Cayesh, Slo-Am Route
South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca
In May, Marko Prezelj and I visited Peru, where neither of us had been. We started our acclimatization with cragging on La Esfinge (5,325m). We first climbed the first three pitches of Cruz del Sur, originally graded 7c+ (5.13a), 7a (5.11d) obligatory, 800m, to ascertain the rock quality and the protection.
The next day we climbed the Original Route, originally graded 5.11c, free, onsight, in five-and-a-half hours, with the rarely done direct finish, which provided some of the best climbing on the route. After two days of rest, on June 1 we climbed Cruz del Sur free (onsight except the first three pitches) in seven hours.All the pitches we climbed on this cliff seemed overgraded. At sea level I would say that the Original Route is probably 5.10b and Cruz del Sur is 5.11b. That said, Marko and I probably acclimate better than some parties that don’t have altitude backgrounds. Also we had fine sunny and cool temperatures during these climbs.
Our next destination was the west face of Cayesh (5,721m), a peak that I had long felt epitomized hard climbing in the Blanca. We spent June 6 packing in to the head of the valley, and the next day we made a bivy just below the edge of the glacier. On June 8 we left the tent just before first light and in 16½ hours (round-trip from the base) opened a new line between the German and Charlie Fowler routes.
The climbing was uncertain from the start to the summit, which is just the kind of thing we like. After the initial 150m of an ice/snow couloir and 11 steep pitches with real mixed climbing, one pitch of pure rock and a final pitch of super-funky ice/snow led to the corniced summit. The difficulties were up to M7+ (M8?) on the mixed sections and 5.10c on rock. Dry conditions and unreliable protection made the route hard to grade, but we both managed to free it all onsight.
We rested for two days in Huaraz, then hiked up to the north face of Huascaran Norte. We planned to spend a day observing the face, and between 7:00 a.m. and 7:43 a.m. I counted 17 significant rockfall events down the center of the face, in the vicinity of the Casarotto Route. Instead of scoping the face, we retreated to Huaraz.
For our last week we chose Taulliraju (5,830m) and the Italian Route (900m, ED1 VI 5.9 Al), a beautiful and logical line to the summit. On the first third of the route we found good conditions, with dry/mixed sections that we climbed free (up to M6+). On the middle third,conditions were not so good: deep sugar snow on steep slabs and dry parts. Overall the terrain left the impression that we had to use every trick in the book to route-find (and climb) this rig. Super-fun.
The first night we bivied in a strange flat-floored ice-box, which required minimal chopping. The multiple chambers were hidden inside the cornice that forms on the crest of the spur. During the second day, we reached the long summit ridge, which was very corniced with poor-quality snow and ice. It took a lot of energy and some dangerous snow-climbing/crawling to get to the summit mushroom, where we made our second bivy just 15m below the top. We crossed the summit the next morning and descended the other side of the mountain, having freed the entire route.
Steve House, Bend, Oregon, AAC