This spring, four Frenchmen established a new route, in alpine style, up the 900-meter west face of Siula Chico (6265m), a steep, pyramidal wall of limestone with intermittent cascades of water ice. Mick Fowler and Simon Yates attempted a line up its left side in 1998, climbing 10 pitches in two days before bailing amid falling ice and rock. Oriol Baro and Jordi Corominas were first to summit via the west face in 2007. The duo treaded lightly on soft, thin ice the consistency of “sugary meringue,” Corominas wrote in the 2008 American Alpine Journal. Midway up the face, he realized a fall would rip him, the anchor and Baro off the mountain. He continued belaying but could no longer watch his partner climb. This year, the French climbers found similar unconsolidated terrain that this range is so famous for, but established Looking for the Void (WI6 R M7) without mishap.–Ed.
May 19, 2014, 11:00 a.m.
“Huge!” I spoke just a single word, but it was enough to express what I and my partners–Frederick Degoulet, Benjamin Guigonnet and Helias Millerioux–were feeling on the summit of Siula Chico. We were tired after four days of intense climbing. The route we had just opened was, by far, the hardest thing we’ve ever climbed. We pause, seated on the summit among the clouds, to savor our success.
Our expedition took place from April 23 to June 4, 2014. A 14-hour flight and an eight-hour bus ride brought us to Huaraz, at the threshold of the Peruvian Andes.
Our plan is to open a new route up Siula Chico in the Cordillera Huayhuash. Its west face, around 900m high, has only one existing route. In 2007, after three attempts, Spaniards Jordi Corominas and Oriol Baro broke through to the summit after seven days on the right side of the face, before making a “Traverse of the Gods” to exit onto the southern aspect. It was a major achievement, I thought, borne of perseverance and preparation.
This year, it was our turn, and we wanted to find direct path through the middle of the face. A jet stream of ice and mixed terrain seems to leads upward, but huge cornices threatened to calve in the afternoon sun, and the ice thins into just a lean veneer. The pitch steepens as the air thins with altitude. But the line captures our imagination as much as it scares us.
We started climbing on May 16. The climbing was easy, but very exposed to icefall. We were already feeling the altitude and the weight of our heavy packs. At 11:00 a.m., we sought shelter from the already warm conditions.
Waking earlier the following two days, we overcame longer stretches before the sun arrived, though the climbing was delicate and each pitch took several hours of effort. We spent one day climbing nothing easier than WI5 and M6. The next day Fred found a solution to an exposed M6+/WI6 section we were happy to put behind us.
The wind blew strong against our tent just 100m below the top of the wall on May 19. Benjamin balanced up suspended cornices. A steep and difficult mixed gully dropped us on the ridge. Our first moment on the summit was magical.
We waited until midnight to descend all the way to the glacier, each rappel made abalakov. Spindrift obscures our path downward, but we make it back across the bergschrund at 3:30 a.m.