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South America, Bolivia, Santa Vera Cruz, Pico de la Fortuna, Ascent, and Cerro Santa Vera Cruz, Ascent and Discovery

Pico de la Fortuna, Ascent, and Cerro Santa Vera Cruz, Ascent and Discovery. The Santa Vera Cruz is the smallest range in Bolivia. With an extension of only 20 kilometers between the villages of Huanacota on the north and Ichoco on the south, these mountains, which carry the south-emmost glaciers in Bolivia, rise rather inconspicuously. Henry Hoek, who first wrote about them when describing his 1904 trip, devoted a whole chapter to the Santa Vera Cruz. However, he only traversed it on his way to the Quimsa Cruz range, without ascending any peak.

Thirty-five years had to elapse before another German, Josef Prem, undertook to explore those unknown neva-dos. Prem was no doubt one of the pioneers of Bolivian mountaineering. In 1939, he soloed Cerro Santa Vera Cruz (5560m) along the north ridge. A few years later, his fellow countryman, Federico Ahlfeld, followed the same route.

Then again, there was a lapse in the history of this range: 40 years later, Evelio Echevarría, a mountaineer who came to know this range best, climbed the small ridge peak of Cerro Calacala (4600m), situated north of the lake of Huariananta. He returned on two occasions, attempting Cerro Chupica (Aimara: “blood red”), some 5100 meters high, but failed, climbing to a few meters below the summit, the second needle of the five that crown the peak.

On May 8, Javier Navarro, Isidro Gonzalez and I accomplished the first ascent of Pico de la Fortuna (5493m). This difficult mountain demanded 17 hours of continuous effort, on a flank averaging 50 degrees, but reaching 70 degrees in some stretches. We christened this route Khespicala (Aimara: “precious rock”). The last pitch (unstable rock) brought us to the summit of this beautiful mountain, which, this year, thanks to “La Niña,” was plastered with heavy snow. Had it been done a year earlier, this same climb would have been a mixed route, and a very exposed one.

Two days later we headed for Prem’s mountain, having decided to attempt it by a new route we named Jenecheru (Aimara: “unending fire”). We avoided the crevasses by climbing up the western slopes (max. 55°). At the summit we made two discoveries steeped in history: one, Prem’s card, conserved inside a little tin box for some 60 years. And two, an archaeological find, which, according to the Bolivian archaeologist Oswaldo Rivera, dates back to the last orexpansive period of the Tiwanaku culture, that is, some 800 years ago. It must have been an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). A cloth called aguayo was wrapped around all the ceremonial objects: a small wooden container, two altar vases with geometric drawings, also wood, a thorn needle and a human clavicle bone used as a tool, and a small spoon. Also included were some teeth, probably of a small rodent, and some silver cloth pins called tupus. This was all that we found on this high shrine at 5560 meters. It is astonishing that some 800 years ago, some Andeans literally climbed (there is no easy way up) this sacred mountain. They may have had goals different from ours, but perhaps they carried the same belief as those of us who go to the hills do: that peace and inner calm are found only in the heights.

Pico de la Fortuna (Peak of Fortune) gave us good luck and the achachilas (mountain genii) opened before us in the Cerro Santa Vera Cruz what they had kept hidden for centuries. A great paradox for us now is to try to understand why these mountains, so accessible from La Paz (four hours by bus) may have been forsaken by climbers who nowadays always seek first ascents. Lack of information is very likely a major reason, but perhaps we must also think that at present there is no real spirit of exploration, but a fear of what is not well known. At the gates now of the 21st century, we have been conditioned to consume only what is offered to us, including mountains, and we have been losing sight of the value of the adventure of climbing a mountain about which there exists no history and no information. Today, there are places, not too far away, still undiscovered and summits still untrodden.

Javier Sanchez Martinez