The Big Wall, The AA Crack. After all the usual hassles of overweight and oversized baggage, and of making connections on the long trip from Yosemite, Donny Alexander and I arrived in the Cordillera Quimsa Cruz in June, just as the wet season was ending and winter was beginning.
When we got everything to our Laguna Blanca base camp, I spent the next couple of days eating ciproflaxen-like candy, trying to counteract the effects of something I ate in La Paz. After living no longer seemed such a bad idea, we humped a load into Mocoya Valley, which is at about 15,700 feet. There is no water where we bivied, so we only brought up enough supplies for about a week. However, that was enough time to do what we are pretty sure is a first ascent (The AA Crack, IV 5.8 C2) on The Big Wall. When we got to the base of the most-obvious line, we saw slings 150 feet up. But it was such a beautiful line, we decided to climb it anyway. After following low angle slabs, I got to an old anchor consisting of a pin and a tied-off horn. Donny led the next pitch, about 30 feet up coming to three old tied-off Austrian pins, apparently a bail point. (Above, we saw no further evidence of the route having been climbed). A 20-foot section of rock on that pitch is poor quality, and both Donny and I took 30-foot whippers. The third pitch follows a gorgeous left-facing, left-leaning orange/gold corner system for 160 feet. The fourth pitch starts in the same corner, which turns into a three-foot-deep, shoulder-width-wide water groove. Fortunately, the crack we had been following continues up the back of the groove. The fourth pitch ends on a ledge after 170 feet. The top is then another 185 feet of broken climbing, with occasional 5.8ish moves. Because the crack we followed was somewhat dirty, and rotten in a few places, the going was slow. Climbing at 16,000 feet was also probably a factor. Each lead took about five hours, most of which involved cleaning placements, then trying to cry the dirt out of our eyes and sneeze it out of our noses. Because of the slow going we debated going back to Laguna Blanca for the portaledge, but decided not to because the wall is only 800 feet high. So every night we rapped down and in the morning jugged back up to our high point.
After finishing the route we walked back down to Laguna Blanca. After a couple of rest days, we hiked back to Mocoya Valley for another week, hoping for more climbing there, then on Cuernos de Diablo in the next valley east. But my climbing trip soon ended when a hold broke and I fell, injuring my ankle, on Penis Pinnacle. A few days later I played belay slave for Donny on short crack climbs above our bivy. Then we hiked (I gimped) back to Laguna Blanca.
Mocoya Valley has lots of potential, though I recommend going in Bolivian spring rather than winter. We did not get to check out the next valley north, which supposedly has had no development. Directly north of The Big Wall are several formations up to 500 feet high, with beautiful splitter cracks. The problem, beside my ankle, was that it would be 80° in the sun, 25 in the shade. Since it was winter, the north side of the valley only saw the sun for about an hour every morning. Therefore, snow from the wet season was not melting, and cracks and ledges had snow and ice. Winters are dry, though, so I imagine that when those formations get spring sun, they become very climbable.
I give many thanks to the American Alpine Club, not only for the grant they were so kind to give, but also for their support through my pretrip changes. Although our trip did not work out exactly as planned, we had a great time and say thank you very much for helping make it happen!
Lynnea Anderson, AAC