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South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Paron Valley, La Esfinge, Little Fluffy Clouds, New Route

La Esfinge, Little Fluffy Clouds, New Route. A large team of British climbers arrived in Peru at the start of July. On arrival at the Sphinx, my climbing partner, Neil Dyer, and I set about looking for a potential new free route that could be climbed without resorting to adding fixed protection and could be climbed ground up. The most feasible line we could devise through our binoculars was the line that became Little Fluffy Clouds (IV E5 6a/5.11 d X). The first day resulted in only two pitches being climbed, though the second pitch proved to be one of the bolder pitches of the route. I led the pitch at about 5.11b R. Neil and I then abseiled back down to the ground, stripping our gear and pulling the ropes as we went.

The second day was a bit more successful, as we managed to climb the first six pitches, all onsight. We changed positions when releading the bottom pitches, so Neil led the bold second pitch and I led the first. We continued alternating leads with Neil leading the final sixth pitch. This was an excellent, 50-meter, arching crack and the most strenuous pitch at 5.11c. We then again abseiled to the ground, leaving abseil gear on the belays but pulling the ropes down.

For the third day we bivied at the foot of the route so we could start climbing at first light. Again we started from the bottom of the route. Neil led the first pitch; alternating leads, I then had the opportunity to lead the excellent sixth pitch. We had the bottom pitches pretty well rehearsed, so our progress was fairly swift up to our old high point.

The next couple of pitches were quite straightforward and took us to the foot of two large chimneys; they were part of an existing aid route which to the best of our knowledge hadn’t yet been freed. Thinking the meat of the hard climbing was over, we were shocked to find the first chimney to be quite horrific. The first half was very loose and strenuous; there were some bolts on this pitch, but the adequate surrounding natural protection meant I didn’t find it necessary to clip them. The pitch was certainly the toughest at about 5.11d X. The rest of the climb was of a modest standard and the rock went back to being the immaculate textured granite we grew to expect from the Sphinx.

By the end, Little Fluffy Clouds turned out to be exactly what we hoped for. We managed to climb the whole route without the addition or use of any fixed protection, and every pitch was climbed onsight at 5.11 or below, a grade attainable by many. Although the line wasn’t totally independent, it was certainly the most natural line for free climbing and we feel that that is enough to justify its independent existence.

Patch Hammond, United Kingdom