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South America, Bolivia, Chearoco Valley

Chearoco Valley. During five weeks in the summer of 2001 a British female team comprising Adele Pennington, Catrin Thomas, Nancy Brooks, and I enjoyed a successful expedition to this remote and underdeveloped region. Although the trip was hampered by extremely bad weather, the team managed to establish one possible first ascent, make several new routes, and attempt others during only 13 days of good weather. The team established their base camp at the head of the Chearoco Valley, after a two-day approach walk from Lloco Lloconi. There is limited information on both Chearoco (6104m) and Chachacomani (5998m). Both apparently receive few ascents because of difficult access and lack of information. To the best of the team’s knowledge the only previous expedition to this area had been by a Reading University team in 1962. During the team’s stay they did witness a German commercial company trying both Chearoco and Chachacomani, and they learned that a German Youth Expedition had been there a few years earlier, but no further information was available.

After exploratory work Thomas and Gilbert made the first ascent of 5520m Dome 1, via its south ridge (PD). The pair detoured from the final summit ridge due to poor snow conditions. After descending through patches of wind slab, they continued into the main glacier bowl and picked a route through large crevasses to the summit. Pennington and Brooks carried out a reccon on the north ridge of Chearoco, reaching a high point of 5630m, and another reccon on Quellani, reaching a high point of ca 5315m.

Thomas and Gilbert had planned to attempt the south ridge of Rumca I (5240m). The pair made good progress onto the ridge via the western face, but was soon forced to abandon their attempt by poor rock. They retreated and traversed onto the south face. They made excellent progress up the face directly to a high point of 5040m, through mixed terrain and ice-smeared rock (Scottish IV/V), before being caught in collapsing debris, which caused a hasty retreat. Thomas, Gilbert, and Pennington made another attempt on Rumca I via the east ridge. Having crossed a complex glacier system to gain access to the ridge, the team made good progress but was forced to turn back at 5360m.

Two 50-meter rock routes were established on excellent granite low on Quellani, but further exploration for rock climbing proved futile. Thomas, Gilbert, and Pennington then made an ascent of Quellani (5912m) from the north. A short, steep 50-meter slope led to a scramble to the summit. Weather-worn slings on the summit indicated that this was not a first ascent.

However, an amazing route (PD). The weather broke, with nine consecutive days of snow. With time running out Thomas, Gilbert, and Pennington made a final attempt on Rumca III via the stunning south face arête but felt they would be taking an unnecessary risk to continue under such conditions.

Di Gilbert, United Kingdom