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South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Artesonraju, Southest Face, and Tocllaraju, Northwest Face, Descents

Artesonraju, Southeast Face, and Tocllaraju, Northwest Ridge, Descents. In May and June, Ptor Spricenieks, John Griber, Jason Schutz, Kris Erickson and I teamed up with film-makers Rob DesLauries and Frederick Jacobi and local guide Koky Castaneda to ski and snowboard two wild lines on Tocllaraju (6034m) and Artesonraju (6020m).

During the last week of May, we acclimatized by ferrying loads to our upper Base Camp at the foot of the Tocllaraju glacier (5000m), taking rest days to boulder some excellent problems in the valley below. After six days, we felt ready to attempt a descent of Tocllaraju’s northwest ridge from the summit. On May 28, we all headed up the lower glacier below the west face. Our group quickly became spread out and at 5800 meters, Kris and I continued alone to the summit. As we climbed, we realized that the “snow,” a bad mix of ice and unconsolidated faceted crystals, was not what we were looking for at 6000 meters on a 65° slope. After summiting, we skied an exhilarating knife-edge ridge with wild exposure, then rappelled 60 meters across a bergschrund to more moderate slopes below. After a couple of hundred meters, we met the rest of the group for some mellow com skiing to the top of a lower head wall. This proved to be the crux of the descent. The snow was rippled and icy, and the pitch neared 60°. One by one, we made sketchy turns down to the lower glacier. The rest of the descent was super fun gliding on perfect sun-cooked snow.

The 1000-meter southeast face of Artesonraju, which had never been snowboarded, was the real focus of the trip. In the first week of June, we ventured into the Parón Valley. The conditions on the southeast face were not what we had hoped for. This was an unusually dry season in the Cordillera Blanca and as a result, the snowpack in the mountains was thin and the glaciers broken. According to one local hostel owner we talked to, glaciers have been receding as much as ten meters a year over the last decade.

On June 12, we headed across dry glaciers to the base of Artesonraju. The southeast face was firm and scary wind-scoured sastrugi snow. Booting up it proved to be easy, but coming down was a different story. At 5800 meters, the face became extremely steep—close to 60°. By the time we summited, the weather had deteriorated, making it difficult to assess the descent route. Ptor volunteered to check out the skiing on belay, cutting turns while Jason belayed him from a pair of skis he had driven in the snow. Everyone made their way safely through the initial you-fall, you-see-God slot. We were in constant radio communication with Koky and Freddy, who were filming from Pyramide. They relayed crucial information about the location of huge seracs below us, which were difficult for us to spot in the swirling clouds. Skiing was dicey. It was possible to find little pockets of wind-blown snow, but between these were stretches of difficult turns where it was hard to get an edge to bite. A final hop across the bergschrund at the bottom marked the end of a successful expedition.

Hans Saari, unaffiliated