Climb of Cerro Lliani (~17,800 ft)
June 21, 2011
Cerro Lliani offered us a Colorado 14'er with an extra 4000 feet thrown in as a bonus. The climb reminded me of a climb in the Elk Range in the Spring, not so much as to a promise of rotten rock but as to a craggy climb with a decent summit snow field added to the mix. We left camp at about 7 in the morning and wandered down the valley to a point about half way to the Jampa hamlet. We knew there was a trail of sorts on the far slope of the valley that split off at Jampa, heading in the direction of Huayruro Punca. Leo noted that it would be short climb up the far valley slope to the trail, shown on the map as a route that circumnavigates Cerro Lliani.
We went about half way to Jampa before cutting across the river to skirt the far bank with the idea of not gaining too much altitude and not losing too much either. We aimed for a minimal effort traverse that would cut across the hill above Jampa, deliver us to the bank of the western branch of Rio Jampamayo and allow us a short hill climb to cut the anticipated trail on the far side of the river. We cut through wet bottom lands and then back up onto the opposite bank, found multiple use trails and picked those segments that gave us the traverse we wanted. After going perhaps a mile or so from camp we crossed the divide between the two valleys and dropped down to cross the Rio Jampamayo with little effort. I remarked to Bob that the creek might rise with the afternoon melt, given the substantial glaciers that we knew were upstream.
The far bank was well cut by alpaca and herder's trails and after a short climb, we located the alleged trail with little effort. We took to the obvious course, crossed a minor bisecting draw and headed up valley with a steady touch of ascent toward what looked like a trail or scree scar. From a distance, we knew we would cut up a scarred drainage that would lead to a basin that would provide access to the western slopes of Lliani proper. Bob and I were climbing without G at this point as he was trying his best to conclude a case of the stomach crud; however he did mention that he was planning to hike at least to the base area of the climb we were doing or one of the adjacent peaks that lay in the direction of Yanamayo. As we started up the braided trail leading up to the basin, we spotted G further west in the base of the same valley, making good time with Leo, as they headed toward a long crescent shaped peak about a mile or so up valley from LLiani.
The climb to the upper basin was typical of the braided trails one used to see in Colorado on a 14'er before the herd paths was stabilized by trail crews doing reclamation and stabilization work. Branches cut left, branches cut right and there was enough erosion to make the footing interesting and the course as serpentine as possible. We stuck to the most traveled path and maintained a steady rest step, but I was not quite finding the rhythm that I wanted that morning. The route became more rocky as we climbed and we weaved in and out of boulders toward the top. Bob was well ahead and in better form so as I hit the 3/4 mark, he broke the crest onto less steep ground and disappeared from view.
I broke the slope, perhaps 10 minutes later and cut to the right in the direction of the upper slopes of Lliani. I spotted Bob at the cusp of what we correctly presumed was a depressed basin that would have to be crossed to access the steep slopes guarding access to the upper third of the mountain and the summit snow field. Bob was waiting for me on a rock, starting to dig into the box lunch that Domingo had prepared for the climb . . . when I caught up . . . I too dipped into lunch along with a sip and a Gu. Before us lay a slope, having at least a 500 foot vertical component, part scree and part talus that we would have to scale to gain the snow line. It had scree hell written all over it and neither of us were excited about this tortuous route.
However, Bob spied a traversing course that looked to have more talus than scree and tied to a slot in the rocks that looked to grant access to the summit ridge rather than the lower portion of the snowfield. His route selection beat my more direct path by a long shot so off we went on his line. We traversed with a slight up angle seeking only to gain perhaps 50 vertical over a few hundred yards between our starting point and the next substantive outcrop. We crossed the fairly stable scree to the rocks and climbed up through a short cleft to reach the start of the next leg of our traverse. The next stretch was across talus, rather than scree and led to the base the climb we needed to ascend to get to the slope Bob was aiming for.
The route to the slot was up through stable talus for about 200 feet of vertical after which we climbed through the class 2 slot sticking close to the edge where the loose scree we now found ourselves on was more stable. We climbed about 30 vertical before the slope steepened to class 3 for another 20 feet before cutting right to wend its way up through mixed class 3 and 4 terrain in search of the ridge proper. Rather than climbing to the ridge on what now was more increasingly challenging terrain, with lots of scree underfoot and on the ledges, we took the next available exit to the right. Our route out of the slot climb provided a short compact scree slope and then we were at the foot of the snowfield.
