I set off from Italy with Giovanni Penna and Marco Rainone to achieve two goals: working with the Università Campesina and attempting a new route on the south face of Illimani. Università Campesina is a project run by my friend Antonio “Topio” Zavattarelli, a priest and mountaineer who, through his missionary at Peñas, is training Bolivian high school pupils to become tour guides. The best may even progress to become mountain guides.
During the first part of our stay, we held a series of lessons with the students in the classroom and at the crags close to Peñas, after which we completed the program by climbing Chachacomani (6,074m) and Condoriri (5,648m). When the school holidays arrived, the Bolivian children returned to their families and we began considering the second stage of the expedition.
The abundant snowfall and unsettled weather in May, coupled with high winds, had created unstable conditions on the upper slopes of the mountains, and so we decided not to attempt Illimani and instead opted for the Quimsa Cruz. This area is a relatively unknown Eldorado for rock climbing, characterized by magnificent granite peaks and a huge potential for new routes.
On June 18, Marco, Topio, and I, along with three young climbers connected with the mission at Peñas—Rosmel Varillas Acuna (24), Ronaldo Choque Camargo (19), and Davide Vitale (26)— headed for the small village of Viloco. After establishing base camp at 4,500m in the Kuchu Mocoya valley, we spent the first day making a reconnaissance and choosing an objective, eventually settling for the northwest face of Gran Muralla (a.k.a. Grosse Mauer, ca 5,100m). Rising 200–250m, this face is certainly one of the most beautiful rock formations in the cordillera.
Our climb focused on a series of cracks on the right-hand side of the face [well right of a route climbed in 2006 by two aspirant French guides]. We completed the climb in eight hours, using mostly cams and nuts, along with some pegs. The granite proved to be of excellent quality, rough and sharp, although it has to be said that the cracks were often filled with dirt, grass, and stones, which slowed progress. Unfortunately, Davide took a fall at the end of the first pitch and twisted an ankle. Topio went down with him to base camp, but the rest of us continued to the top. We rappelled the face from existing anchors on the wall to the left. [This rappel route, established in 2015 by Juvenal and Sergio Condori, generally descends along the French route from 2006 (Chabert-Labaeye), but in the decade since that first ascent, the cracks have “gone back to nature” and are choked with dirt.] We called our route Kamasa (250m, 6b A2), which means “courage” in the local Aymara language.
In both of its phases, the expedition was very positive. The Università Campesina project offers a bright future for the younger generation on the Bolivian plateau.
– Enrico Rosso, Italy