Running on Empty

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Date: 26th June 2004. 20 hours, single push.

Climbers: Adam Kovach (Sweden) and Nick Bullock. (England).

An unusual beginning!

Having failed to climb the unclimbed Southeast ridge of Chacraraju East with Al Powell, and Powell having run out of time and flown home, I decided a solo attempt of the Jaeger route on the South Face of Chacraraju East could be possible, having experienced good conditions (good water ice, neve, and not to deep powder snow) when retreating with Powell from the Southeast ridge.

It was with this in mind I caught a collectivo on the 24th June and completed the journey to Pisco Base Camp to be dropped with Adam Kovach, a 26 year old Swede, now living in Austria, who turned out to have exactly the same plan in mind, a solo of the Jaeger Line. (ED 1) After deciding we could understand each other, (more so him understanding my rough, northern dialect) we rapidly came to the conclusion, it would make sense to join together and simu-solo, side-by-side. Not only would this make crossing the glacier safer, it would make the descent a lot easier, as he only carried one 40-metre length of 5mm cord, and I carried only one length of 50-metre 7mm cord. (Who is the crazy one then?)

Our joint collection of gear for this adventure was as follows: 3 ice-screws, 5 pitons, 2 extenders, 1 full set of wires, an Ablikov-threader, a few screw gates and a lot of tat. Not a mighty rack!

After reaching Laguna 69 we experienced rather unsettled weather for the evening of the 23rd and the following day of the 24th. Fortunately, both on the same wavelength we had brought enough food for 5 days.

On the 25th the weather was still cloudy and unsettled but tiered with the wait, we moved up to the edge of the glacier and set a camp. At 1am on the 26th we left camp to cross, the now covered in fresh snow glacier, thanking our luck at meeting each other for this fraught crossing.

Reaching the base of the Jaeger Line at 3.40am we started to climb, simu-solo. The condition of the face was excellent, powder snow, not to deep on the less steep sections; with hard, clear, water ice on the steep steps, giving sustained Scottish grade 1V/4 climbing and the odd section of V.

At approximately 10.00 am we reached the large bowl approximately 150 metres from the summit. It is here the Jaeger Line traverses right, across slabs and exits right, beneath the cornice. We decided a mixed line, at the left-hand side of the bowl looked more interesting and appeared to lead to a gully between flutings and on to the summit ridge. Given our lack of a full rope, or even a single half rope and lack of a good selection of gear the more direct, leftward rising line probably was not the most sensible option, but hey, when has that stopped me. The three pitches below were all climbed on a single length of 50-metre 7mm cord!

  • Pitch 1, Scottish V1/7, 50 metres, covering poorly protected ground (possible no-doubt to place more gear if carried). A slightly left, rising line. A mixed pitch, covering steep 80-90 loose rock, thin iced corners and a 100 overhang of ice to exit. Led by Kovach. (Ha, at last I manage to do to someone else what has been done to me so many times)
  • Pitch 2: Scottish V1/6, 50 metres. Covering an even more poorly protected line which pulls through an overhang at the start, (rock and ice) then traverses around an overhanging corner of rotten rock by space walking unprotected, unconsolidated, bottomless powder flutings until reaching a runnel of good ice which is climbed direct to belay beneath a final rock wall. (Not a good belay, 2 axes, a poor blade, and a thread of ice). Lead by bullock.
  • Pitch 3: the final pitch. Scottish V/5. Climb direct from the left of the rock wall, steep ice of the aerated, pure water and unconsolidated type, typical of Peru and into a runnel of bottomless powder. A poor ablikov thread for protection and then the final powder swim until the summit ridge is reached, Kovach then deciding the whole lot is to dangerous to belay and bring me up, rappelled from the Ablikov returning to a disgruntled Bullock, who then climbed the pitch anyway reaching the Ablikov and leading the final 10 metres to the summit ridge also.

These three pitches run parallel to the Peruvian/Spanish line climbed August 21st 1984 by A. Garcia, F. J. Escola and W. Silverio, and exit the next point to the right on the summit ridge. The summit was not climbed to, as life appeared more favourable.

Descent was made by rappelling the line climbed. Approximately 15 rappels were made on Ablikov threads and an occasional piece of rock gear on the left of the initial couloir. The final 150 metres were down-climbed. The camp on the edge of the glacier was reached at 9pm, 20 hours from starting.

Nick wishes to acknowledge the following support: The Mount Everest foundation, The British Mountaineering Association, The Sports Council, Mammut and D.M.M.

Michael Tweedley (30-06-2004)

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