Allinccapac II, Gabarriti, Incaccapac, and Other Ascents
Peru, Cordillera Carabaya
After a fruitful trip to the Cordillera Carabaya in 2016 (see 2017 AAJ report), Aaron and Jeanne Zimmerman (USA) and I returned in June for more adventure and objectives of our daydreams. Our primary goals were two unclimbed summits, Gabarriti and Incaccapac (labeled on the 1967 map by Salomon Nuñez Melgar and reproduced by Michael Cocker in 2007). We also sought to explore new rock towers and repeat routes on more significant formations surrounding Allinccapac. We were self-funded and therefore restricted to an economy-level expedition (no mules or porters) that we nonetheless enjoyed thoroughly.
On June 10 we traveled from Nathan Heald’s apartment in Cusco by colectivo to Macusani, capital of the Carabaya province (about $30 per person for the six-hour ride). Long shadows cast themselves dramatically upon the snow-dusted Carabaya foothills when we finally came lurching into the dusty settlement of Macusani. Despite boasting a wealth of cultural and natural wonders, this region of Peru has seen minimal tourism; the sight of toothy-grinned North Americans strolling around the markets in bright, puffy jackets succeeded in capturing the attention of every villager. We checked into a triple room at the Hotel Monterrey and felt satisfied sleeping under thick strata of alpaca wool. In the evening, we armed ourselves for our first objective: Incaccapac, a mostly rocky, fortress-like peak, most significant of the unclimbed Carabaya summits. (This peak is called “Incaccapac C1” on the Melgar map, though we could find no similar local name. The only mention of this mountain we found was from the only previous attempt, by the 1968 British Carabaya expedition, which ended up making the first ascent of Chichoccapac (5,120m), a subpeak on the east ridge of Incaccapac.)
On June 11 we took a combi toward Ayapata, disembarking in Escalera, a 400-person village located about 1,400m below Incaccapac. Hiking east, we soon came to a large lake that locals refer to as Laguna Humanccaya (3,800m). It took us over an hour to walk around its north shore. Beyond the lake, a steep, grassy valley led us directly to the rubble at the base of Incaccapac’s east face. At 4 p.m. we made base camp in a lovely, protected bowl within the lower moraine at 4,300m, a few hundred yards from a gushing spring.
The next day we made a somewhat casual attempt at reaching the summit of Incaccapac, not leaving the tent until sunrise. Intermittent rain made everything difficult. By sundown, we had only barely breached the lower cliffs, climbing a 100m corner with damp rock and copious moss that made free climbing extremely difficult (we called this Peachy Corner, 5.9 C2). We rappelled three times down an adjacent crack system. The rain was so intense that we spent the following day drying out.
At 12 a.m. on June 14, we left our tent and began marching upslope under clear, starry skies toward the crack system we had rappelled, which contained three pitches up chimneys and slabs (5.8). This brought us to a 100m wall in the back of a cleft, which we surmounted via two excellent crack pitches (5.8). By 8 a.m. we had passed our high point at 4,950m. Opting to attack the upper cliffband on its left (west) side, we traversed third-class slabs. Eventually, we discovered a ledge system tracing its way up to the south ridge, which we hoped would then lead to the summit. We followed this for two pitches (5.5) until a dead-end, then rappelled 15m to a ledge and traversed further left into an adjacent snow gully that finally gained the south ridge.
By 1 p.m., snow flurries had begun to fill the air. We continued our quest up the south ridge despite low visibility. Two pitches of mixed climbing (M3) left us with only a short, snowy scramble to the true summit. A momentary break in the clouds allowed us to verify that we had indeed reached the highest point. Our GPS recorded an elevation of 5,292m (174m higher than the measurement on the 1967 Melgar map). Our route is called Ruta Escalera (500m, D+ 5.8 M3).
We built a cairn, and as the sun dove for the horizon, we frantically scoured the summit ridge for a bivouac site. Eventually we found a tiny rectangular nook measuring three feet wide by six feet long, where the three of us endured the cold 10-hour night sharing one bivy sack. On June 15, we melted some snow and wiggled our toes before resuming the descent, following the same path (reversing the short rappel on the ridge by climbing a 70° snow chute) and reaching our tent at 1 p.m.
On June 16 we hiked down to Escalera, stopping for a quick swim in Laguna Humanccaya. At noon, we caught the combi back to Macusani. After a much-needed rest day, we headed back out to the mountains on June 18, hiring a taxi to drive us 45 minutes north to the head of Valle Antajahua, the base of Allinccapac’s south face. With packs loaded with ten days’ worth of supplies, it took us two hours to reach the bottle-ridden shores of Laguna Allinccapac (4,960m), where we set up our first camp. At sunset, I scrambled alone to the high point of the unnamed ridgeline north of Fiesta Peak (5,200m), stopping a few meters shy of the precarious summit due to frighteningly unstable rock.
June 19 was spent shuttling supplies across the glacier to a cache near the 5,200m pass between Allinccapac and Japuma. On the morning of June 20, we retraced our steps across the glacier to the cache site. Loading our packs with five days’ worth of food and all our climbing gear, we started up the crux AI3 pitches of the west shoulder route on Allinccapac I. By 2 p.m. we reached a high camp at 5,500m.
On June 21 we set off for the swooping saddle between Allinccapac I and Huaynaccapac I to explore small rock towers flanking the north ridge of Allinccapac II. From the saddle we descended into the center of the adjacent amphitheater (which we dubbed El Anfitéatro). We started with a 30m rock tower, which may have been covered in glacial ice when the 1967 New Zealand expedition visited El Anfitéatro. Viewed from the south, it is easily identified as the distinct sharktooth-shaped formation standing between Cornice and Ispa Riti. With rock gear, we ascended a short pitch (5.4) up the staircase-like north ridge to the summit, where we found no evidence of a previous visit. Slinging cordelette around a large horn for a rappel anchor, we agreed to name the small tower Kiru, the Quechua word for tooth. The GPS read 5,615m.
