La Esfinge, rock men and names

La Esfinge, rock men and names

On the first map of the Cordillera Blanca, made in 1932 by Philipp Borchers, Hans Kinzl, Edwin Schneider, Bernard Lukas and other members of the expedition of the German and Austrian Alpine Clubs, there is a 5325-meter-high peak located just west of the “Aguja Nevada”. In 1938 this cartographic point received the name of “Cerro Qollga” (from the Quechua word colca meaning ‘storehouse’ or ‘grain silo’) in the monograph published by the Provincial Association of Primary Teachers of Huaylas in the journal Antena.

Seventeen years later, the Bavarians Hermann Huber, Alfred Koch, Helmut Schmidt and Heinz Gradl, accompanied by the Peruvian porters Pedro Méndez and Guillermo Morales, entered the Quebrada Parón and contemplated in amazement the 5325-meter peak, which jutted out behind the left wall of the gorge. The beauty of such an impressive mass of granite motivated their desire to climb it. In spite of their thousand kilos of equipment, they lacked adequate tools to climb those walls of heights up to 800 meters. Nevertheless, on the morning of June 26th, 1955, they departed for the “granite guardian that dominates the valley”. Via a steep rockfall, Huber, Koch and Schmidt arrived at a snow-covered pass. They continued via the northeast ridge:“… and after a difficult ascent, we reached the summit at 5:30 in the afternoon.”This quote comes from their writings for alpine publications, in which they called the peak “Cerro Parrón”, given the name by the local community.

The names “Colca” (‘storehouse’) and “Cerro Parón” (‘maroon peak’) were scarcely used. And on later maps, capriciously, the reference to 5325 meters continued to appear; and also one of 5337 meters on the Electroperú map of 1:100,000 scale made in Huaraz in April, 1974.

In 1982 I visited Huaraz, the capital of Peruvian Andinism, where admiring the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca is a grand spectacle. It was when the Spanish climber Paco Aguado and the Peruvian climber Américo Tordoya recounted their recent attempt to climb that same rocky peak in the Quebrada Parón. Since it seemed unconquered, they finally decided to call it “Torre Aguja” (‘needle tower’). Two days later, I went to the valley, looked at the peak and understood that to climb it would require going to the mountain with a mentality very different from the usual one. There the normal would be to ascend or climb “snow-capped peaks”, though they might present rocky faces.

The next year, I returned to Quebrada Parón again to climb snowy peaks and observed that the silhouette of the peak looked like a sphinx. In 1985, I was able to go at last to “The Sphinx” (‘La Esfinge’ in Spanish) with my partner Onofre García. We decided to climb the eastern face, which offered very clear possibilities. Rigoberto Ángeles of Huaraz helped us to porter part of the equipment up to where we installed the base camp tent, about an hour from the wall. Later, without a camp guard or a support team, and without acclimatizing ourselves, we began to climb and didn’t come down until we reached the summit.

In contrast to previous ascents of snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, we climbed this peak with only rock-climbing equipment. We used rock climbing shoes and we didn’t carry mountaineering boots, something which we regretted on the ninth and last night because of a sleet storm which surprised us in mid-climb. The next morning, July 8th, with frozen equipment, we reached the summit.

Descending to the valley, we looked toward the southeast face, higher, colder and more vertical than the one we had just climbed. We thought of returning the next year to climb it, while hearing workers at Laguna Parón call the peak La Roca (‘the rock’). To its many names thus was added a particularly confusing one, since some climbers believed that we had climbed the granite obelisk on the opposite side, called “La Torre de Parón” (‘Paron’s tower’), which appears to coincide with the “Cerro Torohuacra” (‘bull horn peak’) at 4805 meters on the aforementioned German map of 1932.

The next year, I couldn’t return to the Andes. Excessive weight on my shoulders while climbing a mountain in the Himalayas during the monsoon season had caused muscular paralysis in my right shoulder and second-degree frostbite on my feet. These injuries stopped me from thinking of The Sphinx as a possible objective.

By June of 1988, the southeast face remained unclimbed and my injuries had almost healed. In order to test whether my feet and my shoulder could resist the strain on that vertical, where shadows seemed permanent, I left for Peru. I climbed some snow-covered peaks with two Basque friends – Fernan Rubio y Manu Martínez – who introduced me to several of their alpinist countrymen. One of them, Iñaki San Vicente, had solo climbed various summits and thought of later climbing some rocky tower in Patagonia.

Onofre arrived in Peru in July and, as we had planned in Spain, the two of us left for the wall that we had promised ourselves to climb three years before. We climbed a couple of lengths of rope, but when we descended to sleep, Onofre slipped on the frozen slope at the base of the wall and had to abandon the Cordillera due to injury.

Fortunately, I found Iñaki in Huaraz. He accepted whole-heartedly to open the route with me, although he warned me that he didn’t know the techniques for opening routes on large walls. He learned immediately. For four days, we climbed, fixed ropes and rappelled in order to sleep at the foot of the peak. We hauled up a hanging tent, equipment, food and water for ten days and the firm idea of not coming down until we had achieved the summit. However, diarrhea forced us to go down to Huaraz.

We returned a week later. We climbed. We shared and conquered difficulties. Maybe we lost a lot of time taking photographs. We spent twelve consecutive freezing nights in that world of granite, until finally, the morning of the August 14th; we had the privilege of reaching the summit designated by that specific cartographic point of 5325 meters, which in time would receive so much attention as well as different names. “Cerro Colca”, “Cerro Parón”, “Tower Aguja”, “La Roca”, “La Torre de Parón”, “La Esfinge” today represents the point of departure for a new concept in andinism in the Cordillera Blanca of the Peruvian Andes: pure rock climbing.

By: Antonio “SEVI” Gómez Bohórquez.