Looked out across the upper

Looked out across the upper

Llanganuco valley on a stormy day in June, 1985.It was one of those days when the clouds loom heavy and dark as they roll in full of moisture from the jungle. Sharon Wood and I were ivouacked beneath the southwest face of Chacraraju when it had begun to snow. All of May had given us nothing but unpleasant, snowy weather. Gazing at the towering walls of rock and ice, I realized I had never considered as very realistic an ascent of the huge face at the end of the Anqosh Valley.

As we sat on our packs in the lightly falling snow, we could see that to merely gain access to the bottom of the wall one would spend a full day on the broken glacier above and to the right of Chopicalqui’s west ridge Base Camp.

But Sharon was intrigued by the unclimbed wall and it was her curiosity which led us to catch a mini-van up to Llanganuco Lakes one month later.

Early on the morning of July 24 we traversed west towards the bottom of the face away from the normal glacier route up to the Huascaran-Chopicalqui col.

Dropping down and around a toe of rock, we carefully made our way towards the face through large blocks of ice and seracs. Because of the shadow in the early morning hours, the entire wall was frozen and quiet.

Sharon crossed the bergschrund by burrowing up through a ceiling of rotten ice on the upper lip and hoisted me and the packs up through the same hole. By the time this complicated maneuver was accomplished, the sun had begun to loosen the frozen rock near the top of the face. We were not long on these ice slopes leading into the gully before we heard the scary whining of falling rock.

We hurriedly front-pointed up the 45” to 50” slope and ducked into a secondary bergschrund at the base of our couloir.

On the pitch that followed, Sharon was hit on the shoulder by a baseball-sized rock while setting up her belay anchor on the ice. Her scream of pain shot through me like an electric current. Sharon was motionless for five long minutes; the silence was broken only by the occasional, high-pitched whistle of a rock careening down the face. As the pain subsided somewhat, she organized a rappel and lowered herself with one arm back down to my sheltered stance. We set up the bivouac tent where we were and decided to wait until early morning before making a move… either up or, most probably, down. We would not know for another two weeks that her right scapula had been cracked by the rock’s impact.

Incredibly, at three A.M., Sharon was optimistic. Even though the movement in her shoulder was restricted and painful, she wanted to go on.

From the 25th to the 27th of July we climbed up through a series of steep ice grooves and faces, separated from one another by large, unstable fins of fragile snow and sections of mixed rock and ice.

Late on the evening of the 27th, we were perched on a tiny ice pedestal chopped out beneath the 150-meter rock band that capped the top of the entire face. The next morning we began to traverse right, along the base of this wall, in hope of finding a weakness. As we traversed, the granite became broken by numerous ice runnels up to about mid-height. With some trepidation, we put our hopes on a sobering, 10 meter-high, left-slanting, off-width crack which ran through the steepest section of the cliff about 40 meters above us.

I emerged from the crack fighting for oxygen and mantled onto a quarter-meter shelf at the edge of the ice. The way up was clear. I knew in that instant that we had succeeded in climbing the face. This 40-meter pitch had taken me into a wonderful trance for nearly two hours.

Reaching the crack and climbing past it, we had nearly used all the daylight hours. We would soon need to locate a bivouac spot and settle in for the night.

Our long-awaited relief upon reaching the Spanish ridge was replaced with anxiety as it was very exposed and nearly impossible to protect with the equipment we were carrying. We managed only one 60-meter pitch along this spectacularly corniced ridge before the approaching darkness encouraged us to bivouac inside one of the horrendous, 10-meter, overhanging mushrooms of snow and ice. I was afraid to touch anything at all for fear the whole enclosure would collapse and drag us down the face we had just climbed up.

We began climbing early the next day in hope of crossing the summit and descending into the Garganta by late morning. We led several more pitches along the serrated Spanish ridge before an unusually early cloud covered the mountain completely. Thankfully, just there the ridge eased in difficulty and after 500 meters, flattened out into the main summit snowfields. Much to our dismay, in the white-out, we lost our sense of direction. Although it was still early, unable to locate the tracks of the normal route, we begrudgingly elected to bivouac for a final seventh night on the plateau.

Fearing a similar white-out the next day, we started down at 3:30 A.M. under clear, starry skies. We crossed the summit plateau by headlamp and easily followed the hardened trail down into the Garganta. Sharon and I were thrilled to be greeted by a Spanish Aragonese climbing team, one of whom had been with me on Huandoy eight years previous. We quickly joined forces and, of course, lost no time taking full advantage of the exquisite varieties of cheeses, nuts, and sausages they had unfailingly brought with them from Spain.

By: Carlos Buhler.