Nevado Panta, South Ridge; Pumasillo, West Ridge, Rare Ascent

Peru, Cordillera Vilcabamba
Author: Nathan Heald. Climb Year: 2016. Publication Year: 2017.

The Pumasillo group has the most extensive collection of glaciated peaks in the Cordillera Vilcabamba, yet only a handful of ascents have occurred here. The west ridge of Pumasillo (5,991m) was climbed by five expeditions between 1957 and 1974, and Carlos Buhler and Paul Harris climbed its east face in 1988, making the most recent known ascent of the peak.

In 2014, Waldemar Niclevicz and I tried to repeat the west ridge but turned around at 5,700m. From trip reports, I could see that the west ridge had been snowier in the past, and therefore broader and easier to navigate. In late July, Waldemar and I returned to Pumasillo, this time accompanied by Florian Peter (Switzerland) and Duncan McDaniel (USA). On August 1, we climbed the west ridge to a point 50m below the summit cornice, where a large crevasse blocked our way. I felt the difficulties of this 1,000m climb were around TD+ WI4.

After a couple of days’ rest in the jungle town of Santa Teresa, Duncan, Waldemar, and I set off for the remote, westernmost glaciated group of the Vilcabamba and our primary objective, Nevado Panta (5,840m, a.k.a. Otaña). The mountain has had one known ascent, up the north face, by a Swiss team in 1959, one of their many first ascents in the Vilcabamba (AAJ 1960).

On August 15, from Huancacalle, we traveled on 4WD roads for two hours toward the south side of Panta. At a large curve in the road, southeast of the peak, there is a forest of Puya raimondii cactus where we started the hike to base camp. We followed a good trail up the left-hand side of the valley and spent the night on ledges below the glacier at 4,800m.On August 16, we began at 1 a.m., climbing the glacier below the broad south ridge. On the ridge proper, we picked our way through a maze of towering seracs and crevasses, with some sections of WI4. Once on the summit plateau, we post-holed to the top, reaching it by 10 a.m. The descent went smoothly down our route, with several fun rappels down ice blocks, and we were back at camp by 5 p.m. (850m, D+ WI4).

The Vilcabamba remains one of the least climbed areas in Peru with great new-route potential, not just on glaciated peaks but also on large granite towers like those in Quelcamachay. Nowadays there are many roads offering easier access to these areas.

– Nathan Heald, Peru

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