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First ascent, new routes in Peru's rarely visited Carabaya

Posted on: September 20, 2016


The Cordillera Carabaya of southern Peru moves in and out of public consciousness. In the past decade, expeditions to the region have been few enough to count on one hand. The most recent was a 2011 expedition by a pair of Scottish climbers. Prior to 2005, there had been no known route pioneering since 1980.

Field and Zimmerman gaze at Allincapac (5780) from the summit of Pico Carol. [Photo] Nathan Heald Field and Zimmerman gaze at Allincapac (5780) from the summit of Pico Carol. [Photo] Nathan Heald

The Carabaya massif, situated east of the sleepy mining town Macusani, shares characteristics with other popular ranges in the Andes: its lofty towers of snow, ice and rock (with six summits above 5000 meters) are skirted by glaciers and adorned by massive seracs. Exploration of the region expanded with a 1954 geologic survey sponsored by the Peruvian government and the British Museum of Natural history. A flush of mountaineering expeditions followed throughout the 1950s and 60s, but interest dwindled, and traffic to the area has been intermittent since.

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On June 29 through July 5, 2016, a group of North American and Chilean mountaineers arrived from Cusco with hopes to establish a new route on Allincapac (5780m). The party included Americans Nathan Heald, Duncan McDaniel and Aaron and Jeanne Zimmerman, Canadian guide Derek Field, and Chilean siblings Vahitiare and Yasu Beltrami. None had visited the region prior. Heald, who operates a guiding company based in Cusco, had been dreaming about visiting the relatively unpopular peaks for years. When he met the Zimmermans, who were on a several month climbing tour in Ecuador and Peru, he says everything fell into place.

On July 1st, Heald, Zimmerman and Field approached the previously unclimbed southeast ridge to the south face of Allincapac. They ascended a series of ice runnels up to a gendarme on the east/southeast ridge, Pico Carol (WI4). Beyond the gendarme lay a 100 meter gap, flanked by hanging seracs. The group deemed the climbing too risky and decided to forgo their Allincapac summit bid. They descended the north side of the ridgeline.

Beltrami and McDaniel opted for a mixed ice and rock route (5.7 WI3) up the south face that ran parallel to the ice runnels. This new route led them to the summit of Twin Peak (also called Ispa Riti, 5723m), first ascended by members of the 1960 Oxford Andean Expedition. Prompted by promising reports made by the 1959 British Museum Expedition, the Oxford Andean group had a highly successful time in 1960 when they established ten routes and nine first ascents, including that on Ipsa Riti and Pico Carol.

Heald, Zimmerman and Field established a new route on Pico Carol (5715m). On the same day, McDaniel and Beltrami climbed a new line on Twin Peak (5723m). [Photo] Duncan Field Heald, Zimmerman and Field established a new route on Pico Carol (5715m). On the same day, McDaniel and Beltrami climbed a new line on Twin Peak (5723m). [Photo] Derek Field

After turning from the summit, the group then circumnavigated Allincapac in search of a different approach. Heald observed 400 meters of vertical rock topped by a 100-meter high glacier cap stretched across the summit. At no point on the peak does the glacier ice extend to the main, larger glaciers lower down. Having not found an alternative route, they shifted camp to a valley southeast of their original orientation, and the starting point for most mountaineering groups who've visited the area.

Field and Zimmerman ascend the snow and ice runnels en route to the south/southeast ridge of Allincapac, while McDaniel and Beltrami opt for the rock line beside them. [Photo] Nathan Heald Field and Zimmerman ascend the snow and ice runnels en route to the south/southeast ridge of Allincapac, while McDaniel and Beltrami opt for the rock line beside them. [Photo] Nathan Heald

They then split into two groups. Heald, Jeanne Zimmerman, McDaniel, and Yasu and Vahitiare Baltrami headed to Chichicapac (5614m) to climb a route up the west ridge, repeated only once by Scottish guide John Biggar since it was first established in the 1960s. Field and Zimmerman set their sights on neighboring rock pinnacles Mamacapac (5440m) and Papacapac (5460m). The duo snow and ice climbed a new route up the glaciated south face to a col between the two pinnacles. Two pitches of rock, a scramble and then two more technical pitches led to the untrodden summit of Papaccapac (WI3). They descended back to the col, then climbed to the summit of Mamaccapa, achieving the second known ascent (Mamacapac saw its first ascent by a British trio in 2007). Both summits were reached under blue skies on July 4.

Field and Zimmerman established the first ascent of Papacapac (5460m), and a new route on Mamacapac (5440m). [Photo] Duncan Field Field and Zimmerman established the first ascent of Papacapac (5460m), and a new route on Mamacapac (5440m). [Photo] Derek Field

The 2007 British team had described the rock quality as Scottish granite that had been put through a mincer and scattered about the mountain range. Zimmerman reported conditions to the contrary, calling the climbing altogether enjoyable, with vertical rock faces that always provided a solid hold when one was needed.

Sources: Aaron Zimmerman, Nathan Heald

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