American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Bolivia, Cordillera Apolobamba, Illimani Peak Names

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1999

Illimani Peak Names. By far the best map of Illimani is Cordillera Real Süd Illimani, published by the Deutschen Alpenverein in 1990. It contains far more information than the Bolivian Instituto Geográfico Militar maps and has relief shading. It is also accurate. (N.B.: When the then-head of the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency in La Paz, Liam O’ Brien, climbed Illimani to verify its height with modern instruments, he came out with a height of 6439 meters for Illimani’s highest peak, compared to the DAV figure of 6368 meters.) From the DAV map, starting in the north, the first of the five peaks is marked as Pico del Indio (6109m). Next is Pico Norte (a.k.a. Pico de Paris, 6403m), then Pico Central (6362m), Pico Sur (6438m) and finally Pico Layca Khollu (6159m). The Bolivian Instituto Geográfico Militar map uses the same peak names.

It should be noted that Pico Norte is not Pico de Paris. Pico de Paris was thus named by Frenchman Charles Wiener on May 19, 1877. Wiener did not climb Pico Norte, which was climbed for the first time in 1950 when Hans Ertl and Gert Schröder got up it by what was then the hardest route in Bolivia.

Wiener got to the base of Illimani by following the Río La Paz, which cuts through the Andes immediately south of Illimani and divides the Cordillera Real from the Cordillera Quimsa Cruz. He started from the southeast from what was then the hacienda of Cotaña and is now a village. If he had climbed Pico Norte, he would have crossed Pico Sur on the way and thereby have made the first ascent of Illimani’s highest peak.

Pico de Paris was renamed Pico del Indio by Martin Conway, the first person to summit Illimani’s highest peak, Pico Sur (September 9, 1898). While on the subsidiary peak of Pico de Paris, Conway found a piece of goat hair rope and took this as proof of a legend that a shepherd climbed up into the eternal snows, never to return. (Conway appears to have overlooked the possibility that Wiener’s party might have left the piece of rope.) Conway then named the peak Pico del Indio in honor of the legendary shepherd.

If Conway had climbed the as-marked Pico del Indio on his way to Pico Sur, he would have made the first traverse of the entire mountain. In his account of the climb, there is no mention of successive nights above 6000 meters, high narrow exposed ridges or any of the rest of what makes a good climbing tale.

Wiener’s account of his expedition was published in 1880 as Perou et Bolivie; a Spanish translation was published in 1993. His account lacks any significant detail, and it is not possible to tell what he climbed. His given coordinates for the peak climbed are from Paris and not from Greenwich, England, making it difficult to establish what he climbed. However, he clearly states that he climbed the most southeastern of Illimani’s peaks, that it was next to the highest peak and that it had an altitude of 6131 meters. Following the DAV map, these facts would make Wiener’s peak Pico Layca Khollu (6159m).

Further clarification: Hans Ertl, in the 1953 Mountain World (p. 149), writes: “In 1877, Pico dell Indio, southern outpost of the Illimani, was climbed by Wiener. … In 1898, Conway crossed the Pico dell Indio… and made the first ascent of the south summit of Illimani.”

Further confusion: in an article by C.R.P. Vandeleur in the 1955 Alpine Journal (p. 172), he quotes Conway as being aware that Wiener had made a considerable ascent on the same side of Illimani as himself, but he could not work out what peak Wiener had climbed. A footnote, presumably written by the AJ editor, says that Wiener climbed the Central and lowest summit of Illimani. However, 1) according to the DAV map, Pico del Indio (6109m.) is the lowest of the five major peaks, followed by Layca Khollu (6159m), Central (6362m), Norte(6403m) and Sur (6368m); 2) if you got up Pico Central, it would be about 45 minutes to cross the basin and climb Pico Sur.

Further clarification: Evelio Echevarría states in a footnote in the 1978 American Alpine Journal (p. 577) that Wiener got to a summit (6131m) on the south side and named it Pic (sic) de Paris, and that Conway traversed this peak in 1898 on his way to the summit and renamed it Pico del Indio. He also states that Norte was first climbed in 1950 by Ertl and Schröder and Pico Central by Bolivians in the 1950s.

There is sufficient proof to argue that the DAV and IGM map names are wrong. I think there is enough evidence to suggest that the as-marked Pico Layca Khollu is in fact Wiener’s Pico de Paris and Conway’s Pico del Indio.

Yossi Brain, United Kingdom

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