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South America, Bolivia, Cordillera Real, Overview and New Routes

Overview and new routes. During 2004 there were significantly fewer climbers in Bolivia than in previous years. Political instability may have contributed, as in September 2003 many visitors were stranded in the town of Sorata, in the northern Cordillera Real. Local Aymara protestors, angry at the government’s plan to privatize and export Bolivia’s rich gas reserves, blocked the access roads from the highland town of Achacachi to Sorata (140km northwest of La Paz). Visitors were stranded for up to two weeks, and finally when the Bolivian Army forcibly opened the road there were armed clashes with the protestors, and buses were shot at and stoned. Looting in Sorata and eviction of the authorities complicated a tense situation. Then in October popular protests in La Paz and the nearby city of El Alto left a toll of 80 to 100 deaths. The corrupt president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada, escaped to the US, and the vice president Carlos Mesa assumed the leadership. During the first few months of the year there were widespread road blocks and protests, and many embassies advised foreigners against visiting the country. The situation improved following a nationwide referendum on the July 18, which gave the government popular support.

Furthermore, 2004 was a very dry year with the Bolivian Andes experiencing little precipitation during the monsoon months. The big mixed ice/rock walls were quite bare, exposed to rockfall, and often threatened by seracs. The weather, however, was predictably stable.

I know of only one fatality, an Argentinean solo climber who slipped and fell several hundred meters on the country’s highest peak, Sajama (6,549m). A party of Australians managed to get lost on the country’s most popular and straightforward mountain, Huayna Potosi (6,088m), but were rescued.

Several new routes were established by Bolivian-New Zealand guide and psychiatrist Erik Monasterio and New Zealand climber Mike Brown. Their MEF and New Zealand Alpine Club-supported “Wiphala Expedition” spent mid-July to mid-August in the northern Cordillera Real.

Monasterio and Brown acclimatized by climbing a new route on the subsidiary peak on the western side of the Illampu-Ancohuma Massif, south of the Laguna Glacier Base Camp. DAV Map Pt. 5,573m had one previous ascent, in 1991 via the long southwest rock ridge, Rebeldia de los Condores (Enz-Rauch, reported in High Mountain INFO July 1999). From the town of Sorata the pair took two days to reach a high camp at 4,700m. On July 23 at 6 a.m., without bivouac equipment and with only two liters of water, they set off and reached the base of the wall two hours later. The route started approximately 400m northeast of the Enz-Rauch Route and ascended directly up the west face. It ascended the left-hand (north) wall of an obvious gully. After the first pitch (60m), the pair was forced back into the gully, simul-climbing for 300m and again ascending the line of least resistance on the face to the left of the gully. By evening they had climbed 14 pitches and, still not within sight of the summit, were forced to sit out the night in temperatures down to -20C. Brown initially exhibited pronounced symptoms of altitude sickness, but he improved through the night. The next day they completed the route in four more pitches, merging onto the glacier west of Ancohuma. As the pair had not carried ice-climbing equipment, they were forced to cross 200m of glacier by cutting steps into the ice. They rappelled onto the moraine and descended to the Laguna Glaciar Base Camp (base camp for the normal route on Ancohuma). The route, named Aclimatizacion, was long, very cold, exposed, and dangerous, as it was threatened by frequent rockfall. It required eighteen 60m pitches, with a crux of 6a (French) rock and an overall American alpine grade of V (French TD). The hitherto unnamed peak was christened Pico Wiphala. The Wiphala is the multicoloured Inca Flag that symbolizes the wisdom of the wind and is carried by locals in their protests and search for justice and equality.

On August 1, climbing from a high camp at ca 5,400m on the eastern aspect of the Illampu-Pico del Norte Massif, the pair attempted the southeast ridge of Pico del Norte (6,070m). Newly exposed unstable granite boulders on the ridge were extremely dangerous. Fear and a nostalgic attachment to life prevailed, and the attempt was abandoned after four pitches. The pair rappelled off the east face, before crossing a basin of thigh deep snow. On the same day they climbed a new route on the south face of Gorra de Hielo (5,760m). The 300m route followed an old avalanche gully and provided superb ice conditions. It was graded American alpine IV (French D+), AI4. Argentineans G. Minotti, M. Falconer, and L. Bromessard, who repeated the route a week later, confirmed the grade.

From the same high camp at ca 5,400m, on August 3 they climbed an excellent three-pitch new route (F6b, 6a, 5), on the rock spires running east from Aguja Yacuma (6,072m). The route ascended the unclimbed east face of the first major tower south of the Mesili-Sanchez Pass, between Illampu and the Yacuma Group.

The impressive rock peaks of PK 24, a.k.a. Punta Badile and Pico Emma Maria, lie east-northeast of Pico del Norte and Gorra del Hielo. There is some dispute as to the altitude and position of Pico Emma Maria; in Jill Neate’s book, Mountaineering In The Andes (Royal Geographical Soc., 2nd Edition 1994), it is wrongfully described as Point 5,715m (this is most likely Pico Esperanza), and on the DAV Map it is given an altitude of 5,531m. This obvious rock tower, clearly visible from the village of Cocoyo, had its first recorded ascent, via the southwest ridge, in August 1953 by the legendary climbers Hans Ertl and A. Hundhammer. In 1983 A. Mesili and C. Hutson added a second route, the East Buttress, a mixed route graded French TD. There have been, to the author’s knowledge, no other recorded ascents. On August 6 (Bolivia’s Day of Independence) Monasterio and Brown approached the peak, climbing directly up from the Cocoyo-Jahuira River (DAV Map) to establish a camp at the foot of the east face at ca 5,000m. The attempt nearly came to a premature end, as locals set fire to the grass fields directly beneath Pico Emma Maria. The valley became engulfed in thick, acrid smoke, and the pair stumbled blindly through the choking fumes to eventually find their base camp. On August 7 the smoke cleared, and the climbers struggled on with severe throat and eye irritations. The route ascended the southeast face, and the climbing was varied and sustained, over solid and compact granite of complex architecture, with roofs, dihedrals, and delicate corner systems, often choked with ice. Conditions deteriorated through the day, and by 2 p.m. the pair was caught in a snowstorm. They reached the summit in whiteout and stormy conditions at 5 p.m. Struggling with poor visibility and frozen ropes, the pair rappelled into the night, leaving pitons, wires, and slings. They finally reached camp at 11 p.m. The route (Humo e Independencia) was 500m long and required 11 sustained 60m pitches (max F6c, A0).

Erik Monasterio, Bolivia-New Zealand (with additional information from Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO, CLIMB magazine)