Posted on: December 1, 2005

Josh Wharton on the first free ascent of Riddle of the Cordillera Blanca (5.10+ A3, 750m, Offenbacher-Davis, 2000), on La Esfinge, Cordillera Blanca, Peru. He and partner Brian McMahon dubbed the free ascent King of Thebes (V+ 5.12b/c). Wharton also managed the first solo of the Original Route (V 5.11c), in 1 hour and 28 minutes. [Photo] Brian McMahon

On June 19 Brian McMahon and I walked away from the north face of Huascuran Norte (6655m): the objective danger was just too high. Someone will climb the north face again, but he or she will likely find a much different experience than Casarotto did on his 1977 solo. Disappointed, but wanting to make the most of our trip, we spent our remaining week climbing on La Esfinge (5325m). We climbed the Original Route (V 5.11c) in four and a half hours to get a sense for the wall, then made the first free ascent of Riddle of the Cordillera Blanca (5.10+ A3, 750m, Offenbacher-Davis, 2000). The crux of the route, a three-pitch variation to avoid an A3 section, involved two short, spectacular pitches—a steep 5.12a finger crack up an arete, and a completely desperate section of 5.12 down climbing to gain a technical corner. We call the free version King of Thebes (V+ 5.12b/c) after Oedipus, who became the king of Thebes when he solved the Sphinx's riddle. We climbed the route onsight in seven and a half hours without pins or bolts. On our final day at La Esfinge, we made an onsight seven-hour ascent of the much-publicized Cruz del Sur (Bole and Karo, 2000), finding that it was indeed overgraded at 5.13a—it's probably more like 5.12a. Still, it was a high-quality, fun route that will surely become increasingly popular as word of the inflated grades and excellent climbing continues to circulate.

Brian returned to the States to attend to his first wedding anniversary, and I took off for the bottom of Huandoy Norte to make a solo attempt, but I was again thwarted by objective dangers. Not wanting to waste my remaining time, I rushed back down to Huaraz, traded in my ice gear for rock shoes and jumped back into a collectivo headed toward La Esfinge. After hectic bus and taxi rides and a steep hike, I arrived back at La Esfinge's base with tired legs. The next morning I made the probable first free solo of the Original Route in one hour and twenty-eight minutes, caught a taxi back to Huaraz that afternoon and boarded a plane for home the next day.


Josh Wharton, Glenwood Springs, Colorado

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