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South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Paron Valley La Esfinge, Dion's Dihedral, New Variation and First Free Ascent

La Esfinge, Dion’s Dihedral, New Variation and First Free Ascent. Looking at the Sphinx (La Esfinge) and following its features and lines, it rapidly becomes obvious that one feature dominates all others. That is the 150-meter left-facing corner, the aid line Dion ’s Dihedral. The corner begins about two-thirds of the way up the crag and looms darkly over the lower slabs, cracks, and walls. The aid line follows a fairly direct route into the comer along some natural features and then uses rivet ladders up the blank walls.

Nic Sellars and Mark “Zippy” Pretty devised a potential free line through binoculars. Their line succeeded in linking all the features, but only by some devious and winding route finding. Nic and Zippy then set to work on free climbing the route. They quickly succeeded on the first four pitches, all of which were about 5.11+. They mainly followed the aid line, though at times it was necessary to perform large detours in order to get around some of the rivet ladders. These early pitches were certainly the route-finding crux. Above, the climbing looked more obvious, but strenuous and sustained.

At this point, Zippy sadly became unwell and was unable to continue, so I took the opportunity to join Nic and try to finish the route. The first day was a chance for me to climb the pitches already climbed by Nic and Zippy. Nic and I quickly worked through these until we were back at Nic and Zippy’s high point. The next pitch was a steep, slanting finger crack. It was by far the most physical point of the route and the only pitch that was not onsighted. We both felt it to be a tough 5.12b. This pitch was not part of the original aid line and was well protected with traditional gear. From the high point, we abseiled to the floor and left the ropes fixed.

The second day started with the rather grim task of jumaring back up to our high point. From there, a couple of 5.11 pitches soon took us to a point the aid climbers used for their portaledge. We decided to adopt the same strategy, but to help with the hard work of hauling, Neil Dyer came along to give us a hand. While Nic and I were free climbing, Neil jugged and hauled a portaledge up the fixed lines to our bivy site. The superhuman effort was much appreciated. As Neil happily abseiled back down to the ground and back to camp, Nic and I set up the ledge and went to sleep.

Above us lay a couple of reasonable-looking pitches and then the corner itself. If we were going to have a chance of free climbing it, we had to climb light and fast. We started the day by lowering the portaledge, extra ropes, gear, and sleeping equipment to the ground. This involved tying all our spare ropes together and just lowering everything, which left us committed with two ropes and a rack of gear.

The pitches into the comer were enjoyable cracks and slabs and were soon climbed. The first pitch of the comer turned out to be one of the best pitches I have ever climbed. A perfect 55-meter pitch of laybacking and bridging finished on a little ledge with a double bolt belay. We felt the grade was sustained 5.12a. The next pitch up the comer was slightly less strenuous but quite a lot bolder. This led to the final hard pitch of the route; the aid line here followed a seemingly blank corner, so we devised a line across the slabs to the left. Nic led the pitch, and it was certainly the most memorable of the route. Fifty feet above good gear, Nic found himself wobbling on a very tenuous slab move. The penalty of a fall would be 100-foot swing into the comer and the loss of much crucial time. Fortunately, Nic pulled through and the pitch was in the bag; 5.11c X seemed a fair grade for the pitch. We continued on to the top, weaving around the easy angled slabs and corners to reach the summit of the Sphinx once more.

The line taken by the free version of Dion’s Dihedral (VI E66b/5.12b X) was purely dictated by the easiest way up the wall into the huge comer. Although no fixed protection was added on our ascent, we did rely quite heavily on the bolts left by the aid ascent. The belay bolts were particularly useful and the route would have been a lot harder without them. However, a number of the rivet ladders did seem to be a bit pointless, as it was possible to climb the features on natural protection, avoiding the blank granite walls.

Patch Hammond, United Kingdom