Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Route Profile: Bolivia's Pequeño Alpamayo

Bolivia's Cordillera Real is one of the world's major ranges, and offers up some of the finest and most varied alpine climbing to be had anywhere. It also happens to be among the least known, appreciated, and visited of the comparable mountain ranges, making it a perfect destination for climbers who are used to a remote setting, and who value the experience of being out and pushing themselves in a minimally impacted, uncrowded mountain setting. In the midst of this relatively unspoiled alpine playground, the Condoriri group--North of Laguna Tuni and centered around Laguna Chia Khota--stands out, offering some of the most spectacular climbing in the world.

The mountains of the Cordillera Real stretch out endlessly.  Chad Cochran.
The Condoriri group consists of 13 peaks, all of which are over 5,000 m / 16,400 ft. Each peak can be reached within a day's hike from base camp, which is conveniently and idyllically located on the shores of Laguna Chian Khota. This central location allows climbers on programs such as our Huayna Potosi Skills Expedition to make single-day ascents of their choice of these magnificent summits in rapid succession, choosing their objectives as the conditions and their ability dictate. Aesthetic, pure snow and ice lines accessible from this camp abound; among the most appealing of these are two routes on the 17,617-foot Pequeño Alpamayo.

This peak is imposing, gorgeous, and a deservingly popular climb. Only the top portion of the mountain is visible from base camp, but it's full grandeur is displayed as one approaches from Tarija, the next peak South. The climbing here looks significantly more challenging than it generally is; in fact, the descent often proves to be the most trying part of the day.

Pequeño Alpamayo from Tarija.  AAI Collection.
Pequeño Alpamayo is climbed either of two ways--via the obvious Southwest Ridge (Grade III-/AD, 45-55 deg snow), or via the Direct Southeast Face (Grade III/D-, 60 deg snow). To reach the Southwest Ridge, climbers approach across the snow ridge from then follow it to the summit--keeping a sensible distance from the often heavily corniced edge. Roughly an hour of moderately steep snow brings climbers to the breathtaking summit.

The Southeast Face is approached similarly; when the Southwest ridge begins to rise, climbers traverse across the bottom of the face until they are directly below the summit. Climbers who tackle the ascent this way are then treated to nearly 1000 feet of uniformly steep, snow climbing directly up the fall line to the summit; when conditions are right, the entirety of the climb is perfect névé. Regardless of how one summits Pequeño Alpamayo, the descent is via the Southwest Ridge; on the hike back to back to base camp, there is plenty of time to think about what the next days climbing will bring. There are, after all, 12 more equally breathtaking peaks within a day's reach...

Spectacular bolivian alpine climbing spans the vista.  Chad Cochran.
We'd love to have you along with us as we climb and explore in Bolivia this coming year. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us about any of our programs there, whether it's the acclimatization Trek, the penultimate Skills Expedition, or the crowning Illimani Expedition, which climbs the regions highest peak!

--Casey O'Brien, Program Coordinator

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