue the bodies were made by helicopter but were abandoned as too dangerous.

James O’Neill