American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Nevado Ulta, Northwest Face, Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Nevado Ulta, Northwest Face, Attempt. Early July found me slightly crazed and very skinny from a month of wild times in the Cordillera Blanca. Dysentery and excessive celebration played their part, but a 25-hour, 1500-meter attempt on Huandoy Norte and a six day round trip ski/snowboard descent of the Shield route on Huascaran Sur (see note above) had left me feeling relaxed and gluttonous. The arrival in Huaraz of a highly motivated old friend had snapped me out of my reverie. Jim Earl had arrived in Peru while I was on Huascaran, and had acclimatized by climbing two new routes in the Paron Valley. Our main ambition was to climb the stupendous 1600-meter north face of Huascaran Norte via a line near the Catalan route, but after four days of storms, load carrying and vomiting (by me) at a 4700-meter high camp below the face, we retreated, moaning.

With only five days left before my departure, we scrambled to find an accessible yet inspiring objective (luckily, an easy task in the Blanca). Although accessible by car in only a few hours from downtown Huaraz, Nevado Ulta (5875m) towers 2000 meters above the rough Paso Ulta road, and had been scaled only a handful of times, by two existing routes.

We had hoped to attempt a futuristic ice line on the unclimbed north face proper, but a large band of wet, blank granite down low turned our attention to the northwest face, first climbed in 1977 over five days by Dave Cheesmond and partner. The 1977 line climbed the right edge of the face to the west ridge and continued to the summit, but there were no routes (that we knew of) directly to the summit via the steep central face. With only three days remaining until I had to be in Lima, one-push style was the only option.

We departed our high camp at the leisurely hour of 6 a.m. in a light snowstorm, simul- climbing 600 feet of snow as steep as 65 degrees to the first belayed pitch, a beautiful iced-up dihedral with cams in good granite for pro. Steep icefields interspersed with short, intricate ice pitches led to the crux curtain, an amazing cascade 200 feet wide and a ropelength high with many difficult variations. Traversing in from the right, we were able to climb the curtain via a sustained, just-off-vertical groove of crusty Andean snow and ice separated from the wall by a foot. The climbing was spectacular, but not overly difficult, as rest steps were easily gained with a light kick through the curtain.

We climbed the upper face via the large central couloir that divides into a maze of flutings 500 feet from the summit. Clouds had filtered in, making route finding difficult. Which fluting would lead to the real summit cornice? Of four doors, we chose the left-center line, and climbed it in whiteout conditions to its top just below the wild meringues of the summit ridge. Was this the right mushroom? At the last anchor, during a brief clearing, we could see the true summit cornice 60 meters to the west, and only 30 meters higher, across a number of gravity-defying spines and disintegrating snow mushrooms. Close, but no cigar. The Northwest Face (ED-900, 1000m) of Nevado Ulta (5875m): 12 hours up, five hours, 14 V-threads, two rock anchors, and a bunch of down climbing, with intermittent snow throughout. What a blast!

Chris Trimble, unaffiliated

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