South America, Peru, Cordillera Vilcabamba, Various Ascents

Publication Year: 2006.

Cordillera Vilcabamba, various ascents. In 2004 Canadians Conny Amelunxen and Neil Maedel visited the eastern end of the Pumasillo group, climbing the small peaks, north of Totora, that form the end of the long curving ridge running generally east from Lasunayoc (5,960m). The weather was particularly bad, and the pair was only able to climb on two days. On the first theymade an 18-hour traverse over the three most easterly peaks, which were separated by two minor subpeaks; this involved one-to-two pitch ascents. They climbed the most easterly peak by the north face and west ridge, with pitches of 5.8 and 5.9 to reach the summit. They traversed the next main peak from east to west via three pitches of 50-60° snow and a 30m summit section of 5.6. The third, highest peak gave a convoluted glacier ascent, after which the two descended south to camp.

On the second day, in a 22-hour push, they climbed two more peaks, including a traverse of the highest in this area, a large granite summit. Reaching the notch west of the previous day’s third peak, they moved onto the north flank and climbed two pitches of 65° ice to a gap between two tops. A pitch of 5.9 led to the west top. They climbed the more easterly top in four rock pitches up to 5.10. From here a knife-blade ridge led south to a col in front of a second, possibly higher peak. This gave two pitches (5.8 and 5.9), followed by scrambling to the top. A convoluted descent, first north, then back east to cross the south ridge, led to a glacier, down which they headed south and eventually walked out to Totura. The five summits ranged from ca. 5,000 to 5,300m, and gave intricate climbing up to 5.10 and WI4. Although no trace of previous ascents was found, it is not known how many of these peaks were new. It is believed the two westernmost were likely climbed by a 1969 Australian expedition.

In June, after visiting a valley called Pumasillo (the only glaciated peak in this area, west of the Mandor group, is confusingly marked on the map as 5,189m Cerro Pumasillo, but it should not be confused with the main Pumasillo Massif farther east) but not reaching any summits, Germans Christoph Nick, Frank Toma, Katja Angerhofer, Christian Klant, Ingo Mittas, and Katja Weil, and Peruvian brothers Alejandro and Hermenegildo Huaman Olarte, trekked south across the Mandor and eventually reached the village of Yanama, known to Nick and Toma from previous visits. Leaving the Yanama Valley they headed north to place a camp at 5,200m, close to the Lasunayoc Col. From there Angerhofer, Klant, Nick, and Toma ascended Lasunayoc via the huge eastern glacier and a final steep ice face of 60°. This 5,936m peak was first climbed by Americans in 1956 and had been reconnoitered by Nick and Toma in 2002. Good conditions allowed them to complete the ascent in a roundtrip of nine hours from camp. Like all peaks in this region, Lasunayoc is rarely climbed. The next day Angerhofer, Klant, Mittas, and Nick climbed Pk. 5,447m on the east side of the col, dubbing it the “Mirador de Lasunayoc.” In 2002 Nick and Toma had failed to climb the 30m summit tower, but this time the four Germans were successful, after a pitch of UIAA VI on less than perfect rock. They rappelled from an in-situ snow stake hammered into a crack on the summit. Pk. 5,447m has both a rocky and a snowy top. The snowy summit was climbed by New Zealanders in 1962 and Australians in 1969, but the rocky top was not ascended until 2003, when Conny Amelunxen and Sean Easton climbed it, at 5.9. Today it is undoubtedly the highest point of the mountain but may not have been so 40 years ago.

The team then split, with Klant and Nick trekking to the Palcay Valley for an attempt on Salcantay (6,271m), while the rest returned via the village of Mollepata (2,800m) to Cuzco. Part of this trek is being promoted by agencies as an alternative to the very popular Inca Trail, and Toma notes the once pristine environment has now become a huge garbage dump.

On the June 21 Klant and Nick established a camp below the Normal Route (Northeast Ridge) of Salcantay, which rises from a col at 4,500m and is generally considered ca. alpine AD in standard. Klant was ill, so on the 23rd Nick left for a solo attempt. When he hadn’t returned by the 25th Klant descended for help. The subsequent helicopter search by two rescueteams, one from a private organization and the second from the Policia di Alta Montagne, found a high bivouac and steps leading to the base of a rock wall, above which they vanished. The search was called off after a week, and Nicks body has not been found. His previous new routes, during the last few years, in the Vilcabamba (Pumasillo and Panta groups) and Urubamba (Terijuay Group) with Toma were reported in Mountain INFO.

Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO Editor, CLIMB magazine