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South America, Bolivia, Cordillera Apolobamba, Illimani Group, Traverse

Illimani Group, Traverse. British La Paz residents Yossi Brain and Peter Grosset teamed up with visiting Italians Alessandro Bianchi (Club Alpino Italiano-ULE Genova) and Marcello Sanguineti (CAI Chiavari) to attempt the full five-peak traverse of Illimani (6439m) in August. The three-peak traverse of Picos Norte, Central and Sur is climbed on a reasonably regular basis starting from camp on the west side of the mountain. The five-peak traverse from north to south or vice versa has been attempted a number of times but there are only records of two completions, both south to north: Anton and Ria Putz (Germany) in 1979, and B. Francou, J.-E. Sicart, P. Wagnon (French), in 1997. Parties often get frostbite while spending several days above 6000 meters.

On August 25, the four climbers were driven to 4450 meters on the north side of Illimani below Mina Aguila, where the road marked on the Deutschen Alpenverein map runs out. A hike up-valley brought them to a long gully and then to a bivy among the rocks at 5400 meters, northwest of the first significant peak on the north ridge of Illimani.

On August 26, the team moved straight on to the glacier through nieve penitente ice spikes to join the north ridge at 5700 meters. They crossed two minor peaks before climbing the so-called (see below) Pico del Indio (6109m). They then climbed a 60° face to join the Vía Khoyu Khoya route on Pt. 6175m, which has a spectacular overhanging cornice clearly visible from Illimani’s normal west face route approach and climb. They crossed Pt. 6175m and camped on the other side at 6150 meters at 4 p.m. Most of August 27 was spent in clouds, including the enjoyable technical finish to Pico Norte (6403m), a series of moves up to 70°. They then had to descend the long and exposed south ridge, which was in a bad condition, in wind and clouds. The clouds cleared just before sunset. They got off the ridge by down climbing the east side to reach a flat area to camp at 6170 meters at 10 p.m. On August 28, they rejoined the ridge, followed it down to the col between Picos Norte and Central and then spent the rest of the day climbing up the eastern side of the ridge to Pico Central (6362m). This was mainly walking but with some 60° climbing to reach the ridge proper, 150 meters below the summit. They topped out at 4 p.m. and descended to camp at 6260 meters in the broad col between Picos Central and Sur.

On August 29, they climbed Pico Sur (6439m), summiting by 8 a.m. After breakfast back at camp, they headed south, saw a peak (Pt. 6301m) that stands alone beyond the end of the ridge coming down from the southeast off Pico Central, and climbed it. They then dropped down to the base of the last of the five major peaks, Pico Layca Khollu (6159m), and climbed it, finishing on some beautiful névé and then dropping down through penitentes to get below 6000 meters for the first time in three days. It was then a tiring descent through deep snow up to their knees to the end of the glacier, where a series of down climbs and one rap brought them to the scree slopes by 6 p.m., where Brain and Grosset recovered the body of a Spanish climber from the previous year. They reached abandoned mine buildings and a possible camp at 7:30 p.m., one hour after sunset, but Grosset made the call for the forced march out to Cohoni to catch the 2 a.m. bus. Brain and Grosset reached Cohoni at 1:30 a.m., just in time to jump on the bus as it was pulling out of Cohoni square. The others missed the bus, slept in the square and had to wait for the telephone office to open at 8 a.m. the next day before ringing La Paz for a jeep to come and pick them up.

Yossi Brain, United Kingdom