AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

South America, Peru, Cordillera Huayhuash, Siula Grande, South Face, Southern Discomfort; Other Peaks

Siula Grande, south face, Southern Discomfort; other peaks. In July Jay Burbee (Canada), Michel van der Spek (Netherlands), and I ventured to the eastern side of the Cordillera Huayhuash. Ten hours of dusty buses from Huaraz to Huallanca to La Union to Baños to Queropalca put us just 12 kilometers from the Cordillera. From a base camp at Laguna Siula (4300m) we climbed the left (south) side of the badly broken Sarapo Glacier in two days, making use of narrow passages between seracs and large crevasse fields. Most previous parties approached the right side of the glacier and reported mid-fifth class rock pitches below the glacier. Our route, however, was nontechnical, aside from one 50-meter, 55-degree, ice pitch at 5000m. We placed a high camp at 5500m in the isolated basin below the north face of Carnicero, the northeast face of Sarapo, and the south face of Siula Grande. On July 8 we climbed the northeast face of Sarapo by the Bachmann-Lugmayer line on the far left side of the face. The route involved eight rope lengths of 45- to 55-degree snow to gain the east ridge, which was narrow and corniced at first but became broader after 90 meters. In places, a long crack in the snow five meters below the cornice revealed either imminent cornice collapse or severe avalanche hazard. We decided to tread lightly on the cornice, and no incident occurred.

After rejuvenation at base camp, we returned to our high camp for our main objective, the south face of Siula Grande. Despite the notoriety of Siula, its south face remained unclimbed. Our principal source of information was a mislabeled postcard. The south face is threatened by seracs largely on the right and is steep and rocky on the left, so we chose a route up the center. After four pitches of 55- degree quality blue ice, the angle steepened. Ice bulges and runnels as steep as 80 degrees led, in two more pitches, past the serac level and onto a snow slope at just over 6000m. As the sun was setting we happened upon an excellent bivy location, a steep crevasse eight meters wide. Its upper wall overhung and spilled large icicles onto the lower lip of the crevasse, effectively sealing it off. After a little shoveling we could safely unrope and stay dry without bivy bags. On the second day we crossed the bivy crevasse and attempted a direct finish but were thwarted by poor ice conditions (30 centimeters of rotten ice atop hard, brittle ice). We made a 150-meter traverse to an alternate finish, in hope of finding better conditions. Being in steep, south-facing terrain we had been climbing in the shadow of Siula. To our short-lived delight, the sun now rose above the ridgeline at noon—only to set behind a cornice five minutes later. Several more ice pitches led to steepening mixed terrain above. We attempted to veer right but were met by the 60-degree sugar snow flutings for which the area is famous. I began a hair-raising tunneling traverse of the seven deep flutings separating us from a snowy shoulder of the east ridge. Fluting crests were up to three meters deep and of particularly poor quality snow. In failing evening light on July 14 we reached the East Ridge route at 6250m. Having left our bivy equipment below, we were wary of a cold night and decided to retreat without summiting. Even so, I became hypothermic after making the final rappel to our traverse track. In my mentally weakened state I constructed perhaps the sorriest belay I’ve ever trusted. Ice screws were later removed by simply pulling straight out. The new route is named Southern Discomfort (ED-, 650 meters). We spent the next week thawing, while hiking the enjoyable Huayhuash circuit, where we met the Slovenian team that had just succeeded on a new route on the west face of Siula Grande. The team thanks Mountain Equipment Co-op and The Canadian Himalayan Foundation for generous support.

Jeremy Frimer, Canada