Serkhe Khollu (5,546m), Southwest Face, La Venganza del Don Gringo
South America, Bolivia, Cordillera Real, Hampaturi Group
The rainy season ended at the end of May, and I’ve returned to the Hampaturi. I pitch the tent near my vehicle and fall asleep. At 3 a.m. I set out for the southwest face, which I’ve been dreaming of for years: I’m well acclimatized and during the rainy season kept fit on the cliffs of Aranjuez and improved my balance and coordination by slack-lining. I start up the first vertical icefall without pausing; conditions are excellent, and I am quickly gaining height.
An Austrian pair, I think Markus Kronthaler and Michael Rechberger, were the first to climb this face. In 2001 there was almost no information about Serkhe Khollu, and they walked far to reach the mountain. An ice nose in the middle of the face led steeply to the upper glacier, the crux being an ice cave that they had to crawl through. There was steep climbing, and their line, which led directly to the summit, may have been one of the most difficult ice routes in Bolivia. The ice nose disappeared with glacial recession, and the original route no longer exists. A new mining development below the mountain has changed the character of the area, and access roads should soon be improved. These miners have caused no problem to visitors who don’t bother them.
I knew the way to the mountain, because I used to visit the grasslands below to buy llamas for my restaurant. I went there almost weekly to separate llamas from the herd and kill them. When time permitted I’d walk higher to scope lines on the face and spotted a hard ice/mixed route to the right of the Austrian line.
The middle section of the face gives mixed climbing, on brittle rock (UIAA V) and 65-75° névé. A wide belt of seracs looms above. Deep powder lies to the left, so I choose a stepped, direct line—safe, elegant, but with overhangs. There is no room for fear, and my concentration is total. The key section is 125°, and I climb it quickly, then catch my breath in a small depression. The final slopes are 55° and excellent snow, leading to the ridge a short distance from the summit. I at last enjoy the warming rays of the new day. In the distance banks of cloud rise from the tropical valleys of the Yunga region. Have I ever been this alive?
I name the 700m route La Venganza del Don Gringo (Don Gringo’s revenge). To make money during the quiet rainy season, I sometimes wrestle. My opponents in the pre-arranged fights are Cholitas, women in traditional dress. My fighting name, Don Gringo, has become popular, not only at the wrestling ring but also with my employees and friends. La Venganza del Don Gringo is by far the most difficult of my three first ascents on Serkhe Khollu and may be the most difficult ice/mixed climb in Bolivia. I don’t think I can climb harder ice, with or without a partner.