AMERICAN AND ITALIAN TEAM UP ON PERU'S TALLEST PEAK

Posted on: September 6, 2007


The 600 meters of new terrain climbed by Michael Ybarra and Silvio Sparano on El Escudo, the shield feature that defines the west face of Huascaran Sur (6746m), Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Although the pair did not reach the summit, they completed the steep section visible here, which involved sustained climbing at TD-, 60-65 degrees. The established route on The Shield follows the obvious arete on the left. [Photo] Michael Ybarra

Italian alpinist Silvio Sparano and I capped five weeks climbing in Peru by establishing new terrain on Huascaran Sur (6746m), Peru's tallest peak, in the Cordillera Blanca. Although we did not summit, our line ascended Huascaran's "El Escudo" feature (aka The Shield), a huge triangle of ice dominating the west face of Huascaran Sur. The route departs from Huascaran's Normal Route (PD+/AD-) at around 5800 meters, climbs 600 meters of sustained 60-65 degree ice and snow, and tops out at around 6400 meters—just right of The Shield's apex, where it meets less demanding terrain leading to a junction with the Normal Route. If the conditions are right and you're looking for a more serious objective, this line is a great departure from the Normal Route.

In early June Silvio and I met in Peru—the place where I started climbing exactly three years earlier. After acclimatizing on Artesonraju's (6025m) Normal Route (D+), we headed to the west side of the Cordillera Huayhuash for two weeks. Our goal was to repeat the Cassin Route (TD) on Jirishanca (6094m), but we found the West Yerupaja glacier too broken up to get close to the peak. We made a faint attempt on the west face of Yerupaja (6617m), but after disagreeing on tactics we retreated. Two days later we climbed the wildly corniced Southeast Ridge of Rasac (6017m). The route, originally rated AD, was probably a full grade harder in the conditions we found it. During an unplanned bivy on the way down we watched a massive avalanche take out the start of our line on Yerupaja—in precisely the same place we had been forty-eight hours earlier.

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Returning to the Cordillera Blanca and running out of time, we decided to have a go at Huascaran Sur. The day of our climb, July 12, did not start well. We awoke at 2 a.m. to discover that our stove was running out of fuel and that the only water we would have for our projected new line would be the two liters we had just melted. At that point, my headlamp started flickering on and off like a distress signal. This became so annoying that I finally turned it off.

"At least," I said to Silvio, "we've decided who gets the first lead."

At 3 a.m. we left our tent at 5600 meters, and in one hour we were crossing the bergschrund below The Shield. Shortly after Silvio placed a screw on the first pitch his headlamp also flickered off. He then taught me some new Italian curse words as he fumbled with the light, got it working, and continued. In spite of his efforts, it blinked off again, but he fortunately got it working again. I followed the pitch and took over the lead as morning dawned. After ten pitches, sustained at 60-65 degrees of good ice, then marginal ice, and finally neve, we topped out on the Shield at around 11:30 a.m. A two-hour snow trudge put us on the summit ridge, where we reconnected with the Normal Route.

Sparano following the difficulties low on The Shield. [Photo] Michael Ybarra

Most climbers who venture onto the Shield do so via its left northwest arete (D+), although we had also seen a report of a direct line climbed on the left side of the face from the high point of the bergschrund. The day before our ascent we had picked out another route from low on the right side of The Shield (around 5800 meters) toward its apex—the longest line on the face. Perhaps I should say the line picked us, as this was the only place a snow bridge made it possible to cross the gaping 'schrund.

It was getting late, we were out of water, and clouds were moving in, so we decided to forego the final slog to the summit and instead followed the Normal Route down. At sunset we stumbled into the high camp of a guided party and bummed a couple liters of water. By 7 p.m. we were back at our tent, seventeen hours after we had left. We decided to call our progress Lomo Fino (A Fine Steak: TD-, 60-65 degrees, 10 pitches, 600m), in honor of what we had spent most of the climb talking about eating.

Sparano inspecting the bergshrund below The Shield on July 11, one day before he and Ybarra made their technical push. After hooking into the Normal Route on the afternoon of July 12, the pair decided that the late hour and a lack of water were good reasons to descend off the summit ridge. [Photo] Michael Ybarra

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