Annie Peck Conqueror of Huascarán

Annie Peck Conqueror of Huascarán

Celebrating the Centennial of Andinism in Peru.

Do you know what the sport of andinism is and when it started? Do you know who the first person was to practice it in Peru? The answers may surprise you. A somewhat special definition of andinism is: The sport of high mountain climbing in the Andes, requiring the use of special equipment, including ice axes, crampons, harnesses and safety ropes, to conquer difficulties presented by the ice and snow of steep slopes, deep crevasses and precarious cornices. In Europe, the same sport is called alpinism, after the Alps, especially in Switzerland, where the sport was first practiced and developed in the middle of the 19th century.

Some of the accumulated experience of climbing high, snow-capped mountains was transferred to the Andes toward the end of the 19th century by British, Swiss and American climbers. Edward Whymper, a British climber who first conquered the Matterhorn in Switzerland in 1865, climbed and wrote about his exploits on volcanic peaks of Ecuador in 1880. During a British expedition led by Edward FitzGerald in 1897, a Swiss climber named Mathias Zurbriggen made the first ascent of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes. However, there was relatively little ice and snow near the top of this peak so, consequently, this was not andinism in the strict sense of high snow and ice climbing.

The first successful ascents of snow-capped peaks in Peru were made by an intrepid American woman, Annie Smith Peck, at the beginning of the 20th century when she was over fifty years old. Her conquest of the north peak of Huascarán (6655 m) on September 2, 1908 at 3:30 P.M effectively marks the beginning of andinism in Peru and provides the motive for this year’s celebration of the centennial season of climbing in the Cordillera Blanca, the birthplace of andinism.

Annie Peck was born in 1850 in Providence, Rhode Island, and prepared herself for a teaching career in classical studies, completing her master’s degree at the University of Michigan in 1881. However, while travelling in Europe in 1885 she became fascinated with mountain climbing, later becoming only the third woman to climb the Matterhorn in 1895 and the first to climb it using long pants, instead of a dress. Other conquests were the volcanoes Orizaba and Popocatepetl in Mexico in 1897. In 1902, she was among the founders of the American Alpine Club.

Between 1904 and 1908, she organized three expeditions to Peru to climb Huascarán, always entering by the port of Samanco in Ancash before crossing the Cordillera Negra to reach the beautiful city of Yungay, her base of operations. After four unsuccessful assaults in 1904 and 1906, she hired two Swiss guides, Gabriel Zumtaugwald and Rudolf Taugwalder of Zermatt for the 1908 expedition. After another failed attempt, she set off on her sixth try with the two guides and four local porters. Despite difficult snow and ice conditions, they managed to reach the top, but had great difficulty descending and Rudolf suffered severe frostbite from extended exposure.

In Lima, Annie addressed the Sociedad Geográfica in Spanish regarding her conquest of Huascarán. The government of President Leguía later awarded her a gold medal with an inscription that read: “No one arrived before her at the top of Huascarán – 2 Sept. 1908”. In 1928, the Sociedad Geográfica gave her a further honor by formally naming the north peak of Huascarán “Cumbre Aña Peck”.

She published four important books about her climbing and travels in Peru and the rest of South America: A Search for the Apex of America: High Mountain Climbing in Peru and Bolivia, including the Conquest of Huascarán (1911), Industrial and Commercial South America (1913), The South American Tour: a Descriptive Guide (1922) and Flying Over South America: Twenty Thousand Miles by Air (1932). In addition, she wrote many articles for magazines and journals and gave hundreds of lectures about her travels and experiences, thus promoting tourism and commerce to South America. She continued travelling right up to the time of her death at 85 in 1935 and was buried in her hometown of Providence. ¡Qué viva Annie Peck, vencedora del Huascarán!

By: Steven Wegner.