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South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Pucahirca Oeste, Attempt

Pucahirca Oeste, attempt. In late June John Miller and I set out for the Pucahirca group, assisted by a Mountain Fellowship Grant from the AAC. After acclimatizing in the Ishinca Valley, we were unable to establish a new line on the north face of Pucahirca Oeste (6,039 m) [some sources call this peak Pucahirca Sur], due to deteriorating snow and ice conditions.

The approach was our first challenge. We could make the three- to four-day trek with burros from Hualcayán to the north of Santa Cruz and Alpamayo, then down to Laguna Sajuna, or we could take a 10-hour bus ride over the range to Pomabamba. From Pomabamba a five-hour taxi ride to base camp still would await, if a taxi willing to negotiate the journey could be found. We decided to make the four-day trek, but a stomach bug sent me back to Caraz. After recovering, I took the bus to Pomabamba and a taxi as far as one would take me toward base camp, which left me 30km to cover by foot.

We scoured John’s telephoto pictures for the best lines in the cirque. Two interesting, unclimbed lines attracted us. A breathtaking ice chimney over 1,000' long split the middle of the northwest face of Pucahirca Central (6,014m). This intimidating line looked to have a horrific approach up the icefall. It would be quite an accomplishment, if global warming does not do away with it. The other line linked various promising features up the middle of the north face of Pucahirca Oeste. This was our line.

We camped on the glacier below the north face of Pucahirca Oeste. Some of the features that seemed in good condition just a few days before had deteriorated in the sun, and we watched debris fall directly down our intended line.

We made a high camp on the glacier and made an attempt that night. However, we moved slowly on the low rock buttress, which was less than optimal and steeper than expected. Combined with the fear of unfavorable conditions ahead, we turned back. The next morning we realized the wisdom of our decision when we watched an awesome avalanche sweep near our intended line.

Asa Firestone, AAC