Supported by an expedition grant from the BMC, Tony Barton and Tom Chamberlain have made the first ascent of the South West Face of Huaguruncho, a rarely-visited 5,730m summit in Peru.
The two climbed the 1,000m Llama Karma at ED, with ice to Scottish V, 5, 85-90° Peruvian snow, and rock to UIAA V+, reaching the West Ridge at c5,450m.
They made two bivouacs on the face and a third on the crest of the ridge but were unable to continue to the summit.
This was Barton's fifth trip to the area. The South West Face had been his goal on the third visit (with Andy Houseman in 2006) but the attempt was abandoned after much of their equipment was stolen at base camp.
In 2008 he returned with Chamberlain and Olly Metherell. The three opted for the left-hand of three spurs, which they gained from the right via easy terrain followed by three pitches of exciting mixed up to Scottish VI, 7, before retreating in bad weather.
This year has been dry and the ice on the right side of the lower rock buttress was absent, so Barton and Chamberlain reached the crest from the left via steep cracks and a ramp. Their first night was spent at the 2008 high point at 4,850m.
Over the next two days they climbed a further 21 pitches. Some of these were very badly protected, and an uncomfortable second night was spent in an 'ice tube' beneath a serac, before difficult climbing through a heavy snow storm took them to the West Ridge and a third bivouac.
From this point to the summit, the ridge is broad and relatively gently-angled. However, it was now heavily laden with snow and deemed too avalanche prone. Instead, the two rappelled the North North West Face and made an exhausting walk back to their base camp on the opposite side of the peak.
Huagaruncho (White Tusk) is a spectacular isolated pyramid on the eastern edge of the Cordillera, and being close to the Amazon Jungle receives relatively higher precipitation, leading to impressive cornices, flutes and seracs.
It withstood a number of attempts before the West Ridge fell to a talented team of British climbers in 1956. After a 12-day siege, the noted rock climber John Streetly and Everest veteran Mike Westmacott reached the summit.
The ridge was narrow and difficult at first but above c5,400m became broad and relatively easy angled, though still posed typical Peruvian difficulties on bad snow etc.
Norwegians Trond Aas, Odd Eliassen and Jon Teigland, together with Americans James Jones and Leif Norman Patterson made the second ascent in 1970 via the South Ridge, having established four snow cave camps and fixed much rope. Eliassen and Teigland descended the West Ridge, so making the first (and only) traverse of the mountain.
Japanese made a prolonged and successful siege of the North North East Ridge in 1976 for the third ascent but the peak had to wait until 2003 before it gained a fourth, this time from four Spanish.
These Catalans forced a new line up the North North West Face to reach the crest of the West Ridge at c5,400m, above its main difficulties, though they still had to negotiate an unprotected 85° step of typical Peruvian sloppiness before reaching the summit.
The Catalans made the first alpine style ascent of the mountain in a round trip in 15½ hours, approximately 11 days faster than previous summiteers.
However, they reported that locals still believe the mountain to be unclimbed. Legend has it that a large golden cross, which glimmers in the morning sun, was placed on the summit by Inca descendants using a secret tunnel. This cross has not been seen by any climbers purporting to have reached the top.