G had his camera and with the zoom feature was able to pick us out once we stepped onto the snow. He was at least a mile away, now on the summit of the peak he elected to climb, and he could clearly see us, outlined on the snow as we started upward. The snow slope was no more than 20 or 30 degrees and soon led us to the crest of the ridge proper. Bob got there first and after I joined him, we turned right to climb to the summit. However, the ridge presented us with 5th class terrain almost immediately in the form of a technical gendarme that we cut left and down to pass around. The pass around went technical within 100 feet and we realized that with the minimal gear we had, we were not going to get up this solid 5th class ridge.
We chose to skip the ridge run and instead we got back on the snow and dropped about 250 vertical feet to the base of the steeper portion of the snowfield. This gave us the opportunity to traverse along the lesser angled snow until we were looking up a route that would take us more or less to the summit. Now, it was time to put on the crampons and climb about 500 vertical feet to the summit of Lliani. I led off and we both made steady progress toward the summit ridge, climbing non stop to an outcrop about 30 vertical feet below the summit. I stopped to let Bob take the lead to the top as he had been strong all climb and deserved to top out first on this one. Bob passed and rest stepped on to the summit with a big smile and triumphant wave of the ice axe.
We took in the view of the valley we were camped at the head of and, like many Andean valleys, realized just how big it was. We were left with no doubt that it would take more than two full days to hike down to Pitumarca. We also took in the awesome Ausangate Massif, including the ridge of Mariposa that had been our goal just a few days before. Ausangate was clearly the giant of the southern part of the Vilcanota but there was lots of ice all around the neighborhood. Peaks to the north, the east and a few isolated nudos to the south were well clad in snow and ice, leaving little doubt as to the potential for climbing over the rest of the range. Clearly one could spend weeks simply exploring valleys and picking routes that see few if any climbers on a regular basis.
We were on the summit for perhaps one half hour before hefting the packs for the hike on back down the snowfield into the upper most basin that separates the main peak from the subsummit, connected by a ragged ridge. We had not roped up for the ascent as there was no sign of glacier hazards and the descent was without too much hazard due to sun cups that would have made a slide a slow and bumpy affair if one could somehow get up any speed. We took a direct route to the base of the upper basin and were surprised to see a deer bounding across the lower apron of snow. not an alpaca, not a llama, not a guanaco, but a bounding deer. We crossed the deer's track and hiked to the edge of the rock that guarded the upper limit of the scree slope we spent so much time avoiding on the climb up.
We came to the edge and like everything in the Andes, the cusp was longer than it looked and seemed to offer a great opportunity to get cliffed out. Rather than bemoan the cliffing option, I took what appeared to be the most viable gully, which to my contentment, turned out to be the exact drop point we were looking for. We took the scree escalator to the base of the lower basin where we stopped at the last lof the large rocks for a final snack and the remainder of the box lunch Domingo had prepared. From there we crossed to the far edge of this basin and traversed across the slope to the head of the braided scree slope and started our descent to the base of the valley. We cut left and right, making better time on the trip down for sure and passed by a herd of alpaca grazing along our route.
We made it to the base of the valley and were seeking to cross the Rio Jampamayo, which now had a bit of an afternoon melt going on and would be a bit for of a rock hop to the other shore. G had spoken of a finding a rock bridge when we talked by radio, but Bob and I did not find the place he was talking about. Instead we found a barely jumpable spot that met my needs and gave Bob a wet foot when the launch rock turned out to be loose, just about dumping Bob into the creek. Once we were both across, three dry feet and one wet, we continued downstream to the first bank washout and climbed back onto the ridge that separated this valley from the other or northern arm of the main valley where our camp was located.
We figured to reverse our course from the morning but ended up a bit high, causing us to cross an intermediate moraine before breaking the third crest to drop into the valley about one quarter mile below our camp. We crossed the river with ease and, once on the other side, walked back up the trail to arrive in camp. The crew had seen us a few times along our route over the course of the day and were not surprised that we had scored the summit. G had also scored a summit of the serpentine ridge that formed the crest o the peak that he climbed while we scaled Lliani.
Domingo broke out an afternoon snack followed by another good dinner. At this point we were done climbing and would now trek for three days to catch our ride in Pitumarca. We were not done but we were done enough to partake of the liter of 86 proof Pisco that Domingo now had in his hand. Rocque joined us and the liter was gone after each of us had taken three shots. Domingo and Rocque did a better job of holding their liquor at 15,500 feet than the three of us did. Simply put, we had a really good time that evening.