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South America, Peru, Cordillera Vilcanota, Colque Cruz I, I Am Dynamite; Peak Bethia, Possible First Ascent

Colque Cruz I, I Am Dynamite; Peak Bethia, possible first ascent. On August 2 Alistair Gurney and I made the first ascent of the southwest face of Colque Cruz I (6,102m) in Peru’s remote Cordillera Vilcanota. Our route up the icy 650m face, I Am Dynamite, weighed in at TD+ (AI4 M4 60°).

Our expedition began as a nightmare. Arriving in Lima a day before me, Alistair had all of his equipment stolen at gunpoint on his way from the airport to our hostel. Several days later we’d finally hired enough gear to get the trip back on track. Progress was derailed again when I contracted AMS, twice: first in Cuzco, then—after a seven- hour bus journey southwest to Tinqui and a two-day trek with our commendable horseman, Fransisco—at base camp, necessitating a swift retreat to Cuzco.

Returning healthy to our Yanacocha basecamp, we made an acclimatization ascent on the nearby Carhuaco Punco massif, climbing its most southwesterly subsidiary peak via its short, snowy southeast face (AD 60°). We christened it Peak Bethia, though unsure whether it was virgin, and estimated a height of about 5,400m.

We then made a circuitous two-day approach to the southwest face of Colque Cruz I, across massive moraines and a crevassed glacier. Leaving a bivouac below the face at 3 a.m. on August 2, we reached the summit at 2:15 p.m. and in another three hours rappelled the route from Abalakovs. The route began roughly in the summit fall line, followed the vague couloir up the middle of the face, trended rightward through a mixed section at three-quarters height, and finished straight up, meeting the south ridge where a couple of steep, deep snow pitches led to the summit.

After a third night out below the face, we followed our tracks back down the glacier. In one section they had been obliterated by an icefall from a nearby face. Proceeding cautiously I promptly fell through the freshly settled snow and found myself hanging on the rope 15m below the glacier surface, 5m from the bottom of a crevasse. Alistair had done well to hold my fall. I prussiked out and we completed the grueling trek back across the moraines to base camp without further incident.

However, Alistair’s borrowed boots had decimated his feet, which were numb, swollen, and a sinister grey. We descended as quickly as possible, and tests in Cuzco determined that they would recover without surgery.

Colque Cruz I was first climbed in 1953 by an Austro-German expedition that included Heinrich Harrer. Its southwest face was the objective of several expeditions before us. In 1983 a British team, whose base camp was attacked and robbed by bandits, abandoned their plans in bad weather; in 2003 Amy Bullard and Peter Carse descended in a storm from 5,900m; in 2004 heavy snowfall stopped Slovenian and British expeditions from making attempts; in June 2006 an American team decided that our line was out of condition.

Alistair and I gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support of the BMC, UK Sport, and Fore-Wood.

Rufus Duits, U.K.