French Climb Coveted New Route in Peru

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Ben Guigonnet leads the exit pitch at over 20,000 feet on the direct west face of Siula Chico. Photo courtesy of Fred Degoulet.

5/29/14 - A four-man French team has climbed the direct west face of Siula Chico (6,265m/20,554') in the Cordillera Huayhuash, one of the most difficult and coveted lines in Peru. Frédéric Degoulet, Benjamin Guigonnet, Helias Millerioux, and Robin Revest completed the 900-meter route, Looking for the Void(WI6 M7 R), in five days up and down, climbing alpine-style.

Siula Chico's very steep, El Cap–sized wall had been attempted by Britons Mick Fowler and Simon Yates in 1998, and then by Spanish climbers Jordi Corominas and Jordi Tosas in 2003 and 2005. Corominas returned in 2007 with Oriol Baró to complete the only route up the face, a line on the right side that took six days to climb, with a portaledge for bivies. The Spanish climbers escaped to the right near the top of the face and did not climb the final headwall.

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The second bivy on Siula Chico. This site was not as sheltered as the team had hoped, and a falling rock went through one tent, but fortunately no one was hurt. Photo courtesy of Fred Degoulet.

Corominas warned the French climbers that the face was very dangerous once the afternoon sun hit it and sent down cascades of rock and ice. With that in mind, they acclimatized in Peru for 20 days, hoping to climb as quickly as possible once on the wall. They also planned to start each day well before dawn so they could reach sheltered bivouacs by midday. But the sustained technical difficulties meant they could cover only a handful of pitches each day.

The four men began climbing on May 16, generally following the line attempted by Corominas and Tosas in 2003. The first day was capped by a WI6 R pitch, and it took the French two hours to chop a bivouac site at 5,800 meters. They started at 2 a.m. on the second day, and in the pitch dark Guigonnet led a 45-meter vertical corner that required two short pendulums. In daylight, the pitch was followed free at M6+. Four more steep ice leads—all WI5, 5+, or 6—took them to a bivouac site at 5,980 meters, near the Spanish highpoint in 2003.

Another early start brought more extremely difficult and run-out mixed climbing on day three, and the team bivouacked again after less than 200 meters. A final 45-meter M6 WI6 lead guarded the exit to the summit ridge. From the top, the team descended to their high camp to wait until the cold night for a safer rappel descent. Starting at midnight, they smoothly completed 20 rappels by 3:30 in the morning to escape the face.

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The 900-meter west face of Siula Chico with the new route marked. The Baro-Corominas route ascends the right side of the face. Photo by Jordi Corominas.

"This climb is the hardest route we have ever made," Degoulet wrote at his blog, "from a point of view of continuous pure difficulty, physical and mental engagement, and the steepness of the wall."

Dates of ascent: May 16–21, 2014

Sources: Freddegoulet.blogspot.com, Robin Revest, American Alpine Journal