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Canadians Free New Line On Chacraraju Este in the Cordillera Blanca

Alik Berg and Quentin Roberts establish a new route on the east face of Chacraraju Este in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.

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Quentin Lindfield Roberts and Alik Berg have established a new route, The Devil’s Reach Around (5.10 M6 90 degrees), on the east face of Chacraraju Este, a 6,000-meter peak in the Cordillera Blanca range of Peru. “A pretty spontaneous trip,” Roberts describes. Berg booked his flight a week before departure. Berg and Roberts completed the route late last week in a two-day push. Before Peru, the team had climbed together in the Canadian Rockies, putting up several first ascents.

Quentin Roberts (right) and Alik Berg (left). Photo: Quentin Roberts.

Chacraraju is a twin-peaked mountain. Chacraraju Oeste (west) boasts the higher summit at 6,112 meters. Lionel Terray authored the first recorded ascents of both summits, Oeste in 1956 and Este in 1962. The steep east face of Chacraraju Este, approximately 1,200 meters in length, remained unclimbed until 1994 when Slovenians Pavle Kozjek and Gregor Kresal claimed the first ascent.

“That was a pretty harrowing account. They nearly got hit by a serac or I think their campsite got smoked by a few boulders. It sounded pretty rowdy,” Roberts tells Rock and Ice. “They also climbed the headwall with two pitches of aid. And, you know, their Slovenian. When you hear about people from that part of the world spending four days on a face and trying hard it gives you the willies.”

Prepared for the worst, Berg and Roberts were pleasantly surprised by the climbing they found on the east face, and the route went free at a moderate 5.10 M6. They timed their climbing around Peru’s massive daily temperature fluctuations to minimize objective hazard, which resulted in climbing more dangerous sections overnight when low temperatures kept the ice frozen and the choss in place.

Berg jugging. Photo by Quentin Roberts.

Roberts and Berg faced several unknowns on the face. “The question mark on the route was the midway cliff band, really chossy and quite overhung,” Roberts states. “Alik and I found a pretty sweet traverse that goes around left through some rock that was recently uncovered from snow. It was only M5 or so, but it unlocked the middle cliff band.”

The remainder of the route was more straight forward but contained the technical crux. Roberts reports that: “The first three pitches of the  headwall are steep. That’s where the grade comes from. But where it was hard there was generally good rock. That’s where we had to try hardest to make sure we kept it free.”

Climbing in the Cordillera Blanca is rapidly changing with the climate. Roberts describes the climbing as: “Really chossy where the snow has gone away. That’s why I think climbing in Peru has become less popular in recent years.” Closer to the Equator than other big ranges, the glaciers of Peru are melting fast, and revealing dangerous loose rock. The striking range, once a popular destination, has become less traveled due to the increasing risks. Roberts and Berg encountered better-than-expected snow conditions due the heavy snows of El Niño, but the freshly exposed rock they encountered was still notably less stable than its more weathered neighbors.

For Berg and Roberts, Peru was a good step towards a continued partnership. Roberts says: “We’re going to be going higher together in the future so going to 6,000 meters in Peru is a good stepping stone for us.”