Speedy Free Climbs in Peru

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Brian McMahon and Josh Wharton, stymied by severe rock fall in their bid to climb the North Face of Huascaran Norte, salvaged a trip to Peru with four lightning-fast free climbs in a little over a week on the beautiful granite of La Esfinge (The Sphinx, 17,470 feet).

The two warmed up with a 4.5-hour ascent of the 2,500-foot-long Original Route (5.11) on the East Face. Next they made the first free ascent of The Riddle of the Cordillera Blanca (2000, 5.10+ A3), establishing a three-pitch variation to skirt the route’s aid climbing. This involved two 5.12 pitches: a finger crack up an arête and a “completely desperate section of 5.12 downclimbing.” They onsighted the route in 7.5 hours with no new pins or bolts and called the free version King of Thebes (5.12b/c) because, according to legend, Oedipus became king of Thebes when he solved the riddle of the Sphinx.

McMahon and Wharton then onsighted the 2000 route Cruz del Sur in 7 hours, finding it much easier than its publicized rating of 5.13a—they suggested it was 5.12a or so and “will surely become increasingly popular as word of the inflated grades and excellent climbing continues to circulate.”

McMahon headed home to the States, and Wharton headed to the base of Huandoy Norte but was frustrated by a severely crevassed glacier he did not want to cross alone. Instead, he made a mad dash back to La Esfinge and, the next day, soloed the Original Route in 1 hour 28 minutes, caught a taxi back to town that afternoon, and flew home the next day.

Wharton’s trip was supported by a Mugs Stump Award.