American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Bolivia, 1980-1981

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1982

Bolivia, 1980-1981. There was a lot of trash this year. Fifty large parties climbed out of the Tuni Condoriri valley and Huayna Potosí and Illimani had such herds on them that their normal routes became trenches, fine lines dotted with rubbish, zigzagging toward their summits. Most visitors to Bolivia stuck to these well worn lines, but U.S. climbers Kathy Phibbs and Ross MacFarlane repeated a classic, the west ridge of Huayna Potosí. I sprained my ankle. I also climbed a great pinnacle called Huyustus and a fearfully loose business I named Pared de los Huesos for the bone-white color of its shattered quartzite. In late 1980, John Greenough and I did the south arête of Torre Escondido and a dark granite pillar we call Costilla Negra. I did some snow trudges and also did some good routes. These latter included: La Muesca—November, 1980. It was an audacious solo, if I say so myself. It went right of center up the most massive pillar of Khala Cruz into an ice-clogged chimney—La Muesca—The Slot. The lower half of the pillar gave easy Teton-style climbing to a setback, wet from the melting ice packed into the chimney above. One might characterize the climbing within the Slot itself as desperate but not hard—dirty ice and vertical, wet granite, rather unstable. I finished in wet EBs and a blizzard, dramatic but harmless, and lost two toenails a week later. Advice: Wear boots. Greenough’s Ridge—December, 1980. Greenough is off to Kenya next week and he wants a climb to remember. The south ridge of P 5342 looks like such a route, a spine of grey ice this time of year, a line I’ve had my eye on since Betcher and I saw it a year ago. (P 5342 is the peak west of the old mule trail over the glacier from Agencia Palcoco to Mina Fabulosa. It probably first was climbed by Austrian peak baggers in the middle 70’s.) We walk up the old mule trail into a clear dawn, something rare in late December and I hope the weather holds, but it doesn’t, and soon after we reach the ridge, we are climbing in a benign mist the color of the ice. How do you describe a climb like this? It is a new route. So what? New routes are a dime a dozen and practically anything can be climbed if something doesn’t hit you. The important thing is that we have a good route and we do it neatly, toepointing and flatfooting up the bosses of good grey ice, just difficult enough to be engaging. I neatly drop a rock on John near the summit but do no damage. We descend blindly to the east and break out of the clouds on the glacier and trudge back to the Bronco for pretzels and beer, Greenough’s idea of high-altitude rations. Mine too. South Face of Roca Milluni-—April, 1981. The south face of Roca Milluni (P 5483, southwest of Huayna Potosí) looks like a fat Triolet North Wall, a concave face with a glacier bulging down it, a climb I had tried twice in 1967, failing in storm and then because we could not handle the ice. So I had to do it, and like many things you have to do, it was not much fun, although this is not a reflection upon the route, which is a good one. There was a lot of new snow that April Sunday. I swam up bottomless powder to an ice bulge and put it away with 40 meters of secure tool placements and then we were back to snow again, not deep now because it was steep, and then there were séracs and then I was at the top of the face with only a hundred meters of ridge to the summit, clouds blowing in and half a meter of new snow slathered over the rock, your movie version of mountaineering. A rappel around a gendarme led to cautious maneuvers over balanced blocks buried in the snow. I burrowed like a mole. I climbed with the dynamics of a turtle. The summit occurred. The world was frosted blankness and there was no sound but the rustle of my anorak and the faint grind of crampons on snow-muffled granite. There was a last rappel and a couloir and the glacier again, and then I trotted down the track beneath the moraine at nightfall, thinking that I should feel satisfied or relieved, but feeling nothing beyond the smallest glow of peace, which was enough. Kallhuani—The Climbing School Ridge—May, 1981. (First ascent of Kallhuani, 5492 meters, north of Condoriri, probably was the 1974 climb by Kramberg and Wriggley via the south glacier and west ridge, A.A.J., 1975, page 176.) The south ridge was a new route, part of a course I was giving for the Club Andino Boliviano, and my partners were Oscar Fernández and Dr. Huáscar Pacheco. There was the usual headlamp approach across night-blue glaciers and before there was much light, we climbed a fluted wall leading to our ridge. There was ice here, and hard snow, a new quality of terrain for my friends, who had been up Illimani and Huayna Potosí and nearly made Aconcagua and had been climbing for ten years, but were frustrated by the low standard of Bolivian mountaineering, a situation we now are trying to change. We polished off the fluted wall in two pitches climbing like the best, breaking through a little cornice into the dawn. The ridge rippled upward, as pretty as any you ever will see, blazingly beautiful day, terrific views, the Andes at their finest. There was a little rock wall which looked hard but was simple enough, sound yellow rock, the formalities of protection, some confusion on the part of my companions, who were more strung out than I realized, and then the summit and down the ridge of Kramberg and Wriggley. South Face of Pacocueta—September, 1981. Like an idiot, I sprain my ankle while ice bouldering and can’t climb again until late August. This weekend I’ll hobble up to the south face of Pacocueta with Huáscar Pacheco. Given the state of my foot, it seems wise to climb with a doctor. Pacocueta (5584 meters) looks like the fat lady, a most deceptive mountain. It is the first thing of significance as you drive into the Hichukhota. On Saturday, Huáscar and I do a rock climb, three long pitches to a nameless destination. We have a 15cm dump of snow by Sunday morning and the wind is blasting from Lake Titicaca as we go up this miserable couloir and cross the wind-scoured glacier to the base of the wall, a flat surface of firn with strips of polished ice alive with avalanches of powder snow torn away from the face by the west wind. And suddenly, the wind dies. What do you say about Bolivian ice faces? This one was featureless except for a few rocks halfway up, hard snow on ice, the most routine frontpointing, the usual deep-breathing exercise, occasional screw for belay anchor, subtle changes in gradient and consistency, and then the top—the last axe placement and the swing onto the flat summit—that’s it! That’s the moment you’ve been building to, that last precise move onto the top. It was so good that I’d like to do it again. Ventanani South Ridge—September, 1981. And so two weeks later I did it again, this time up the splendid little south ridge of one of the many Ventanani’ s littering the Bolivian IGY topo maps. Nice climb, but there’s nothing to describe beyond the normal superlative ridge curling upward at dawn to break upon the summit.

Stanley S. Shepard

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