STRIKING MIXED LINE CLIMBED IN PERU

Posted on: August 13, 2007


Micah Retz leading the final few meters of Taulliraju's (5830m) north face, Cordillera Blanca, Peru. In June Retz and Dave Turner discovered a striking line (5.10 WI5 M6) with fantastic conditions on the right side of the peak's neglected north face; the wall proper houses one other line, on its left side: the Bajan-Busch direttissima (V 5.9 AI4 95 degrees, 600m, 1979). [Photo] Dave Turner

In late June Micah Retz and I set off to the beautiful ice and stone cathedral of Taulliraju (5830m), in Peru's Cordillera Blanca (see Issue 7's Mountain Profile for more on this peak). We wanted to climb a new route, but we were unsure where to investigate. After watching the direct southwest face avalanche a few times, we thought it a good idea to take a look over the west col. So with a few days of food and fuel we set off for the remote and seldom-visited north face, which had not been climbed via a new route since 1979. We placed our camp ten minutes' walk below the face on the immense Taulliraju-Puchirca glacier.

There are only two other routes on the north side of the mountain, and only one climbs the entire north face proper. The original Terray route (MD A1, 60 degrees, 500m, 1956) climbs the left side of the north face for a few hundred meters, then quickly gains the northeast ridge. The Bajan-Busch route (V 5.9 AI4 95 degrees, 600m, 1979) more or less starts on the original route, but takes a straight line to the summit on the left side of the face.

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When we saw the face straight on, it was easy to decide where we would climb. There was a perfect ice runnel on the right side of the face at mid height that ran for at least 400 meters. Guarding the bottom of this runnel was a 60-meter vertical rock wall, and above the runnel were vertical and overhanging passages of water ice along the summit bulges.

We started the climb at 7 p.m. to ensure good conditions, as we knew these upper ice sections would prove to be the crux. I took the first block of climbing to about mid height, then Micah took over to the top. I quickly reached the crux rock band low on the route. Difficult mixed climbing led into the high-quality, vertical granite band that went at 5.10. A desperate mantel in crampons let loose a few sparks on that pitch's final move. Up in the mixed runnel, we switched leaders. That section went quickly, as we placed virtually no protection through the 70-85 degree snice. Luckily we were usually able to belay from rock anchors on either side of the runnel. Very little pro through overhanging bulges of water ice made the climbing bold, in addition to being difficult. Two pitches below the summit the sun came out and complicated things greatly. The ice no longer stayed cold and hard, which made climbing and placing screws difficult. At the top neither of us were willing to surf out onto the last few meters of the unstable cornice. We decided to rappel, on mostly threads and pickets, our ascent route instead of one of the unfamiliar lines usually used.

The route required eighteen hours roundtrip from our glacier camp at 5000 meters; we reached the top at approximately 8 a.m., then took four hours to descend. For us, the 650-meter route went at a grade of 5.10 WI5 M6, but the nature of Peruvian climbing is that conditions are always changing, so grades are difficult to peg. We were lucky to have a heavy snow and ice pack from the previous winter, as I have seen photos of this face when it was almost entirely rock.

We also attempted the first ascent of Taulliraju's corniced and highly technical west ridge. We believe this to be the first attempt. Although we climbed half of the ridge in one long day, we had to rap off due to extremely dangerous snow conditions. At one time I punched through the ridge, and when I pulled my legs out of the holes, I could see blue sky beneath me! This ridge will be climbable during a season with a low snow pack; the heavy winter, which enabled us to climb our new north face route, also shut us down on this one. Thanks to Black Diamond and Casa de Zarela of Huaraz for their help on this trip.

Dave Turner working through the 400-meter ice runnel on Taulliraju's (5830m) north face. Although conditions from the previous winter kept the ice solid and the snow pack good, a sketchy summit cornice made them "unwilling to surf out onto the last few meters," Turner said. [Photo] Micah Retz



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