Going Places: Climbing the Andes (continued)

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Climbing the Andes

Siesta time for wildlife around the Illimani base camp

Eleven alluring peaks surround Cabeza del Condor — each climbable in a day
from camp

From high camp cross a gaping bergschrund onto the face. This is the most sustained climbing at 55 to 60 degrees 300 meters to the ridge. Follow the exposed snaking line toward the obvious summit.

In recent years an enormous bergschrund has cut off the actual summit, leading hopeful climbers to the edge of a 500-foot yawning abyss. By traversing the summit pyramid to the right you may eventually be able to cross.

Condoriri is the name given to the alpine paradise surrounding Lago Chirakhota (4,650 meters). The main peak in the area, known as the Cabeza del Condor (Head of the Condor), rises majestically above the lake, its two massive wings (fittingly a la Derecha and a la Izquierda) spread as if to take flight. Eleven alluring peaks surround it — each climbable in a day from camp.

This is an area to spend some time in. Routes run from straightforward glacier strolls to nightmares of icy gullies. Access is again most often by hired transport (three hours; $50 one way); arrange the date of your return in advance.

Drop-off is in Tuni, where burros are available for hire for the three-hour walk into base camp. Most climbers focus on the Cabeza and Pequeño Alpamayo — a striking summit dagger reminiscent of its more famous Peruvian cousin.

The route for Cabeza del Condor (5,696 meters) ascends a sometimes difficult to follow trail (especially at 3 a.m.) up a north-trending valley over scree to a col above the moraine. The path is not obvious from base camp but leads up through the rock bands to the left of the broken icefall.

Descend slightly through a slot to the left to reach the foot of the glacier. The route trends to the right toward a col, avoiding crevasses that block a more direct route to the main buttress on the left skyline.

A hidden couloir to the right of this buttress accesses an exposed ridge. Follow the ridge over a short (25-foot) rock band and onward to the summit. This is an alpine classic with wild exposure on the ridge.

Pequeño Alpamayo (5,350 meters) is barely visible from base camp — a shark's fin on the ridge. Continue walking up-valley from the base camp (from the direction you arrived); pass another smaller lake and ascend the ridge to the right, following cairns.

Climb alongside and above the glacier until about three-quarters the way up the ridge; from there the trail descends left to the glacier. Cross the glacier and ascend on the left margin to the crest before heading for an exposed rock called El Diente, or "The Tooth."

A Class III scramble over El Diente leads to the base of the route, which follows the obvious ridge (up to 45 degrees) to the summit.

For both routes carry several ice screws and pickets (long pickets are especially useful for the ridge on Cabeza).

Bill Holmes is currently touring South America by bicycle with his wife Nancy. Read their dispatches in the Andean Adventure.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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