South America, Peru, Cordillera Carabaya, Chichicapac, North Ridge; Mamacapac, First Ascent; Cornice, South Ridge

Publication Year: 2008.

Chichicapac, north ridge; Mamacapac, first ascent; Cornice, south ridge. Mike Cocker, Jonathan Preston, and I arrived in Peru on June 14 and spent a week acclimatizing and buying essentials before arriving at base camp (a four-hour walk with donkeys from the end of a dirt track) at beautiful Laguna Chambine on the south side of the little-visited Cordillera Carabaya.

We spent a few days on reconnaissance, including a look at the south face of Chichicapac (5,614m), our intended target. Unfortunately, though there was a good Scottish-type gully and a mixed line up the face, the lower half was threatened by huge cornices.

Instead, on June 29 we made the first ascent of the north ridge of Chichicapac, grading the route D. Starting from a bivy in the cirque west of the ridge, we followed an easy gully to a col, at 5,123m, with spectacular views to the northeast. We followed the ridge for five pitches on rock, the hardest of which was around MVS and rather friable. Above, easier snow climbing led to the summit. We descended the west ridge (the original route), thus making the first traverse of the peak.

On July 3 we ascended the glacier to the fine peak of Screwdriver (5,543m), to look at its unclimbed south face. However, no obvious line presented itself, so we turned to the nearby unclimbed and spectacular rock spire of Mamacapac (5,525m). We climbed it (PD) via a straightforward snowslope to a high col, from where three pitches of easy-angled but horrendously loose rock gained the summit. There is confusion over the naming of the peaks in this area, with at least one expedition map being wrong. We have tried to sort this out and believe we have the peak names correct.

On July 6 Jonathan and I (Mike dropped out, having sprained his wrist) made the first ascent of the spectacular south ridge of Cornice (5,710m). After an initial 250m of moving together, we climbed 13 excellent pitches of continually interesting and exposed mixed and ice/snow climbing, finishing at the marginally higher end of a severely corniced ridge. The mountain has only had one previous ascent, probably to the other end of this summit ridge, and it is not known if the ridge was traversed. We did the climb in one push from a bivouac on the moraine below the glacier, and descended by downclimbing and rappelling, largely in the dark. Grade D.

Our team disputes the assertion by John Biggar that the rock is akin to Galloway granite—or, while it may be, it is Galloway granite that has been through a mincer and scattered liberally over the crags! Otherwise it is a beautiful area with many possibilities for new routes.

On July 8, after ten days of perfect weather, we left base camp in a blizzard and spent several days trying to evade protests and riots to return to Lima. All major roads were blocked with rocks, the airport at Juliaca was overrun by demonstrators who smashed the landing lights, and transport was at a standstill. After two days of watching from our hotel roof as teargas-firing riot police battled with slingshot-wielding mobs, we got a bus to Arequipa, which dropped us and the other passengers at a cement works in the middle of the desert, 26 km from town, as the road ahead was blockaded. With a combination of lifts and shank’s pony, and carrying 30+ kg of luggage apiece, we ran the gauntlet of stone-throwing hooligans and eventually made it to the town center. We finally left Peru three days later than scheduled.

We are grateful for the financial support from the MEF and the BMC.

Stephen Reid, U.K.