Next we climbed the smaller of two candle-shaped formations flanking the impressive north buttress of Allinccapac II. Two pitches of moderate mixed climbing up the partially snow-covered southwest face brought us to a cold straddle-belay at the narrow, windswept col between the two towers. Aaron and I swapped micro-leads on the next two obstacles: a poorly protected 5m ice step (AI3) and a 4m rock step (5.10). We continued up a moderate snow slope to the final easy rock pyramid and thence to the miniature summit cornice, taking turns standing on top. The GPS read 5,671m. We rappelled our route, leaving two pitons and some cordelette. Our name for this 100m tower is Huchuy Vela, a mixed Quechua/Spanish name meaning Little Candle.
On June 22, from the same high camp, we made the fifth recorded ascent of the west shoulder route on Allinccapac I, finding it to be a straightforward and enjoyable means to mount the highest point in the range. Our GPS reading of 5,837m corroborates the measurement obtained by Nathan Heald during his 2016 ascent (AAJ 2017).
The three of us returned to El Anfitéatro on June 23 with the intention of climbing the north buttress of Allinccapac II, a massive red-rock escarpment standing high above Kiru and Huchuy Vela. We reached the base of this buttress via a 60°snow couloir. The first 30m ascended 5.8 hand cracks. Higher up, we encountered an uncomfortable 5.7 squeeze chimney. From here, sun-drenched snow slopes led directly to the corniced summit ridge. Carefully kicking steps above the precarious eastside cornice, we traversed two rope lengths of 50° snow to the true summit. Standing a few meters below the summit in fear of the unstable cornice, our GPS recorded an elevation of 5,807m. This was the fourth ascent of Allinccapac II. Our new route is the north buttress (200m, AD 5.8 60°).
Instead of rappelling our route, we continued along the main ridge, tracing its westward bend and subsequent descent to the 5,700m col on the east side of Pico Carol. We glissaded down a north-facing gully (the same one used in our previous circumnavigation of Allinccapac I, see 2017 AAJ report) and ended up back in the heart of El Anfitéatro at 3:30 p.m.
Aaron and Jeanne headed back to camp, but I decided to keep climbing. In a half-hour round trip, I tagged the summit of Recce Peak (5,650m) via the south ridge, logging the mountain’s third ascent. I reversed my steps to El Anfitéatro, and at 4:30 p.m., when I crested the saddle between Allinccapac I and Huaynaccapac II, I saw the tantalizing summit of Huaynaccapac II hovering a mere 100m above me. I soloed up its southwest side on a 60° slope. Less than 20 minutes later, I stepped onto the 5,721m summit (1967 Melgar map). This was the third ascent of Huaynaccapac II. I quickly climbed down the route using my ascent steps and returned to camp just before sunset.
On June 24, we left our high camp and descended the west shoulder. On this day each year (Saint John Day), the inhabitants of the Carabaya region celebrate Allinccapac Raymi, the most important regional festival in honor of the apu (mountain spirit) of Allinccapac. It was quite a sight to see thousands of people sliding around playfully on the enormous, crevasse-ridden glacier below us. Hearts warmed from an interaction with some rather precocious children, we hoisted our heavy backpacks and started making our way down Valle Pacaje, eventually making camp at the gorgeous turquoise lake at the foot of Gabarriti. (This is the name given on the Melgar map. Ronald Gutierrez, former Carabaya governor, noted that it may be a misspelling of Ccapac Riti, which means something like “the prosperous snowy mountain.”) Giant fingers of ice probed the inlet, belying the lake’s modest 4,700m elevation. After dunking ourselves into the frigid water, we kicked back and admired the marvelous south face of Gabarriti, the only remaining virgin peak labeled on the 1967 Melgar map, and our objective for the following day.
We left the tent at 5 a.m. on June 25 and quickly crossed the moraine. Carving a sensible line up the left side of the glacier, we climbed 60° ice onto a narrow hogsback ridge just below (south of) the major saddle between the north and central summits. A full rope length of AI3 ice and a half rope length of mixed climbing brought us to the saddle, where our GPS indicated an elevation of 5,080m. The final 100m summit tower was steep on all sides. We chose a semi-detached pillar and left-trending ledge on the tower’s west face. The ledge brought us to a 5.7 chimney and a poorly protected mantel (5.8) above the pillar onto a ledge. The final pitch was a perfect 35m dihedral (5.10a).
We scrambled one rope length along the narrow summit ridge to the highest point and recorded a GPS elevation of 5,209m. Our route is the south face (300m, D AI3 5.10a). We lounged on the summit for almost two hours. When jungle clouds started to roll in, we rappelled our route and crossed the lower glacier and moraine, getting back to camp at 4 p.m.
While on top of Gabarriti, a gigantic rock tower on the northwest ridge of Trident drew our attention and we decided to try it. On the morning of June 26, mixed terrain on the southwest face led to a chossy, overhanging cliff at 5,260m. We called it a day and descended to camp.
On June 27 we descended the remainder of Valle Pacaje, a long and twisting gorge cut by a tributary of the Río Gabán. After reaching dense cloud forest at 2,800m we caught a glimpse of the highway below. Not long after, we were peacefully soaking in Ollachea’s natural hot springs. On June 28, we rode the combi back to Macusani and spent the afternoon with the former Carabaya governor Ronald Gutierrez and his family. They were kind enough to drive us to the Puno-Cusco highway, where we boarded a bus for Cusco.
– Derek Field, Canada