American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Peru, Cordillera Blanca, Taulliraju, North Face to Final Cornice

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Taulliraju, north face to final cornice. In late June Micah Retz and I set off to the beautiful Taulliraju (5,830m), wanting to climb a new route. After watching the direct southwest face avalanche a few times, we headed over the west col with a few days of food and fuel. The remote and seldom-visited north face had not been climbed by a new route since 1979. We placed camp ten minutes’ walk below the face on the immense Taulliraju-Puchirca Glacier.

There are only two other routes on the north side of the mountain, and only one climbs the entire north face proper. The original Terray route (500m, MD A1 60°, 1956) climbs the left side of the north face for a few hundred meters, then quickly gains the northeast ridge. The Bajan-Busch route (600m, V 5.9 AI4 95°, 1979) roughly starts on the original route, but takes a straight line to the summit on the left side of the face.

Looking at the face straight on, it was easy to decide where we would climb. A perfect ice runnel at mid-height on the right side of the face ran for at least 400m. Guarding the bottom of this runnel was a 60m vertical rock wall, and above the runnel were vertical and overhanging passages of water ice along the summit bulges.

We started at 7 p.m. to ensure good conditions, as we knew these upper ice sections would be the crux. I took the first block of climbing to about mid-height, then Micah took over to the top. I quickly reached the crux rock band. Difficult mixed climbing led to a high-quality vertical granite band that went at 5.10 and finished with a desperate mantel in crampons. In the mixed runnel, we switched leaders. That section went quickly, as we placed virtually no protection through the 70°-85° sn’ice. We could usually belay from rock anchors on either side of the runnel. Little pro through overhanging bulges of water ice made the climbing bold as well as difficult. Two pitches below the summit the sun came out and complicated things greatly. The ice no longer was cold and hard, which made climbing and placing screws difficult. At the top, at 8 a.m., neither of us was willing to surf out onto the last few meters of the unstable cornice. We decided to rappel our ascent route, mostly on threads and pickets, instead of one of the unfamiliar lines. The descent took four hours.

The 650m route required 18 hours roundtrip from our glacier camp at 5,000m. The route went at 5.10 WI5 M6, but conditions change with Peruvian climbing, making grades difficult to peg. We were lucky to have a heavy snow- and ice-pack from the previous winter, as I have seen photos of this face when it was almost entirely rock.

We also attempted the first ascent of Taulliraju’s corniced and highly technical west ridge. We believe this to be the first attempt. Although we climbed half of the ridge in one long day, we had to rap off due to dangerous snow conditions. At one point I punched through the ridge, and when I pulled my legs out of the holes, I could see blue sky beneath! This ridge will be climbable during a season with a low snowpack; the heavy winter, which enabled us to climb our north face route, shut us down on this one. Thanks to Black Diamond and Casa de Zarela of Huaraz for their help with this trip.

David Turner, AAC

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