The southwest buttress of Taulliraju Cordillera Blanca, Peru

The southwest buttress of Taulliraju Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Translated from the native Quechuan, Taulliraju means flower of Ice. It´s an apt description of a peak straight out of a climbers flight of fancy. Hovering over the ancient Incan pass of Punta Union like a crystal humming, the mountain itself is at its most alluring and mystical in late afternoon light, with clouds swirling around its twin granite pillars. The south pillar was the scene of Nicolas Jaeger´s inspired solo climb in 198X(/). The southwest pillar is even more attractive, with its comet-tail of a couloir at the bottom, and the intricate arabesques of its upper ice arete.

When I first saw a photo of this pillar, taken by my brother Mike in the early ´70s, I knew I would someday have to come and climb it. Three years before Alex Lowe and I made our climb, the first ascent was done by an Italian expedition with six members using fixed ropes and siege tactics. Alex and I made the climb and traversed the peak in a four day, alpine- style round trip. Other routes have been done on this side of the mountain, at least one of which is a more difficult mixed rock and ice climb, but none tugs the strings of a climber´s heart with greater force than the Southwest Buttress.

LOCATION: Above the 16,000 ft. Punta Union pass, at the head of the Santa Cruz Valley, in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.

FIRST ASCENT: Gianni Calcagno, Piero Perona, Ugo Vialardi, Costantino Piazzo, Tullio Vidoni, and Stefano DeBenedetti, August, 1980. First alpine-style ascent: Alex Lowe and Jeff Lowe, July, 1983.

ELEVATION GAIN: About 3,200 ft., from approximately 16,000 ft. to 19,128 ft.

DIFFICULTY: Grade Vl, Wl 6, M 6(one point of aid)

TIME: Two or three days in ascent, one day for the descent.

EQUIPMENT: Six or eight ice screws, two or three hook- type ice pitons, six or eight rock pitons(including several knifeblades), one or two deadmen, bivouac gear.

SEASON: June to August.

COMMENTS: The Santa Cruz Valley gives access to an exemplary array of peaks, including the ice pyramids of Alpamayo, Artesonraju, and Piramide. Therefore it makes a convenient base for an extended period of climbing. Acclimatizing with hikes up to Punta Union pass inspires awe and respect for the Incans who carved and laid the stones that lead upward like a staircase to the clouds. The Incans seem to have been concerned with stone and ice and the natural world in ways that we can only guess at.

In Peru it´s always a good idea to retain your arriero for the duration of your stay in the mountains to prevent theft.

APPROACH: Travel by bus from Lima to Huaraz, then by bus from Huaraz to the village of Cashapampa. You can hire an arriero and burros in the village. A two day walk will bring you to good camping in meadows below Taulliraju and Punta Union.

ROUTE: The first third of the buttress is climbed by way of the major gash between walls of El Capitan-quality granite. Following this for about a dozen pitches of steepening Wl 3, 4, and 5, which gradually thins into some very difficult mixed climbing (M6) in a sort of chimney, and eventually leads to the crest of the icy ridge. Our first bivouac was here, on snow ledges. Then follow the fluted ice arete for about 15 pitches by the line of least resistance. The climbing is Wl 3 to 5+ among cornices, towers,arêtes, and couloirs weaving back and forth across the crest of the ridge. Alex and I found a bivouac with a flat floor a pitch or so below the summit ridge. We discovered a short, overhanging rock step through the band, where we used one piton for aid to pull onto the steep,whipped-cream rolls that lead to the summit ridge. Several increasingly nerve-wracking leads on extremely steep Andean ¨cheese¨ ice lead to the horribly corniced crest of the summit ridge. Rather than follow the crest, we dropped down half a rope-length on the east side of the mountain. Here we made a third bivouac in an ice cave. Following more or less the junction of rock and ice at the top of the east face, we traversed for several pitches toward the summit of the mountain. Finally there was a difficult(Wl 5) waterfall-ice pitch, which led directly back onto the crest of the summit ridge. A gentle stroll up easy snow leads to the summit.

DESCENT: Climb a short way(about 100ft.)down the south buttress, then make a series of 5 or 6 rappels, mostly from rock anchors, down the Southeast Face. This will bring you to the high glacial shelf on this side of the mountain. Cross the glacier in a southeasterly direction for about .5 mile, then look over the edge for the top of the Southeast Pillar, which drops down to meet the slopes on the east side of Punta Union. Another ten rappels or so down this rocky ridge deposits you on these eastern slopes, a short distance from the Inca Trail. Hike back over Punta Union to your base camp.

By: Jeff Lowe.

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