Climbing 2 - Casiri Este

We spent the next four days in base camp, saw a condor for an instant through a gap in the clouds (3/8/72), sewed a ground sheet into the blue bivi-tent, and played a lot of bridge. Thus psychologically prepared for high altitudes, we set off back through the Canyon to the snow plateau, to have a try at the East Face of Casiri Este (19,510 feet). That evening (6/8/72) we slept at the site on the moraines just before the main ridge, where we had left a dump of food and gear on the last trip.

Next morning we slogged up the demoralizing rubble heavy laden. A snow storm started up, the clouds always seemed to come up from the Amazon basin, and we were just on the point of turning back when the sun broke through. Encouraged, we carried on to the main ridge and bivied on the glacier plateau, next to Monte Triangulo.

A reasonable night and we were off again over Mesketanya. After leaving some food and gear on the col beyond, we dropped down to the left (East) to a lower glacier with provisions for 1 1/2 days. We traversed under the East face of Casiri Este and set up the tent on the ice below the ridge, eyeing apprehensively the impossible looking granite slabs that made up the centre of the face. The views were, as usual, splendid. The South face of Monte Triangulo stood out well against the colours of the sunset on the clouds. We spent a comfortable night.

In the morning (9/8/72) we got off at 9.00 am and climbed snow for about 500 feet before traversing onto the face. The first pitch up the rock already needed a little help from pitons and on the second, after using 5 pegs for 50 feet, we abseiled back down and traversed left for about 100 feet to the South East ridge. Here the going was easier and we climbed the more broken rock for 6 pitches, taking turns leading. Rich finished up the corniced snow to the summit just as night fell, the sun leaving the Altiplano turned Lake Titicaca into a sheet of molten lead, in a lifetime one doesn’t spend many evenings in such surroundings!

“Surroundings” is hardly the right word as there were none, we were on a triangular point of snow and rock at 19,500 feet and it was late, so Rich set off down the steep snow slope on the other (NW) side to a likely looking bivi site on the South West ridge. I followed in the dark and managed to slip and fall 15 feet, fortunately held on the rope by Rich. We managed to hack a platform by levelling off the top of the ice ridge, and after a somewhat light meal, we had run out of food, slept well enough on our airy perch.

After what is noted in my diary as a “poor breakfast”, we climbed along the ridge for 2 short pitches then abseiled and scrambled down to the West. After a steep, unpleasant climb down ice for 200 feet we reached, and crossed, the bergschrund. We had been a bit apprehensive about this, as we had read a report of some British climbers being killed by a fall here into this very same hole. We looked around but could see no sign of the accident. At this point we hesitated before deciding to drop down to the glacier rather than traverse at the same level North to Cramatawa, a secondary peak on the ridge between Casiri Este and Mesketanya. This proved to be a mistake, we found our way through the ice-fall but it involved a tiring, unpleasant traverse for 1/4 mile across 45° water ice on our front points. Finally, we climbed back up to the ridge and walked back along to within 100 feet of Cramatawa itself. Then, as time was getting on, we headed back to the food dump and set up the blue tent for a bivi on the windy col South of Mesketanya, we were certainly glad of the food we had left there.

The wind kept up all night and although spindrift started getting in at about 10 pm, we slept well. However, the awakening was rude, the snow was everywhere and Rich’s boots were solid lumps of ice. After a quick breakfast with frozen fingers, we put on all the down clothing we had, I even used my down trousers for the first time in anger, and stomped off through a good covering of fresh snow. The going was hard and this time we traversed round Mesketanya instead of going over the top, up to the col and down the by now familiar moraines to our established bivi sight amongst the rubble. Here we treated ourselves to what we considered to be a well-earned 2-hour lunch - we even indulged ourselves to the point of eating a “spare tin of curry” according to my scribbled notes - truly the last of the big spenders!

It was now nearly 3 o’clock and we made our way down across the burnt grass to the Canyon and the Green Lake. On the way we saw, once again, some curious, black squirrel-like creatures. They seemed to live in the rocks like marmots in the Alps, but they were quite different animals. At the lake we met a larger animal, Steve, and we continued together to base camp (11/8/72). Everyone was there except Neville and Paul Mac who turned up after dark, but in time for dinner. That evening we didn’t get to bed early, the conversation and card playing in the big frame tent, which was certainly worth its far from negligible weight in gold, went on into the wee hours of the morning.