South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Huantsan Sur, Death or Glory

Publication Year: 2007.

Huantsan Sur, Death or Glory. The northeast buttress of Huantsan Sur is approached from the east side of the range. Unlike the heavily frequented west side, the east is another world. A four-hour bus drive dropped us in the quiet town of Chavin. Word spread that weird western-climber types wanted horses for load-carrying, and, with bartering done, the next day Matt Helliker and I completed the six-hour walk to base camp in the very secluded Quebrada Alhuina.

Quebrada Alhuina is a cul-de-sac, headed by Nevado Rurec (5,700m), Huantsan Sur (5,919m), Huantsan Oeste (6,270m), and the formidable main Huantsan (6,395m). At the time there were only two routes in the whole valley. Our intended line, a splitter couloir between the main peak and Oeste was not to be, given the unsettled weather. To the left of the couloir, Huantsan Sur stood, with ridges and buttresses, a totally independent peak, pointed and stunning and in much better condition. After we waited the snow out for several days, it stopped, and we went for a walk with packed bags.

On June 25 we left base camp (4,400m) at 8:30 a.m., reaching the moraine beneath the face at 10 a.m. Deliberation on route lines and gear faff took another two hours, but at midday we finally began our line, the central northeast buttress, starting at 5,000m. The buttress can be split into thirds. First is rock, of a kind: 200 crumbling meters offering V-diff climbing with a pack and big boots. Brushing the holds before crimping was de rigour. Knocking, pulling, and testing before committing was essential. With no trustworthy placements for gear, we soloed, keeping close as the shale, gravel, and tiles flew.

At the top of the rock section we donned crampons and axes and roped up. This middle section proved the most testing, as we sneaked and sprinted, passing beneath, on top of, around, and through countless overhanging, cracked, and creaking monster seracs. Massive umbrellas of wind-blown, icicle-encrusted overhangs loomed atop the runnels in the afternoon sun. Speed and luck were our friends. At 5:30 p.m. we made a bivouac on rock to the left of a gully, near a massive umbrella at 5,500m. A serac high on the face calved in the night, debris hit us, and we cowered.

Leaving the bivouac at 7 a.m. the 26th, we climbed beneath a massive umbrella with free-hanging icicles as thick as telegraph poles, eventually exiting on the left. From here, concerned about falling debris, we pitched it out for 60m. We traversed rightward across a snow slope lumped with television-sized ice blocks from the sleep- depriving serac. 60m. A 75° ice runnel led right of another ice umbrella, to an exit through a keyhole and a poor belay on rock atop a fluting. The Keyhole Pitch, 70m. After searching left to no avail, we found a mixed runnel connecting the middle section to the summit snowfield. It was a left-rising traverse, crossing several flutings and dropping into a deep and hidden ice gully. The Link Pitch, 70m. With nervous anticipation we followed the deep ice gully, but luck was with us, and it opened onto the summit snowfield. 70m. On the final section, the 60° summit snow slope, we moved together for the last 170m, hitting the left ridge just below the top and summiting at 3 p.m.

The descent was a fraught and torrid affair, with one bivouac beneath the massive umbrella of ice at 5,600m. We rappelled the snow and ice and downclimbed the rock section. We reached the base at 1 p.m. on the 27th and base camp at 3 p.m. The weather broke the next day.

We have purposely omitted technical grades from this description, as the grades bear no relevance to the commitment needed to complete this route.

Nick Bullock, U.K.