South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Tocllaraju (Possible New Route)

Publication Year: 2007.

Tocllaraju (possible new route); La Esfinge; Huandoy Sur, new route to summit ridge. I went to Peru in early June, headed straight to Huaraz, the “Chamonix of South America,” and spent three months climbing in the Cordillera Blanca.

After acclimatizing on four smaller peaks, I went to the Ishinca Valley, where Evan Sloan, of Boulder, Colorado, and I climbed the left side of the west face of Tocllaraju, staying well left of the normal route. Our route consisted of about nine pitches of mostly ice and snow averaging 60°-70°, with a short overhanging s’nice pitch to get out of the ever-widening bergschrund. This possible new route/variation (many variations and lines have been climbed on this face and are hard to tell apart) ended 100m below the summit, from where we followed the standard route (Northwest Ridge) to the top. We climbed the line in a 20-hour round-trip from base camp in perfect typical Peruvian weather.

I then moved on to La Esfinge in mid-July with a Californian friend, Matt Meinzer (also of Sacramento), intending to seek out a new line on the east or southeast face. We scoped both faces in search of a natural new line, and decided upon the steep central orange-and-red wall 100m right of the original east face route. As we started climbing, Matt got increasingly sick and after two pitches was forced to descend. Since solo big-wall climbing is my passion, I wasn’t hesitant to continue, but was saddened to see Matt have to bail. In the six days I was on the face, I was subject to snow and high winds almost every night but had beautiful daytime conditions. The climb went well, with only seven holes, hand-drilled on pitches four and five. The route is about 650m long and almost completely independent, topping out on the last few easy pitches of Lobo Estepario. [Antonio Gómez Bohórquez, the AAJ's Cordillera Blanca expert, notes that, actually, Turner’s line joins the upper half of the 1999 French route, Papas Rellenas (Cruaud-Devernay-Peyronnard-Plaze).]

After La Esfinge I wanted to climb another challenging alpine route, so I headed to the Llanganuco Valley and Huandoy Sur’s southwest buttress, which borders the immense 1,000m south face granite wall. My style was simple: To climb fast and light, alone on a new route. I hiked to camp with a light pack, after catching an afternoon bus from Huaraz. After a nap I headed up with no rope, stove, or bivy gear on the mixed spur that separates the south face from the Southwest Buttress route. My route turned out to be harder and steeper than it had looked through the clouds the previous evening, having continuous mixed climbing with steep unconsolidated snow. After 700m, I came upon the final crux, an overhanging cornice below the ridge. Unable to go around it and too high to turn back, I had to wallow up it, using every technique possible. I crested the summit ridge at dawn, after climbing for six-and-a-half hours from the ‘schrund, just in time to see the summit area before a storm hit. I hurriedly continued until it was impossible to see. I knew I was about 100m vertical from the elusive summit, but was unsure if I could continue and make it back without bivy gear. With the last drink of my water and half an energy bar, I raced down the Southwest Buttress and eventually found my tracks on the glacier. I was back in Huaraz 28 hours after leaving. I was happy with the climbing, but disappointed that the last few easy meters eluded me. With so many beautiful mountains here, I will surely come back. I thank the AAC for its generous support with a Mountain Fellowship Grant.

Dave Turner, AAC

Share this article