On August 19 and 20, Kelly? “Junior” Cordes and I climbed a new route to the summit of Nevada Ulta (5875m). The route climbed the left margin of the north-northwest bowl. As such, objective hazard on our route, Personal Jesus (ED2: 5.9 M7, 1000m), was minimal, although it contained difficult technical passages.
This side of Ulta has received its share of attention in the last few years. In 2000, Chris Trimble and I climbed a route on the northwest face to within fifty meters of the summit. In 2002 Nick Bullock ascended, solo, a route immediately right of ours to the summit ridge. Meanwhile, Al Powell and Samuel Owen climbed a difficult route in the center of the north-northwest bowl to just below the summit cornice. Although all were exceptional accomplishments, none of these routes attained the summit. Though I am not normally summit-centric, we wanted, if possible, to invest the additional effort to reach the top.
We began our route at the snow cone at the base of the north-northwest bowl at 2 a.m., but soon branched out left to climb 250 meters of steep, fractured rock to the left. A dihedral through white rock led us to the upper end of a snow ramp, which began a long rising traverse to the right, up onto the icy part of the face. Junior led the crux pitch through steep, juggy mixed terrain. This was the hardest single pitch either of us has ever climbed in the mountains. We continued on and reached an obvious notch in the north ridge just before sunset.
Our route then led us around and onto the upper northeast face of the mountain, very near the north ridge. More climbing up to 5.9 WI4 and a horribly loose M5 pitch led to the summit ridge. We reached the summit proper at 12:30 a.m. and elected to descend the northwest face via rappels for simplicity’s sake.
During the descent I began to feel weaker and weaker. More than twenty rappels later we were on the glacier, but I continued to have trouble maintaining a simple walking pace. When I lay down to rest on the talus below the glacier, I could feel fluid in my lungs: I was suffering from HAPE. The four kilometers back to our high-camp bivy took me six hours. At camp, Nifedipine and some rest improved my condition. Junior rousted me just before dusk and insisted we continue the descent to our base camp as descent is the only cure for altitude sickness.
Despite my weakened condition, we enchained this route with an ascent of the Tambo-raju disco bar in Huaraz, which we reached after only a few hours of food, rest and beer. We now consider an ascent of any Cordillera Blanca peak to be incomplete without an enchainment of the Tambo-raju.
Editor’s Note: The route Personal Jesus follows very closely a line climbed by Jeremy Frimer and Yanik Berube to within one pitch of the summit in 2002.
— Jim Earl, Livingston, Montana, USA