Saturday, July 21, 2012

Los Alcaldes de Serkhe Khollu

Roberto celebrates his fifth first ascent on Serkhe Khollu, an 18,200' peak in the Hampaturi group of the Cordillera Real in the Bolivian Andes:

We had previously attempted this line with Steve Curtis a few weeks ago but Roberto's sudden illness had cut short our attempt after three pitches.  Motivated by a desire to retrieve my two abandoned ice screws as well as a premonition that the remaining climbing would prove worthwhile, Roberto and I left La Paz at 4 am for round two.  Roberto swears every new route on Serkhe Khollu requires two tries and so far, I cannot disagree.  The early morning drive was as uneventful as any Bolivian mountain drive could be as was the two hour hike to where the snow and ice began.

The route follows the faint black line in the center of the image below.  The photo was taken while skiing across the valley during the rainy season and the route had a lot less snow and more rock and ice when we climbed it in July:

Time to put on the crampons:

We climbed the firm but steepening snow until a belay seemed prudent.  Two meager knife blades and an adequate stance sufficed:

Roberto begins the first roped pitch:

Roberto finds shelter from whatever might come and sizes up the ice gulley above:

Classic moderate gulley climbing for a few pitches:

The sun creeps around and I began to worry about what might fall down our route with the warming:

The first belay after exiting the gulley:

Pleasant hard snow slopes followed for a few pitches:

Roberto reaches the small ridge before the mixed climbing began:

We found a fun mixed ramp that provided passage through the mysterious middle section of the route:

Above the mixed terrain, a fun snow section offered an easy way through the portion of the route that we weren't sure would go.

Gaining altitude but not even close to the top:

The belay throne of the Andes:

Some scary seracs threaten the unclimbed lines between our route
and the routes Roberto has already climbed:

Roberto leads one of the great pitches on this classic route, marred only slightly by the steady stream of rockfall from a black gash in the seracs above.  I was nearly brained by several pinwheeling death blocks while following:

Roberto heading to the seracs guarding the exit to the summit ridge:

The penultimate belay:

It's getting late and I happily eye the moderate ridge above thinking it leads to the summit:

Roberto at the false summit with Illimani in the background:

Unfortunately, there was no way down without going up to the summit:

Roberto on the real summit ridge:

At this point, we were on the ten steps and then ten breaths program:

Finally, the summit:

The view to the east into the Yungas and the Amazon basin:

The sun set as we descend:

Good thing it is an easy snow walk which is a fantastic ski in better snow conditions:

We still had a couple of thousand feet of descending plus a long walk back to the car in the dark.  Dingdong (i.e. me) forgot to charge his headlamp before this trip and I soon got the dread Petzl blink of death so I had to follow Roberto the whole way down the talas slope and across the llama paths in the dark.  Here's a final glimpse of Tiquimani before darkness fell:

I couldn't be more psyched about our new route:  Los Alcaldes de Serkhe Khollu (IV, WI4, M4, 14 pitches of roped climbing, 14 hours car to car in an 18 hour day from La Paz).

Monday, July 9, 2012

Steve Curtis Visits Bolivia

Steve Curtis came to visit for two weeks and we managed to climb a few routes while he was here.  We started at the local area of Amor de Deus on the classic two pitch route, El Pirata:

Not bad for a first day's outing at around 11,000':

A day or two later, we went to Lago Zongo where the climbing is at 15,000'.  We made a new route which Steve is top roping in this photo:

Steve did great at the elevation:

Here I am bolting the new route.  It was about 33 meters and 6c in difficulty.

Steve tries the first lead:

We took a short drive down the pass to look at this virgin 150-200 meter cliff of good granite:

Huyana Potosi on the way home:

Back in La Paz, we spent a day at El Penon where Steve did most of the 21 routes:

Looking up towards the center of La Paz from the La Galleta area of Aranjuez:

Steve spent a few days traveling to Lake Titicaca.  Here's a shot of Lake Titicaca from Isand of the Sun with Illampu and Ancohuma in the background:

When he returned, we went back to Lago Zongo.  Here is a typical day with congo lines on Huyana Potosi:

We returned to our project which Steve redpointed:

He also repeated a route that Roberto and I had made a few week previously:

Tiquimani was clearly visible and looking in good condition from the aqueduct:

Steve at the anchors:

Our routes are located near the memorial plaque for the person who tried to ride his motorcycle along the aqueduct:

