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Cuernos del Diablo, North Face; Gigante Grande, Via Loco

Cuernos del Diablo, north face; Gigante Grande, Via Loco. On May 26 Brent Loken, Bruce Hendricks, Brent’s father, and I drove in Brent’s jeep from La Paz to the Quimsa Cruz. We stopped for the night in the tawdry mining town of Viloco, where we were able to convince a few locals to put us up in the Evangelical Church and to porter to our base camp. Bruce and Brent had decided to put our base camp at Taruca Umana Pass. This site makes good granite accessible but is a half an hour from water. In the vicinity of the pass we climbed a number of one- to three-pitch routes. We found that it was comfortable to climb in the sun on north-facing rock, but that south- facing rock was darned cold. Many of the cracks were filled with dirt and moss, but the granite itself was perfect. The best-looking reasonably accessible peak for longer routes was Cuernos del Diablo, and twice we climbed there. Our first climb on Cuernos led on new ground for about five pitches on the left side of the north face, with climbing up to about 5.10a. The approach had proven to be more complicated than it appeared, though, and with daylight dwindling we retreated. Two days later we came back to Cuernos and started up a route to the right of our first attempt. After Bruce started with a Tuolumne-like left-facing corner, we veered left onto unclimbed ground, with face climbing and then cracks that were sometimes dirty and up to 5.10. Then we connected, we believe, with a 1987 German route known locally as La Clasica for the last couple of beautiful hand- and fist-crack pitches to the top (IV 5.10-). It seems that no one had climbed the highest of the 30-foot tall splinters that make up the horns of Cuernos.

Brent then drove out, while Bruce and I took the bus from Viloco south to Laguna Laram Khota, a lake with a roadside view of the southwest face of Gigante Grande (18,858'). Two obviousice gullies split the lower cliffs of this 2,100-foot face. The right-hand one had been done in 1993, while the shorter but much steeper left-hand one was unclimbed. We hiked in with two porters, finding that Yossi Brain’s guidebook is wrong in recommending that you hike around the east side of the lake. We camped on dirt below the glacier beneath the face. As we scouted the face the upper snow slopes avalanched down the route in the afternoon sun. We decided to spend the next day just watching the face to see if this was common, and scouting the descent. That day was colder and the face did not avalanche, but we agreed to either be out of the couloir by 3 p.m. or else hide to the side until after sunset.

We started an hour after dawn on June 4. The first pitch was on thin, moderately steep ice with solid metamorphic rock but poor protection. As the chute twisted and steepened, better cracks appeared, but Bruce still had to work carefully on the crux fourth pitch. He started out on slightly overhanging rock that led immediately to a head- wall of vertical mixed ground. After another pitch or two it was near 3 p.m., and we hid off to the side under an overhang. Nothing came down, and at dusk Bruce headed off for what proved to be the last surprisingly difficult pitch, a tenuous one with near-vertical “snow-ice.” From there we climbed and belayed into the night on moderately demanding ground by moonlight, encountering some of the worst rock anywhere and feeling the effects of dehydration from not bringing a stove. We reached the summit ridge around midnight. The continuation to the top would have been moderate, but over complex ground with loose rock, so we elected to descend. Contrary to Brain’s guidebook, the “northwest ridge” we descended is a complicated face that requires weaving around cliffs and lots of loose rock. Our descent included about five rappels, and we made it back to our camp at dawn. We named the route Via Loco, and Bruce thought it might be the most technical alpine route in Bolivia.

Andy Selters, AAC