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Alpinists Killed Attempting New Route in Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Russian alpinists Alexander Ruchkin and Vyacheslav ‘Slava’ Ivanov were killed while attempting a new route on the south face of Huandoy Sur (20,209 feet) in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca.

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Alexander Ruchkin. [Facebook photo]
Alexander Ruchkin. [Facebook photo]

On September 1, a rescue team found the bodies of Russian alpinists Alexander Ruchkin and Vyacheslav ‘Slava’ Ivanov. The two had been attempting a new route on the 2,600-foot south face of Huandoy Sur (20,209 feet) in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. The bodies were found nine feet apart on the lower portion of the wall—approximately 1,500 feet below their high point.

Eric Rual Albino Lliuya, a climbing guide with Peru Expeditions and friend of Ruchkin, organized the rescue mission several days after communication, via satellite phone, had ceased with the Russians.

“We started to organize the rescue team on August 31,” says Lliuya, “but it was difficult to join porters and guides to go as soon as possible.” By noon the next day they were able to gather enough manpower and set out—four mountain guides, four high-altitude porters and two police specialized in mountain rescue.

“We found the two Russians at 7:30 p.m.,” Lliuya says, at approximately 17,000 feet. Lliuya returned to town early the next morning to gather more people for the body recovery. “In Huaraz, unfortunately we do not have a high-mountain rescue helicopter.”

According to the British Mountaineering Council, a British team led by Don Whillans attempted to climb the south face of Huandoy Sur in 1968, but found the rock “unjustifiably dangerous,” as did another British team in 1974 and an Italian team the following year.

In 1976, the face finally saw an ascent—not one, but three, by different routes. “All three climbs were prolonged and extremely hard siege ascents with much aid climbing on unstable, vertical to overhanging granite,” reports the BMC.

Ruchkin and Ivanov’s objective was to establish a new line, in alpine style. They began the climb on August 20 and spent the night at 17,400 feet. RussianClimb reports that the team climbed six mixed pitches the following day, and three to five pitches on the 22nd, bivying at 18,215 feet. On the 24th, they spent the night in the same place. They had only managed 65 feet before hitting a dead end and were forced to retreat.

They made slow progress up the difficult, unconsolidated face. On the 25th, they pushed the line 100 feet higher, and on the 26th, another 200 feet to a new bivy at 18,500 feet.

The next day, having spent a week on the wall, “…they tried to force a way through crackless yet rotten rock but after five hours and only 25m [82 feet] they realized it was a lost cause—it would need skyhooks and bolts, neither of which they appear to have carried,” reports the BMC.

It appears that Ruchkin and Ivanov began to descend before contact was lost.

“I am almost sure that Mr. Vyacheslav Ivanov was leading and an avalanche of stones came down [on] them,” Lliuya says.

Ivanov held the title of Russian Mountaineering Champion three times. In 2010, he established a new line on K7 West in the Karakoram of Pakistan. In 2013, Ivanov and Ruchkin claimed the first ascent of the southwest face of Kusum Kanguru in the Himalayas—a coveted ascent for which they were awarded the Russian Piolet d’Or.

Ruchkin, who began climbing in 1985, has accrued too many first and rare ascents to list. Of his many achievements, he was Piolet d’Or nominee, as well as Russian Piolet d’Or recipient, for the first ascent of Gonnga North (20,124 feet) in the Minya Knoka range of Sichuan, China.

In 2005, Ruchkin was awarded the Piolet d’Or for his first ascent of the north face direct on Jannu in Patagonia. Other notable first ascents of his include the Russian Route on the Troll Wall, Norway; new route on Great Sail Peak, Baffin Island; first ascent of the Shark’s Tooth in Greenland; and first ascent of Kyzyl Asker in Western Kokshaal-too on the China-Kyrgyzstan border.

Ruchkin is survived by his wife, son and daughter.

Read: Spotlight: Alexander Ruchkin – Russian Locomotive