American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Quesillo, East Ridge, Electric Lane, to Near Summit; Huaraca, North Ridge and Northeast Face

Peru, Cordillera Huayhuash

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Carl Reilly
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2008

Between July 22 and August 12, Tom Bide, Martin Lane, Graeme Schofield, and I went to the southern spur of the Cordillera Huayhuash. First, and most eventfully, we went to Quesillo’s east ridge (a.k.a. Electric Lane). This route had seen attempts by at least one party, with retreat in bad weather. Setting off early in the morning, we climbed in two pairs and had made good progress, soloing the easier initial sections of the ridge, when dawn broke. The crux was a 15m steep jam crack (UIAA 5+) to gain the top of one of many gendarmes on the lower ridge. But then a 55m rappel down the north face of the ridge, and a subsequent rising traverse around a 10m gap, slowed our progress. Further climbing along the easy rock ridge led to a slab pitch of UIAA 5. Soon we reached the snow ridge, which led to a rock band that we climbed by a short runnel (Scottish 3/4). The ridge remains 60° steep from here, and the snow deteriorated, allowing no worthwhile protection.

As we neared the summit, the weather rapidly deteriorated, and we heard thunder. Our initial plan was to descend the west ridge to the glacier; the climbing now became urgent. Approximately one rope length from the summit, the state of the remaining ridge looked too time-consuming and dangerous; a notch on the ridge 50m below the summit was our high point (grade TD-). We found an ice cave high on the north face and one-by-one climbed in. It was during this process that a lightning strike struck our entire four-man team. Martin was rendered unconscious for 30 seconds, before waking up disorientated, confused, and in a state of shock (much the same as normal, really).

“What’s happened?” Martin asked.

“We’ve all been struck by lightning, mate” Graeme replied.

“Was it my fault?”

“No, I am pretty sure it wasn’t,” Graeme said, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t.

We looked at Martin, who was still in the land of the fairies, and regrouped in the ice cave as the storm worsened. It would be impossible to descend that day.

Our poorly made snow-hole within the ice cave left our upper torsos and heads exposed, and the four of us lined up ala spoons. On a positive note, we could all fit in the hole, but on a negative note, it had no heat-retaining qualities whatsoever. While none of us are particularly huggy sorts, it is fair to say that nobody was trying to be the alpha male. Graeme even reports that he had never been so glad to be sandwiched between two strapping young men.

After we suffered 12 hours of utter misery, the sun began to creep over the horizon. Suddenly Martin seemed liveliest of all; clearly the lightning strike had charged him up. We descended the northeast face by a series of rappels and downclimbing.

After recovering from the electrifying experience, we put up two routes on the north side of Huaraca. Tom and Martin established the North Ridge route from the col between Huaraca and Jurau. The route follows the narrow snow ridge, which is corniced in sections, through rock bands until an overhanging rock wall forced them into a series of gullies and slabs on the northeast face. These led to snow slopes and the summit. Grade: D (UIAA 4+).

Graeme and I climbed the Northeast Face route, starting from an obvious snow cone and following a right-trending but wandering line through a series of cracks and chimneys, leading to steeper chimneys, 45m left of the ridge, which we climbed to snow slopes and the summit. Grade: D (UIAA 5).

We all descended by downclimbing the east ridge for 100m, before making two rappels down the south face to reach the glacier between Huaraca and Quesillo.

Carl Reilly, U.K.

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