A brief history of Mataraju; Peru´s tallest mountain

M ount Huascarán (in Ancash Quechua language: Mataraju, ‘Twin Nevados’), is a massif located in the Western Cordillera of the Andes, called Cordillera Blanca. The mountain is located in the province of Yungay in the department of Ancash and is the highest tropical snow-covered mountain in the world. It is considered a national and global icon that furthermore gives its name to the national park and biosphere reserve. Mount Huascarán consists of two summits, the northern summit at 6,655 metres above sea-level and the southern summit at 6,768 metres and is the fourth highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere and South America after Aconcagua, Ojos del Salado, and Monte Pissis.

The massif occupies the northern-central part of the Cordillera Blanca and is separated from the rest of the chain by two deep valleys; Llanganuco to the north and Ulta to the south. The first is a famous tourist sight best known for housing the two Llanganuco Lakes, which are actually called Chinancocha and Orcococha. This is also where peaks such as Huandoy, Pisco and Chacraraju can be observed and climbed. The Ulta Valley counts with the highest altitude vehicular tunnel in the world, Punta Olímpica at an altitude of 4,732 meters above sea-level.

In 1908, the American mountaineer Annie Peck conquered the northern peak of the Huascarán. The southern summit and the snow-covered Chopicalqui continued impregnable until the Austro-German scientific expedition; conformed by the scientists Philipp Borchers, Wilhelm Bernard, Erwin Hein, Hermann Hörlin, Hans Kinzl and Erwin Schneider and Peruvian porters Néstor Montes and Faustino Rojo. This team managed to conquer the south peak of Huascarán on the 20th of July in 1932 and Mount Chopicalqui on the third of August of that same year. It was this scientific team that set the official height of the south peak at 6,768 metres above sea-level. The objectives determined by the expedition members were to carry out ascents, realise scientific investigations and the creation of a detailed topographical map.

On January 10, 1962, an avalanche killed an estimated 4,000 people. Eight years afterwards on the 31st of May, while many Peruvians were listening to the radio to the opening match between hosts Mexico and the Soviet Union of the FIFA 1970 World Cup, Peru would suffer the worst natural disaster in its history. At approximately 3:25 p.m. the soil started to shake aggressively and everything began to collapse. According to figures from the National Institute of Civil Defense, it concerned the most violent earthquake in the history of Peru. The epicenter was located on the coast of Ancash, which destroyed more than 60% of the houses and left about 80,000 dead and 200,000 people missing.  The shock caused a substantial part of the north side of Huascarán to collapse. According to different sources, the avalanche mass, an estimated 2.8 billion cubic feet of ice, mud and rock, was about half a mile wide and a mile long (0.8 km × 1.6 km). It advanced about 18 km at an average speed of 280 to 335 km/h burying the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca under ice and rock. The epicenter was located in the Pacific Ocean at 35 km off the coast of Chimbote and Casma and had a moment magnitude of 7.9.

In 1979, Dr. Nicolás Jaeger remained unaccompanied at the southern summit of Mount Huascarán for 60 long days with the objective of studying the physiological effects of altitude.

In regard to glaciology, the American paleoclimatologist and Distinguished University Professor in the School of Earth Sciences at the Ohio State University, Lonnie G. Thompson, who in 1980 became interested in the study of ice caps, managed in 1993 after several expeditions to drill two holes towards the base of Huascarán’s bedrock. According to the National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM), paleoclimatologist Thompson will be back in 2018 to realise more drills, possibly at the southern or northern summit of this peak. In October earlier this year, the Ohio State University in the US and INAIGEM signed a cooperation agreement last month to carry out scientific studies on Mount Huascarán in the Cordillera Blanca, in the fields of glaciology, meteorology and climatology.

It is also pertinent to mention the work carried out in 2013 by a team of Australian and German researchers, who revealed that Mount Huascarán is the place of terrestrial surface with the least gravitational attraction force.

On the first of August of 2017, Valery Rozov realised a historical BASE jump from Huascarán.  It took the Russian five days to ascent Mount Huascarán and after reaching the summit, Rozov took off 50 metres from the absolute peak, landing at an altitude of 4,800 meters, having flown some 2,000 metres with his special wing suit for a minute and a half. Although Huascarán is not the highest peak on South-American soil, Mount Aconcagua appeared not suitable for a BASE jump so stated the Russian. In 2009, Rosov completed a BASE jump from Elbrus (Russia, Europe), followed by one in Ulvetanna in Antarctica, the following year. In 2015 he jumped from Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and on October the 5th in 2016, Russia’s Valery Rozov leapt from a height of around 7,700 m from Cho Oyu (the sixth-highest mountain in the Himalayas) falling for around 90 seconds before opening his parachute, landing on a glacier approximately two minutes later at an altitude of around 6,000 metres. The internationally renowned BASE jumper would not be able to complete his Seven Summits Project as he got killed on Saturday the 11th of November, whilst jumping from Ama Dablam, a 6,812m mountain in the Everest region in Nepal.

Between August 6 and 12 of this year, a scientific team from INAIGEM marked a milestone in glaciological research in Peru. After seven days ascending, the scientific team reached the south peak of Huascarán on August 10 and remained there for almost four hours. The different researches that were carried out demanded fiscal resistance from the staff during a large period with average temperatures below -11 degrees Celsius. The research team of INAIGEM completed objectives such as a height determination of the south peak, a glacier surface analysis, a snow accumulation analysis, a meteorological record, a carbon black measurement, the presence of macro and microorganisms and sources of anthropogenic pollution.

Author: Glenn Fezvi
Source: Nota Técnica 01 – Expedición Científica Huascarán – INAIGEM-2017

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