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Piramide Blanca (5,230m), Southwest Face Direct

In a snowstorm at the start of the rainy season, Robert Rauch and Eduardo Unzueta (Bolivia) and I (U.S.) climbed new ground on Piramide Blanca. We climbed a two- or three-pitch variation to the current Southwest Face Direct. I say current because the Southwest Face Direct was reported in Yossi Brain’s 1999 guide as first climbed in 1988 (200m, D-, 80°, Bartram-Peltier-Whitelaw). However, due to the loss of much of the right side of the glacier, the route no longer exists in its original form. Also the regular route up the southwest face-southwest ridge does not resemble the photo or description in the guide; it may not be possible without mixed or rock climbing. (The original was an easy snow route.)

The line we climbed is rather more direct than the original Direct, which despite its name traversed significantly. We climbed the steepest snow/ice line on the right side of the face and then the ridge to the summit. Eduardo thinks much of our line had been followed before, though the two or three crux pitches we climbed had been avoided by moving left to reach gentler (ca 70°) snow and ice.

Our route is obvious when seen from the most popular climbing base camp in Bolivia, after Huayna Potosi’s, and the Condoriri area has received much attention for decades. On the other hand, it is the more famous routes that get almost all the attention, and most climbers seem not to want to risk wasting time on an unknown objective. I’m therefore not entirely comfortable claiming our route as new, but one of the new pitches—an overhanging serac led by Robert to reach an ice cave—was really hard. It was a long day, about 10 hours tent-to-tent and 16 hours tent-to-front door, with the most dangerous part being the drive back to La Paz in the dark.