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FA on La Esphinge, Peru
June 2001 :: Peru :: Cordillera Blanca

 

Mountain Fellowship Recipient Zack Martin offer this report of his new climb in Peru. This impressive route clocks in at 5.12a A3+ was a huge mental and physical test for both Zack and his partner Joe Vallone.  Read Zack's epic saga below.

Funded by the American Alpine Club Youth Fellowship Award, our small team set out on June 17th 2001 to establish a new ascent on the Peruvian gem La Esphinge.  Joe Vallone and myself completed the route, ground-up in two weeks climbing over 600 meters of stone perched three hours north of Huaraz, Peru in the Cordillera Blanca.

Humbly located beneath the proud faces of the Huandoy group, the route entailed fourteen days of ferrying loads, fixing pitches and varied climbing on immaculate golden granite in an unbelievable setting.  Our route, Via Gringos, began with a technical face pitch that punched through several roof systems.  The crux moves were over hidden crimpers and required delicate face climbing.  We rated the pitch 5.12a and the difficulties are protected with bolts.

After the initial pitch of free climbing, we pushed upward for seven pitches navigating a maze of thin seams and difficult corners.  The major difficulties of the route were not in the climbing of the natural lines but rather in the relentless cleaning of malevolently, vegetated crack systems.  Future teams attempting this line will surely find the gear and climbing much more entertaining without bush-wacking through the high altitude jungle we encountered.

As we continued ever higher, we rested each night looking at the single, tattered photo of the face we carried with us.  “Somewhere up there is a big ledge.”  We reaffirmed this glimmer of hope at the end of each day after dumping dirt from our trousers and before passing out wincing in pain.  Half way up the wall was a large ledge.  We made the ledge our goal.  Climbing toward the ledge, we inched through our way through several difficult pitches, which involved A3+ hooking and sizable fall potential.  Bat hooks were used sparingly to link natural placements and by-pass plants too dense to be removed and too prickly to touch.

On the sixth day, Joe led across what we dubbed Jose’s Roof Traverse.  

Mostly protected by large camming units, the roof required awkward moves.  Vallone dangled from the crack like a spider from its web, as he twisted and moaned through 30 meters of overhanging difficulties. The pitch required a nearly 90 degree traverse that finished under a small roof.

After an incredible hanging bivy, I led into the exit pitch of Jose’s Roof Traverse.  Varied climbing eventually led to an A2 knifeblade seam and an even more spectacular hanging bivy than the previous night.  Our team groveled one pitch per day and the difficulties began to wear our nerves thin.  After a long A3+ pitch the following day, we rested in the comfort of the big ledge.  However restful the ledge became, the grim reality was yet to come.

On the ninth day, I ventured into the railroad cracks, a set of parallel cracks that from the ground appeared like perfect hand cracks.  Such optimism faded quickly.  The cracks were actually closed seams incapable of holding any gear and only hooks would suffice.  Once again, I was reduced to hooking above a bolt placed twenty feet below and subject to a ledge fall that would surely remove skin.

The slow pace coupled with the untimely loss of both drills, forced us to retreat from our initial line and look for a quicker path to the summit.  To do this, we joined a route to the right a hundred yards and quickly gained elevation the next day. Before retiring the following day we hauled to a high ledge where the angle of the wall eases and managed to climb two new pitches below the gleaming headwall at the top of the face.  The following day, we finished the route and enjoyed a quiet, warm sunset over the Cordillera Negro to the west.  Eating tuna fish and tomato sauce, we soaked in the soft rays of the sun as it drifted out of sight, watching the day escape.  The climb had been significant for both of us and probably one of the toughest objectives we had completed together.  Via Gringos (Way of the Gringos) is a Grade VI 5.12a A3+ and was completed in 17 pitches, over two weeks. The summit is 18,000 feet in elevation.