Another memorial:

Making an anchor for the next project:

Heading down to check out the line:

It's nice and steep:

Grrrrrr!  Bolting is hard work:

As usual, the clouds rolled in from the Yungas in the afternoon so we left:

Typical afternoon weather at Lago Zongo:

It is beautiful but not so great for climbing:

Steve went for a ride down the Death Road:

When he returned in the evening, he thought Roberto and I were joking about making a first ascent of some ice line on Serkhe Khollu the next day but we weren't.  We left the house around 5 am and drove for a few hours.  Here is Serkhe Khollu as the sun comes up:

First light on Huyana Potosi:

Our proposed line is at the right side where we hoped to weave between the gnarly seracs:

More light on Huyana Potosi:

The obvious central ice fall on the lower part of the mountain leads to scary seracs so we thought to climb to the right of the big rock buttress and then sneak up between the two serac bands:

Roberto heads up the first roped pitch:

I think this is the second roped pitch:

Higher, a pleasant pitch of good ice brought us here:

Roberto leads to the top of the rock buttress and what we hope are easier slopes above:

Steve handles the unfamiliar medium well:

Alas, just as I thought we had the new route in the bag, something goes amiss.  Roberto slows and fumbles what seems like an easy lead.  He hangs from his tools and barfs.  After lowering a few meters, he has to take a break to explode from the other end.  Steve and I are mostly sheltered from the effluent.  We beat a hasty retreat:

Perfect conditions but, as Roberto says, every new route on Serkhe Kholllu takes two tries:

Moonrise over the shoulder:

A new gate adds a couple of miles to the approach:

We'll be back!  The ice route Roberto and I climbed last October on the left side of the face is not formed at all this time of year:

We licked our wounds (definitely not literally given the nature of the gastric catastrophe!) for a day or two and then went to Quimsa Cruz.  Quimsa Cruz is visible above my left shoulder on this epic 8.5 hour drive from La Paz:

First, we drove down the river Choque for two hours and then we climbed to Cohoni at around 15,000'.  After that, we skirted the west flank of Illimani and finally droped back down to the river Choque at around 5,000'.  Here is the view on the final descent to the river:

Steve at the bridge on the lowest point of the drive:

The canyon of the river Choque:

Much higher, there are eight crosses where a small bridge collapsed under a truck:

Finally, we made it to our camp in the late afternoon:

A flat patch near a clear creek:

The next morning finds us heading to the pass 2,000' above camp:

The view from the pass:

Pico Penis and La Flama are on the left, Muralla Grande is a bit right, and various unnamed cliffs are yet further right:

Steve takes on a partially bolted 6c in the middle of Muralla Grande:

He climbs quite well but the corner is very dirty:

No more gear in sight:

We bailed from that route and begin to look for another.  Steve with the south face of Illimani in the distance:

We settled on this fine piece of granite:

Steve leading the first pitch:

Me following:

We had the best conditions I have experienced in the Quimsa Cruz.  Belaying was a pleasure:

The third pitch was dirty and harder:

Steve worked it out:

More dirt but with good rock underneath:

I got a lot of dirt in my hair following but it would be a great pitch if cleaned well:

The mighty Roberto and his hat:

We had time to make another route.  Steve leads a fist/offwidth crack towards another small summit:

Here we are on the summit of this fine little peak:

But first, Steve has to find the way:

Afternoon light from the pass:

The cooking tent makes camp life bearable:

The next day, it was much colder but still the sun shone at nearly 16,000':

After Steve led a short pitch to a small ledge, I prepared to make a new anchor for our route on the arete:

Anchor ready and down I go:

Looks like a good one:

Checking out the route:

After I placed the bolts, Steve makes the first ascent:

The weather is deteriorating but there was still some sun on the right side:

Steve takes on the steep bit:

Nearing the crux:

At the crux:

And into the crux:

The crux consists of several moves on this route:

Still more crux:

Almost to a rest:

Los Cuernos del Diablo in normal weather:

Steve nears the top:

Just a move or two to go:

Almost there:


Pretty hard at 16,000':

Fortunately, not much became of the weather:

Tossing the rope:

In and out of the clouds:

It was a little cold on the way down:

Feeling quite satisfied:

Steve's back hurt so we left for La Paz the next day.  Two times up to the pass was sufficient anyway.  The team: