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South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Taulliraju, East Buttress, Second Ascent

Taulliraju, east buttress, second ascent. Possibly the most notable event in the Blanca during 2002 was not the creation of a new route but the second ascent of a major line that had remained unrepeated for 20 years. Over eight days from June 26 to July 3 the talented French trio of Stéphane Benoist, Patrice Glairon-Rappaz, and Patrick Pessi made the first complete repeat of Taulliraju’s East (Right-Hand) Buttress (Fowler-Watts, 1982) on the southwest face. Although the group has an impressive collective resumé, including the second winter ascent of the Gousseault route, a winter repeat of Rolling Stone, and a solo of No Siesta, all on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, plus the first ascent of the difficult north face of Chuchubalstering in the Hindu Raj (and Pessi had just led 8b before the trip), they found the route to be the hardest they had climbed in their lives.

The line is obvious, but even the elite Blanca activist Nicolas Jaeger had decided it was not for him in 1978, and moved well right to climb the shorter south face to the upper south-southeast ridge. Three Japanese, who climbed a hard direct route up the south face in 1976, probably also had the southwest face in mind. It was left to the British pair of Mick Fowler and Chris Watts, on their first expedition to altitude, to complete a test piece that subsequently defeated a number of strong parties. Fowler and Watts, both leading very hard pitches (Fowler took his first fall as a second) and both climbing with packs except on one pitch, spent four-and-a-half days on the route, reaching the 5,830m summit on May 28, 1982. There was superb ice, difficult aid on the generally sound but compact granite, and the usual Peruvian excavating and groveling. One particularly memorable pitch involved an overhanging chimney behind a large, free-hanging icicle. The 800m route was solid ED3 and had difficulties that could probably be rated V A3+ AI6. It was done in perfect, though cold, weather.

Last summer the weather was not obliging for the three French. Apart from the clear and sunny first and last days, it was generally overcast with some snowfall. The trio fixed the first 60m, already aiding where they expected free-climbing, and continued in alpine style with a large haul bag, using bivouac sacks rather than a tent. They reached the top after 30 pitches and six bivouacs, the last just three short pitches below the summit. The icicle seems to have been too fragile to climb, but Pessi managed to aid the wall just to the right, with a long reach at the start that was only possible for someone of his 6'2" height. He then moved carefully over the top ice bulge. The team used a lot of aid (to New Wave A2), free-climbed only one rock section, and confirmed the AI6 rating (sections of 90°–95°). Only one peg was found in place on the entire route. The three descended by rappel. This was another fine French effort in the Cordillera Blanca and was short-listed for the Piolet d’Or. It confirmed, if confirmation was needed, that the first ascent in 1982 set a new benchmark in Peruvian climbing.

Lindsay Griffin, High Mountain INFO