The south face of Vallunaraju (5868m), Cordillera Blanca, Peru, showing the line of first ascent by Steven Fuentes, Rolando Morales and Beto Pinto Toledo on July 9, 2010. [Photo] Beto Pinto Toledo
Early this July in the Peruvian Andes, three local climbers established a new route on the south face of Vallunaraju (5868m) in the Llaca Valley of the Cordillera Blanca.
Beto Pinto Toledo, Rolando Morales and Steven Fuentes all live three hours from the base of Vallunaraju. “I don’t know if being a local makes it any easier to climb the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca,” Toledo said, “but it certainly makes it more poignant. We have grown up with these peaks as a part of our landscape and every time we make a new route, it reflects the realization of a childhood dream.”
Vallunaraju is one of the more moderate peaks of the jagged Andes: the standard route zig-zags at 30 to 50 degrees up the west face, a popular acclimatization route. On the snowy south face, however, the trio found a less hospitable mountain. “To be honest… we got quite a nasty surprise,” Toledo said.
On July 8, 2010 the trio hiked into the Llaca Valley and spent the night at the base of the glacier. The next morning they set off at 2 a.m., trekking through deep snow up 50- and 60-degree slopes before facing the crux: a 300-meter near-vertical wall of mixed rock and ice. “We had expected the ascent to take as little as three hours,” Toledo admitted. Instead, they spent the next six hours navigating an ice-filled finger crack. They rated the
headwall 5.10 A2.
They then were confronted with heavy piles of loose snow, preventing a safe belay. As they worked to find placements, clouds descended, temperatures dropped and thick snow began falling. However, the worsening conditions made it too dangerous to descend back down the rock face, so they decided to continue to the summit where they could access a safer descent route.
Working in the driving snow only invigorated Morales–nicknamed “Monkey” because of his long arms–who led the next series of pitches “with an enthusiasm that led him to fall five times,” commented Toledo. Toledo and Fuentes watched from below as Morales fell several body lengths on a single piton and nut. The men climbed for another 9 hours on four 80 to 90 degree pitches of loose rock and snow. After 17 solid hours of climbing, they reached the summit. They named the route El Gran Mono, or The Great Monkey, to honor Morales’s persistence.
Rolando Morales prepares to climb the headwall. The team spent six hours aid climbing a 2 cm-wide crack packed with hard ice. [Photo] Beto Pinto Toledo