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Not Even an Open Bivy at 5500 m Could Stop this Bold Peruvian First Ascent

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On July 13, Andres Marin, Anna Pfaff, and Alex Torres climbed a demanding new alpine route on the south face of Concha de Caracol, a 5,640-meter peak in Peru’s Cordillera Vilcanota. 

Cerveza, Pan y Ácido (ED, 90 degrees; 700 meters) hosts grade 4 alpine ice, barely-bodyweight vertical snow climbing, and technical dry tooling on loose blocks and shattered rock. “The climbing was thoughtful because gear, especially anchors, were hard to come by and took some creativity,” Pfaff wrote to Climbing via email. “Snow and ice conditions [were] engaging because one minute you could be climbing really nice neve or ice and [then] it [would] turn into sugary snow with little purchase.”

The trio left their basecamp at 4,800 meters with a very light alpine rack of ice screws, pitons, and cams and rotated through two-pitch lead blocks. Torres’ last block arrived a rope length below the summit ridge, forcing him to produce a heroic effort. “[It] took over two hours to lead,” wrote Pfaff. “It was loose sugary snow that required down climbing into a parallel runnel to gain the summit ridge. Alex literally dug out a passageway onto the ridge and over to the other side where he was able to make an anchor.” Pfaff was relieved to have such solid partners on this pitch; with no solid protection, anchor, or medium to climb on, she said it was clear their whole system could have failed if Torres had fallen.

Anna Pfaff climbing low on Cerveza, Pan y Ácido Photo: Courtesy Anna Pfaff

In the southern hemisphere, south facing walls are shady, frigid affairs this time of year. The team intended to climb Concha de Caracol in a single push and, when nighttime fell at 5:30 p.m., were woefully unprepared for an open bivy. “I don’t know exactly how cold the bivy was but it definitely was one of the coldest nights of our lives!” wrote Pfaff. The alternative, a pitch-black slog across the corniced ridge, kept them anchored in place for a long night at 5,500 meters. They navigated the summit ridge at first light and began rappelling their line of ascent, arriving back in basecamp at noon. 

As for the route name Cerveza, Pan y Ácido (Beer, Bread, and Acid), Pfaff joked, “It’s all the things we did not have [at our bivy] but wished we did!”

Open bivy in Peru. Alpine climbing
The team preparing for a long night at 5,500 meters. Note the absence of food, tent, and sleeping bags. Photo: Courtesy of Anna Pfaff