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).


  1. Do you carry a tent in case you get socked in at the summit?

    1. No, too heavy. I carry warm belay jacket with a hood and you can put your legs and lower torso inside the pack which has a foam pad. Not really comfy but you won't freeze to death.