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South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Chacaraju Oeste, South Face

Chacraraju Oeste, south face. In the first week of August Steve Moffat (New Zealand) and I climbed what was most likely a new route (600m, WI5 5.9 mixed) just to the right of the 1982 Yugoslav route on the south face. This side of the mountain has over ten established routes. Our route choice was not determined by logic but rather by adventure. The thin ice-filled gully we chose was quite threatened by unconsolidated snow flutings on its sides and by a 30-foot corniced roof laced with large icicles. The climbing was enjoyable, for the most part made up of moderate, 50- to 70-degree, thinly iced granite slabs, with a few vertical sections of water ice and mixed climbing. The crux was a rotten 40-meter icicle at about 18,500 feet. Having underestimated the amount of rocky terrain on the route, we progressed slower than expected. We only had knotted slings for stoppers and a spare pick as a piton. We did not summit the peak, but reversed our route from a junction with the ridge near the low point between the two west summits. After 17 hours or so we safely made it back to our camp in the bergschrund, only to have our luck run out. Once we were in our tent the entire route ripped in a slide of ice, rock, and snow, most likely triggered by a falling cornice. Eventually the lip of the ‘schrund broke, and we were buried, tent and all. We dug ourselves out and hightailed it back to the lake in an exciting snow storm. The south face in general seemed to be dry compared to conditions reported in most first-ascent accounts—further evidence that things are warming up in the Cordillera Blanca.

John Varco, AAC

Editor’s note: This is likely a repeat of an existing route, There are already 10 “established” routes on this face, and their exact location is somewhat vague as conditions change from year to year.