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South America, Peru, Cordillera Huayhuash, Yerupaja, Limitless Madness to Summit Ridge

Yerupaja, Limitless Madness to summit ridge. My latest adventure began at the end of June. We were three Slovenians—Matevz Kramer, Tadej Zorman, and me—whose goal was to climb a new route in the Cordillera Huayhuash. I had climbed the Southwest Face of Sarapo (6,127m) and the West Face of Trapecio (5,644m), and I knew from my experiences that Huayhuash mountains are serious. There are no normal routes, and the glaciers are active and dangerous.

Our first few weeks in the Andes were spent acclimatizing on peaks around Huaraz, but we then felt it was time for something more serious. We chose Yerupaja (6,617m), the highest and mightiest mountain in the Huayhuash. On this mountain there are no good or bad ascents, only inventive ones. We chose to try a new, daring route on the northeast face. After two tiring days of driving over bumpy roads and donkey transport of supplies, we reached our base camp at the tip of Laguna Carhuacocha, with perfect views of Yerupaja and neighboring Jirishanca. Compared to many commercial trekking camps, ours was modest and environmentally friendly. We established friendly relations with the family Abalos, who stubbornly live there year-round, at 4,200m. We respect their immense will!

During the next few days we carried climbing gear and food up to our 4,700m ABC. One look at the beginning of the route told us it would be hard. The northeast face saw its last ascent 26 years ago, in 1977 (Dovzan, Manfreda). Italians climbed the east ridge in 1982. Because of global warming, information from these earlier teams is no longer of use, as the glacier and face have changed so much in the last 20 years. We could not determine what exactly they climbed.

We decided on an alpine-style ascent, going up and down in one push. After a few rest days we began climbing left of a hanging glacier, and found within a few pitches how serious the ascent would be. There were 300m of mixed climbing (5c WI5), and having gear and food for four days made it even more challenging. The lower part of the route was threatened by cracking seracs above, and now and then a few tons of snow and ice fell near us. We began to realize the definition of craziness, and why this face had been unclimbed for over 20 years.

The middle section of the face tested our limits with steep seracs and solid WI6. After 14 hours of hard climbing we finally finished with that craziness. We set up a tent at 5,500m on a huge snow plateau. As we cooked, we discussed the tactics for the next day. The night was calm. We continued up the middle section of the face, through the largest gully, which was closed by a rock band on the left side. Our morning warm-up consisted of rock and overhanging seracs, followed by a pitch of WI6 and rock climbing of 5b. This route was not what we had anticipated—we began thinking we could do it freestyle, with no technical climbing. Above, our route’s difficulties resembled those of the upper part of the Jackson route on Les Droites above Chamonix. Around 9 a.m. the face became alive with huge rocks flying by. We felt totally exposed, as everything from above was funneled into our gully. The serious technical climbing kept us from moving as fast as we needed to go. However, analyzing the alternatives, we decided to continue. We wanted to escape from this shit right away! We climbed close to the rock, on the left side of the gully. This section paralleled the route Dix and Jones established in 1966, 200m to the right.

At last the vertical face began to kick back, but by then we were tiring and feeling the effect of altitude. We pushed through this section toward a huge serac that blocked the ideal line to the top of the face. Our lack of energy made us move slowly up a long snow face. When we were just below the serac, the weather changed, and the face soon was covered by fog and snowfall. The air became even colder—at least as low as -20° Celsius. We passed rocks to our left and headed to the ridge. Again the climbing became harder, and we used lots of time on the mixed steep part that led us to the east ridge. The falling snow was more serious, and little avalanches began coming down the face. By now we were simply exhausted.

We continued over the ridge toward the summit, but as we reached 6,550m the storm became intense. We waited a while, then decided to descend our route. The night was long, but knowing there was no alternative, we gathered every bit of energy and will we had left. The ascent to 6,550m took 26 hours. We were tired and longed to be back on solid ground, but had to descend by carefully constructing solid rappels. We made about 30 rappels with 60m double ropes.

Early in the morning we reached the tent on the snow plateau. We spent a few hours there before continuing our descent, and late in the evening arrived in base camp. We named the route Limitless Madness (1,900m, VI 5c WI6). It was pure madness: hard climbing, falling rocks and seracs, hot sun, and bitterly cold nights. We had wanted an adventure, and we got it!

Matej Mejovsek, Slovenia