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South America, Peru-Cordillera Blanca, Huascarán Nordic Ski Descent

Huascarán Nordic Ski Descent. During July, Jimmy Katz and I made the first nordic (cross-country, three-pin) ski descent of Huascarán. We encountered very difficult snow conditions but made the complete descent from the summit. During acclimatization, we made what was probably the first nordic descent from just beneath the summit of Tocllaraju in white-out conditions. We ascended the standard route on Huascarán, making several camps. From camp at 6100 meters on July 14 Katz and I were summit-bound with a pre-dawn start. By the glow of headlamps, we skirted snow bridges crossing giant crevasses. We passed icefalls in the light of dawn and then followed a seemingly endless summit slope. Inadequate oxygen has a telling effect and we took six hours for the 2000-foot climb. The summit was clear, windy and cold. After a half-hour stay, we skied off the top. On the upper slopes horrendous breakable crust forced us to make tight turns down the beaten path of ascent. After making jump turns down two 45° sections with foot-deep heavy snow, we returned to our high camp. The following day we donned heavy packs, which complicated the 5000-foot ski descent to the base of the glacier. The most difficult skiing of the entire descent was at 18,500 feet where short 40° ice slopes had to be run between large séracs. Eight days were spent on the mountain.

John Harlin