South America, Bolivia, Cordillera Real, Northern and Central Cordillera Real, Various New Routes

Publication Year: 2007.

Northern and Central Cordillera Real, various new routes. Nick Flyvbjerg (New Zealand) and Erik Monasterio spent six weeks exploring the central and northern Real. They first visited the Chekapa (Chikapa) Valley, east of the Negruni and north of the Condoriri massifs, where during a visit in October 2005 bad weather thwarted any climbing. These mountains are sometimes referred to as the Chekapa or Lico Group. The pair approached via a six-hour jeep ride along the road to Laguna Jankho Khota and over the Mollo Pass (5,100m) to Mina Fabulosa. Monasterio had climbed in the region west of Mollo Pass 10 years ago and was staggered by the amount of glacial recession, which made the area almost unrecognizable.

On July 26 they climbed a new route on Cerro Choque Santuro (5,160m on the Guzman Cordova map Cordillera de la Paz–Central). They made a straightforward crossing of the Chekapa Jahuira River and climbed south to the base of the peak. Several poor-quality bolted rock routes have been developed in this vicinity. Their 350m route started up a rocky vegetated gully on the right side of the north face. Three 60m pitches, with difficulties up to 5+ (French), led to easier ground and the crest of the loose, blocky northwest ridge/face. Easy unroped scrambling led to the prominent summit obelisk, which they surmounted by a pitch of 5+. It is unclear whether this summit had been reached previously.

After this ascent the pair moved south up the valley and camped at the foot of Cerro Chekapa (5,460m). On the 28th they climbed a central gully on Cerro Chekapa West (5,418m) that led to the north-northwest face at ca 5,100m. The climbing above, at first unroped up straightforward terrain (4), became increasingly difficult and loose. They roped for three final elegant pitches to the summit (6a max).

Although these two routes were certainly new, Rudi Knott’s 1969 Bavarian expedition made the first ascents of seven summits in this group of peaks, mainly from the south. The summits’ identities are unclear, but as Knott’s base camp was just south of the three Chekapa summits, it is likely all were climbed.

Moving to the northern Real, on August 5 Flyvbjerg and Monasterio made the first ascent of the northwest face of Punta ca 5,982m (DAV Cordillera Real – North, 1:50,000), a striking rock peak southwest of Ancohuma, above Laguna Glacier. Starting from a camp at 5,500m, the pair climbed unroped up the loose lower walls to reach the start of a compact gully at 5,850m. Two steep pitches on sound granite (6a+) led to unstable blocks and the summit. The peak had been previously climbed in May by two teams headed by Bolivian guides José Callisaya and Gonzalo Jaimes. These teams climbed the easy west and northeast ridges, meeting on the summit and walking down the south face to the Ancohuma Glacier. As the two ridges look like the outstretched wings of a condor, they christened the peak Rumi Mallku (Condor of Stone).

On August 7-8 Flyvbjerg and Monasterio added a third route to the rock peak known as Pico Gotico (5,750m on the DAV map). This monolithic rock west of Ancohuma was named after the shape of its north and south ridges, which resemble the incomplete arches of Gothic cathedrals. Monasterio made the first ascent in 1998 with his brother Grigota, via Long Laguna Glacier (6c A2), up the right side of the 500m west face, one of the highest-altitude technical rock routes in the country. He returned in 2002 with Marie Ducret to climb the left side of the face and join the upper northwest ridge (Via del Arco, 6c A2).

On the afternoon of the 7th Flyvbjerg and Monasterio added a direct start, 100m to the right, to Long Laguna Glacier. The first pitch (6b+) climbed over resonating blocks, with marginal protection and fatal ground-fall potential. The second pitch trended left to a point where they discovered a bolt belay. They fixed these pitches and re-ascended the following day, when a third pitch trending right over easy ground brought the pair to another bolt belay and the original crux of the Long Laguna Glacier route. Flyvbjerg led, taking three hours to climb the 50m, 4cm-wide crack, with two off-width sections, over a succession of roofs. A comprehensive rack and three in-situ bolts allowed him to climb the pitch free, at 6c. Flyvbjerg, an accomplished technical climber, described the “killer crack” as the most challenging alpine rock pitch he’d experienced. The upper face appears to have suffered rockfall, but four more pitches (6b max), first right and then left of the original route, led to the top of the face and a foresummit at 5,600m, where a boulder ridge rises to the main summit. However, the climbers descended the foresummit. Fly the Crack (6c) took 14 hours and required multiple midsize cams.

The June 2003 INFO [in CLIMB magazine, U.K.] documented controversy and confusion surrounding an attempted second ascent of Long Laguna Glacier in 2000 by the Spanish climber Cecelia Buil and the Australian guide Jeff Sandifort. Buil believed she was attempting a new route (though the original topo had been available in Sorata prior to the attempt, and Sandifort appears to have known of the route’s existence). After Monasterio heard rumors that bolts had been added to his route, a flurry of e-mails between Buil and him failed to clarify the issue. Buil, upset by the allegations, apologized but steadfastly maintained she placed no bolts on the original route; just two belay bolts and a couple for rappel anchors. (The pair terminated their ascent at the top of the crux pitch.) Finding three bolts at key sections on the crux crack confirmed that a serious breach of ethics had taken place. For Monasterio, whose country it is, the use of drilling equipment on high-mountain terrain is taboo; he champions the preservation of adventure in Bolivia’s high mountains. Monasterio notes that any breach of such principles is regrettable but is of particular concern when it takes so long to clarify the facts.

In late August Monasterio and Flyvbjerg added a second route to the steep slabs of the east face of Pk. 24, a.k.a. Punta Badile, probably becoming the first party to climb this face in its entirety from the ground up. From a camp at 5,000m they reached the foot of the southeast pillar, which was taken by 1994 Lehmpfuhl-Rauch-Schöffel route, Don’t Take the Long Way Home (650m, 6b). The 2006 pair climbed the gully to the right, which slants up to the foot of the magnificent mahogany-colored granite wall that forms the upper section of the east face. Forty meters up the gully they climbed up and right over steep blocks (4+), followed by two pitches of 5+, to reach the big terrace below the upper wall. They then climbed chimneys, cracks, and corners for six pitches, at sustained 6a to 6b+, to arrive on the summit ridge in a whiteout. Three long rappels took the team back to the main terrace. The route, which took 14 hours, required a full rack and an assortment of pegs. The pair notes that this face offers considerable potential for future development.

Robert Rauch (Germany), with Thomas Lehmpfuhl and Florian Schöffel, created controversy in 1998 with his ascent of Paititi on the east face of Pk. 24. After climbing a new route on the west face at III+, the team rappelled 160m down the east face to an arbitrary point in the middle of the wall, placing 23 bolts as they descended. They then climbed back up the line at 7a, creating the hardest technical alpine rock climb in the Real at the time. The “route,” which lies to the left of the 2006 line, remains understandably unrepeated. The obvious challenge now is to start from the foot of the peak with the Flyvbjerg-Monasterio line and climb the initial steep smooth section of the upper wall to link with the start of Paititi.

Erik Monasterio, Bolivia/New Zealand, and Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO Editor, CLIMB magazine