Ritacuba Blanco, South Pillar (not to summit)
South America, Colombia, Sierra Nevada del Cocuy
[Editor's Note and Correction: The Lopez-Pfaff Direct route described below is in fact not on Ritacuba Blanco proper; rather, it climbs a sub-peak (approximately 5,000m) located to the south of Ritacuba and known as "Cerro Muela."]
On February 21, 2012, Camilo Lopez and I climbed the south pillar of Ritacuba Blanco, naming our route Lopez-Pfaff Direct (600m, IV 5.10d AI3). We climbed to the summit of the pillar, measuring an altitude of 5,179m. The main summit (5,330m) proved unreachable, due to an unstable hanging serac above a mandatory traverse from the top of the pillar. Research prior to our trip showed no previous ventures on the south face.
We climbed alpine style, unsupported. Starting from the road head at Parada de Romero, Guican, we carried gear and food for three days up and down mountain passes to a base camp at Laguna del Avellanal (4,200m). From there we scoped out our project’s conditions. The weather had been fairly stable for most of our approach, with only a few thick cloud formations and several drops of rain. We knew we were late in the dry season and had little time to spare. The next day we carried gear up a steep moraine to the base of the wall, dodging rockfall from the melting summit of Ritacuba Blanco. We bivouacked in a secure spot close to the face and started climbing early the next day.
We climbed fairly quickly, reaching the top at noon, with winds blowing and the sun shining. On the first three-quarters of the wall we found good steep rock with some loose stuff. Toward the top there were more broken sections, with large loose blocks. The summit ridge had blocks glued on by snow and ice and was a bit sketchy, so we retreated, rappelling the face. We left behind only pitons and tape at rappel stations and were back at base camp as the sun disappeared over the horizon.
Camilo and I spent a total of eight days in the beautiful Sierra del Cocuy, seeing only a few trekkers. It is a pristine alpine environment, full of mountains and big walls. The area is still occupied by indigenous people and is seen as a very religious and powerful place. We were fortunate to have this experience, good weather, and great climbing on the Ritacuba Blanco, one of the most exotic and magical mountains in South America.
Anna Pfaff, U.S.