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South America, Bolivia, Zongo Pass Area Ski Descents; Cunatincuta (Chekhapa) and Ayllayco

Zongo Pass Area Ski Descents; Cunatincuta (Chekhapa) and Ayllayco. In early July, Don Pattison and Jimmy Katz attempted to nordic ski 19,996-foot Huayna Potosí, but encountered exceptionally windy and sun-crusted conditions and did not reach the summit. During the climb, they noticed a lower peak across the valley which appeared to offer better snow conditions: 17,445-foot Ayllayco. A few days later, they made what they consider to be the first nordic ski descent of this peak. (It has also been skied on alpine equipment.) The angle was a moderate, but interesting 40°-45° and the snow conditions were firm on the northwest face. In mid July, I joined the two skiiers in Bolivia. After some fascinating touristing on the shores of Lake Titicaca, we struck into the Zongo Pass region again. This time we hiked five or six miles to Cunatincuta (also called Chekhapa), 18,400 feet according to Alain Mesili’s guidebook to the Cordillera Real, and made what we suspect was the first ski descent (none are listed in Mesili’s book). I was on alpine skis, my partners on nordic gear (Rossignol skis and Merrell boots). We reached the top in perfect weather, but waited several hours until two P.M. for the sun to warm the northwest face enough to melt some of the surface ice. On the steepest section (45°), the snow had softened to corn, but on lower-angled slopes soft ice prevailed. The snow (and skiing) occupied the upper 2500 feet of the mountain. Though we are unaware of any previous nordic skiing in Bolivia, the Cordillera Real seems more suited to such skiing than Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Had the mountains not been subjected to an exceptionally dry spell before our arrival, adequate snow would likely have been encountered on most peaks. Huayna Potosí would be a superb nordic descent because of its moderate angle and lengthy slope. We hired expensive taxis from an agency to get to the mountains, but one could probably do better by flagging down taxis in the street and bargaining for their services.

John Harlin