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South America, Bolivia, Cordillera Cordillera de Cocapata, Exploratory Climbing

Cordillera de Cocapata, Exploratory Climbing. My attention was drawn to the Cordillera de Cocapata near Cochabamba by Evelio Echevarría’s description of its granite peaks as a potential “rock climbers’ playground” (see “Cordillera de Cocapata, Bolivia” in The Alpine Journal 102, pp. 154-160). The temptation to play proved irresistible. Ignoring dismissive remarks from Yossi Brain (“No snow, shite rock, why bother?”) and relying on first-hand accounts such as 1911 visitor Herzog’s “bizzarely formed peaks,” “steep rocky horns” and “extraordinarily impressive black tower” and Echevarría’s “excellent gray granite” and “long, steep slabs,” the Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club mustered five climbers (David Hick, Tim Josephy, Duncan Mackay, Rory Newman and Michael Smith) to visit the range. We spent two weeks among the 5000-meter peaks as one part of a larger, six-week trip encompassing Peru, Bolivia and Chile. We were the first climbing team into the Cordillera de Cocapata since 1911. Ten hours’ driving from La Paz, an overnight roadside camp and two hours spent skirting the range saw our small group at Peñas on the northern side of the central group with all requisite food and fuel. Within the hour, our fixer-cum-climber, Javier Thellache, had a local family providing horses and porters for the several kilometers’ pull up toward the lakes below the Jatúncasa-Sankhayuni group. There is no local infrastructure to support mountaineering, so the family was convinced we were seeking gold or gems, hunting, poaching their trout or intent on making a film. Camped by Lago Chacapata (4450m) on alpaca grazing ground, we enjoyed good weather with only a few hours of snow in two weeks. The 12 hours of daylight invariably saw the sun shining throughout to raise the temperature well above freezing (though the light to moderate winds were chilling, especially in the shade). Excellent meals were prepared using much better quality food than I had been able to find on previous visits. Distractions from climbing included passing alpaca herds and herders, condors and caracaras squabbling over a pony carcass and a small earthquake.

Jatuncasa provided easy angled slab climbing (40°) for 500 meters with poor protection but was probably not Herzog’s Incachaca as previously supposed. The descent, as with most of the climbs, was loose and involved abseils. Sankhayuni’s main top was probably Herzog’s peak and was gained via two chimney gullies. The second summit was climbed in four unprotected pitches while the fifth gave the soundest rock in the area and a contorted route to find the true top on this serrated ridge. Willpanki required a small camp distant from our base and yielded interesting conversations with a local hunter and farmer. The attractive long steep slabs to the east await another visit. We pioneered routes on the southwest ridge of the main peak (despite considerable amounts of poor rock, so OK, Yossi, you were right) and the obvious cold, shaded southwest ridge on Willpanki II. Mountain scrambling over new ground was found on Malpasso and unnamed peaks south of Willpanki and Pututini in the north. The area provided easily accessible exploratory climbing unlikely to give anyone a world class reputation. Andean Summits provided excellent logistical support and are aware of other “off the beaten track” areas.

Michael Smith, Yorkshire Ramblers' Club