American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru-Cordillera Huayhuash, Siulá Grande and Other Climbs

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986

Siulá Grande and Other Climbs. Simon Yates and I established Base Camp beneath the lake, Sarapoqocha, at 4500 meters after a two-day walk from the Cajatambo roadhead. Two days later, on May 17, we took an acclimatization climb on Rosario to 150 meters below the summit. Fine views allowed us to see approaches to Seria Norte and Siulá Grande. On May 20 we set out for the unclimbed south ridge of Rurigallay (Yantauri) by climbing the very rotten southern end of the rock west face to gain the snowy south ridge. After a stormy bivouac, the following morning in fine weather we reached a high point 150 meters below the summit. We were unable to progress further due to very deep powder snow and extremely dangerous cornices. On May 23 we attempted the unclimbed south ridge of Seria Norte (5860 meters, 19,226 feet), approaching it from the east and climbing the east face to a col between Seria Norte and Seria Central. We bivouacked on this face at 5250 meters. The next day we reached the col on not too steep slopes in deep powder snow. It was clear that the remaining 400 meters of the south ridge were too dangerous. From the col I climbed the short distance to the summit of Seria Central (5543 meters, 18,186 feet). To our knowledge this mountain had not been climbed from the east side. On May 30 we made our first attempt on the west face of Siulá Grande but deep snow and more snowfall drove us back. Between June 5 and 7 we did climb the face during a spell of settled weather. From a snow hole at the foot of the face we climbed a steep icefield to cascades and mixed climbing before gaining access to a very steep ice gully which was the key to getting through the central buttress. We made a snow-hole bivy at 5500 meters. The following day we gained a large ramp running diagonally left to right up through the buttress and finishing on the summit slopes. These turned out to be very difficult powder-snow fiutings. It took five hours to climb 150 meters before we dug another snow hole into the side of one of the fiutings for a bivouac at 6200 meters. The summit (6356 meters, 20,854 feet) was reached the next day at two P.M. on June 7. After a half-hour we started the descent of the north ridge in deteriorating weather. The ridge was especially complex and difficult, not helped by nil visibility and snowfall. At one point the corniced ridge collapsed 50 feet back from the crest, taking Yates with it. His 30-foot fall was held and he regained the ridge, shaken but unhurt. We dug a snow hole at 6000 meters for a cold night. The descent continued the next day in fine weather. The ridge was decidedly dangerous with knife-edged powder and very unstable cornices. At 11:30 I fell 50 feet when the edge of a small ice cliff collapsed and sustained severe damage to my right knee and ankle, the impact of the fall had driven the tibia up through the knee joint and caused a less severe fracture to the heel. We were still above 5800 meters. Despite an apparently hopeless situation, Yates made a phenomenal one-man rescue effort under very dangerous conditions. For the rest of the day he lowered me on a doubled 9mm rope some 800 meters down the west side of the north ridge without any belays other than a snow-seat dug out of the unstable powder snow. After nightfall on what should have been the next to last pitch, I was lowered over the edge of an unseen 100-foot overhanging ice cliff. Yates could not haul me back and frost-bitten fingers kept me from being able to prusik back up. Communication between us was impossible because of avalanches. He carried on lowering me, hoping I would reach the bottom before the knot jammed in his stich-plate. Unfortunately it did jam while I was still 50 feet above the crevasse at the base of the cliff. After an hour Yates was being pulled from his seat. At the last moment he managed to cut the rope and prevent his being pulled to his death. He dug a snow hole and spent the night above the cliff. The next morning he descended and saw that I had fallen into the huge crevasse at the foot of the cliff. He detected no sight or sound and so continued on alone down to Base Camp, presuming I had died. Fortunately, after a 100-foot fall, I had stopped on a snow bridge inside the crevasse. Aware, the next morning, that Yates would have thought I was dead, I descended another 80 feet to a ledge in the crevasse. From there I crawled northward and then climbed up 100 feet of avalanche debris and quit the crevasse. I climbed and fell to the glacier and crawled for 3½ days, reaching Base Camp in poor condition in the early hours of June 11, having had no food for four days and having had water only on the last day. We evacuated Base Camp that day due to fear of infection. I had to ride a hired mule for two days before reaching Cajatambo. The next day a pickup truck took us to Lima.

Joseph Simpson, Alpine Climbing Group

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