Over the past month a group of climbers from the New Zealand Alpine Team have been active in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Several new routes have been climbed including four new lines on Taulliraju, including the oft-attempted West Ridge.
Thanks to dry conditions across the Andes in the last two weeks, the team made four first ascents, including the first full traverse of Taulliraju, the first New Zealand and Australian ascents of Taulliraju and potentially the first female ascent of Taulliraju.
Daniel Joll sent in the following report.
The West Ridge of Taulliraju: R. Pearson, A. McDowell, R. Measures, S. Fortune; 26 June 2016.
(AI5, M4, 5.8)
In a landmark ascent by two young Kiwis, Rose Pearson (26) and Alastair McDowell (24), accompanied by a couple of their mentors, Steve Fortune and Reg Measures, climbed the full West Ridge of Taulliraju.
In an undertaking which began over two years ago, we were ridiculed, chastised and vehemently discouraged from even considering the West Ridge. Lionel himself contacted us early on, stating: "It's a bloody Peruvian Ridge so if it has not been yet climbed it goes without saying it will be for a very good reason."
Nevertheless, the dogmatism of youth triumphed, and the 17th June 2016, saw Rose, Jaz Morris, Reg and myself begin our first attempt on the West Ridge. From the Taulliraju-Rinrijirca Col, we made slow progress, as we scoped the best way up the route; eventually being turned around above a serious rock step on Day 2; a third of the way up the route.
Refusing to accept defeat, Rose riled-up incoming Alpine Team mentee Alastair McDowell, and stole off with him for another attempt on the Ridge. Early on the 23rd, the pair started up the ridge, making quick time over the old ground. However progress above our previous high point proved slow and similarly arduous, and with dwindling food, the team faced at least one hungry night on the mountain.
Unbeknownst to them, Reg and Steve decided to go for the second ascent a day after, so on the 24th, all eyes in base camp turned to the West Ridge to watch the action unfold. Hot on the heels of the young team, it still took Reg and Steve till the 26th to catch up with Rose and Al, a short distance from the summit. Together, the four of them surmounted the final difficulties, feeling a modicum of relief upon joining the top of the Italian Route and knowing they were finished with virgin ground. Summiting late on the 26th, the teams pooled resources to descend the SSE ridge, bivying once more in deteriorating weather, to finally fall into welcoming arms just below Punta Union Pass on the 27th - 5 days after Rose & Al set off from base camp with 3 night’s food.
The first ascent of the West Ridge was made possible by generous support from Sport New Zealand's Hillary Expedition Grant, the New Zealand Alpine Club Expedition Fund, Austrian Alpine Club, and the Expedition Climbers Club, and the numerous sponsors of the New Zealand Alpine Team; Macpac, Tendon, Jetboil, and Salewa.
East Rib of Taulliraju: B. Dare, S. Skelton; 19 June 2016.
(5.10b, M5, AI5)
Fuelled by a good forecast, a promising reconnaissance, and the sight of others on the mountain, Ben and Steve Skelton decided to go for their premier objective - a new route on the East side.
Beginning with a testing warm up, the pair climbed the initial pitches of the French Guides' Route to bivy at the base of the SSE ridge. The following morning saw them hit the ground running; rapping over a seriously overhanging serac to gain access to the base of the East Face. With a third of the work done, all that remained was to climb the route and get back down.
Wandering across snow slopes, the pair accessed the East Rib and were straight into 12 pitches of sunny rock climbing, dancing around the occasional patch on snow until they made the NE ridge; dropping over the far side to snuggle on the North Face for the night. A traverse, some mixed pitches, and some ice pitches rounded out the full mountain experience, seeing the pair summit around midday and make their way leisurely back down the SSE ridge to their waiting tent. Determined to somehow stymie their efforts, the mountain threw in one stuck rope 20m off the ground the next day as they descended the Guides' Route, but a few hours of retrieval work and a merry jaunt down the hill saw the, back at base camp well in time for dinner!
ANZAC Variation to the French Army Route: D. Joll, S. Fortune, M. Scholes; 17 June 2016.
Having been in the Santa Cruz only a couple of days, the eager team of Dan, Steve and Matt set off to scope the peak in an attempt to see what challenges it held. Leaving base camp under the auspices of attempting an established route - perhaps either the French Guides' route or the French Army route, it was with some surprise that we saw them later that same day ascending a line on the French Army buttress well left of the namesake line. Encountering serious ice and mixed difficulties, the team put up 10 pitches on the buttress before meeting the SSE ridge where they bivyed, before climbing the classic route to the summit the following day, marking the first New Zealand and Australian ascents of Taulliraju. Returning to their bivy, the team descended the Guides' Route, putting in a valuable line for the other three teams to subsequently employ.
South Peak of Taulliraju: S. Fortune, A. McDowell, R. Pearson; 21 June 2016
The veritable library of route guides and magazine features we had on Taulliraju at base camp failed to document any ascent of the prominent South Peak of Taulliraju. Enticed by the prospect of a day trip up this pyramidal peak, Steve Fortune, Rose and Al set off bright and early to ascend the skyline ridge.
Whether previously ascended or not, the fresh rock-fall scars they scaled on the first couple of pitches likely heralded untrodden terrain. Another pitch, a step and a corkscrew around to the SE side for about seven pitches saw the trio top out on the South Peak with enough daylight for Rose and Al to scope the descent line down the SSE ridge for their ensuing West Ridge ascent.
Finishing the rappels down the now well trodden Guides' Route in the dark, the team made it back just in time for a late supper and a rest day, before setting out on their historic ascent of the West Ridge.
You can see a selection of photos from the trip on the team's Facebook page.
Watch a video of the West Ridge first ascent below: