Pou Brothers Tackle Big New Route, Tricky Descent in Peru

Climbers know the Hermanos Pou for their prolific track record. The Basque duo recently snagged two stout new routes in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. But it turns out those climbs were just warm-ups.

Bizirik (M6, 85° snow) takes a technical, 980m line up the north face of Mount Cashan (5,716m). Iker and Eneko Pou authored the big route in a 13 and a half hour push on June 21. The following day, they’d report the first ascents of Hanan Pacha (90°, 425m) and Emmoa (M6, 75°, 640m) in the Urus Oeste group.

“After recovering physically and mentally” from the Urus Oeste routes, they wasted no time tackling Cashan. The new route, the brothers said, “​​is very elegant and it crosses in a very direct way the north face of this great mountain of the Cordillera Blanca” (auto-translated).

Climbing proceeds smoothly

Bizirik (Basque for “alive”) looks to occupy an echelon above Hanan Pacha and Emmoa, impressive as those climbs are in their own right. The name invokes not only the invigoration the brothers experienced at the summit, they said, but also a tongue-in-cheek reference to their physical condition after a tenuous descent.

The brothers first climbed to a bivy position at around 5,000m. From there, snow-packed corners and broad, steep snow fields led up the terraced face. The Pous churned out the climb proper in eight uninterrupted hours of workmanlike effort. No strangers to steep Cordillera snow, the brothers dispatched the climb with little incident, against visually astounding backdrops (scroll right to check out ascent photographer Alex Estrada’s captures).

Snags at the summit

Then, they got to the top and encountered a puzzle. No clear path of egress presented itself. To get down, they’d have to improvise — but improvise what?

“When we reach the top everything is very steep. We look to the sides and realize that the descent is going to be very difficult,” the brothers stated. “We automatically rule out doing it from where we have climbed: too many rappels and also dangerous.”

To make matters worse, their communication with Estrada suddenly cut out.

“Our walkie-talkies are failing us and communication with Alex is getting more and more difficult, but we manage to inform him that we have reached the top. The problem is that from there the conversation is completely cut off,” they said.

They then called the shot to go down via the other side of the formation, leaving Estrada in the dark. Trapped in his information silo, he reportedly worried they’d had an accident. Considering the brothers’ description of the ensuing descent, he wasn’t far off the mark.

‘All our experience’

“The descent is arduous, tired, and alternating skids in snow with lucky rappels on vertical rock walls. We [needed] all of our experience to go down without suffering any mishap,” the two climbers said. That they stated they utilized all their experience is significant — the Hermanos Pou have spent parts of four decades roping up together on a total of over 1.23 million metres of climbing. “Almost five hours after starting the descent and when it was already getting dark we managed to get back to the ground.”

There, an overcome Estrada waited with open arms.

“Alex is waiting for us there, who merges with us in a long hug, while for more than half an hour he can’t hold back his tears.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.