Monday, January 13, 2014

Cordillera Blanca, Peru - July 2012

In July 2012, I went on a climbing trip to the Cordillera Blanca mountains of Peru. The trip from Boise to Huaraz included three different plane flights, and an eight hour bus ride, totaling about 24 hours of travel. I met up with my friends Tony and Jared, and also made some new friends on this trip. Below is a photo journal of the trip.

On the bus from Lima to Peru, Cory and Tony (with David not in the picture) got 2nd level front row seats so that they could witness first hand how close they came to losing their lives every time the bus driver decided to pass someone on a blind curve :)

The Huayhuash (sp?) Range, home of the peak made infamous by "Touching the Void"

Welcome to Huaraz!

Plenty of room for gear in our room at La Casa de Zarela (highly recommended!), but where are we going to sleep????

La Iglesia de la Soledad, as seen from Zarela's roof

No matter where you are in Huaraz, Huascaran (6,768m, The tallest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca) towers above.

Laguna Churup, with Nevado Churup above. No this place is not scenic at all :)

A still fairly clean face of a person enjoying himself

Nevado Churup. 2 weeks later Jared and I would attemp to climb straight up the middle of this one...

Our Arriero, Victor, loads the burro with our slupplies for Ishinca Valley while his family watches.

I wasn't quite feeling my best on the hike into Ishinca Valley. In fact, although it is a very easy hike to the Ishinca base camp, I was only able to make it about half way. Every hundred feet or so along the trail I had to decide whether I wanted to step off and projectile vomit or projectile crap. It's a good thing the moss on the rocks was very soft :-). I stopped halfway in, and Tony and Jared continued to base camp. After a rendezvous with the mules and our stuff at base camp, Jared came back with a tent and food and crashed with me at my halfway stop. The next day I felt much better and hiked the rest of the way into camp.

The weird thing is that on all of my other trips to Third World countries, I never really paid much attention to what I ate or drank, and I never had any problems. I've eaten street food and drank tapwater in Mexico, Costa Rica, Vietnam, and Puerto Rico. This trip was the first time that I was actually trying to be careful, eating only well cooked food, and drinking only bottled beverages. This experience taught me that if you're going to get sick, you're going to get sick no matter how careful you are, so you might as well enjoy all the good food that your destination has to offer. The remainder of the trip I ate all sorts of street food, including ceviche from street carts, didn't worry about where the water I was drinking came from, and I didn't have anymore problems.

Jared bouldering on the way in to Ishinca base camp. I was very sick the day before, but felt well enough to play on the rocks this day.

These flowers were beautiful, and they were everywhere!

Base camp amid the boulders

Jared and his friend, el burro.

This was the best view of Tocllaraju that we got until near the end of our 9 day stay here, since it was usually in the clouds.

The West Face Direct route on Tocllaraju looked so beautiful! With better conditions and weather I would have tried it. Maybe next time?

Urus Este (5420m) would be our first objective, as it is lower and easier than any of the surrounding peaks. 
Unfortunately, Jared had been very ill. He was loudly vomiting all night long before our planned attempt. We postponed the attempt one day to see if he might recover, but he did not and so he elected to stay behind in base camp while Tony and I went.

3:30am and ready for my first Peruvian peak, Urus Este! 

Tony crampons ahead of two Brazilians that we passed.

Having a great time despite the cold and VERY windy weather.

Tony admires the nice light show on Ranrapalca (which would end up being our next objective) thanks to the funky weather.

Left to right, Ishinca, Ranrapalca, Oshapalca

Tony crampons up Urus with Ranrapalca in the background

Tony makes an effort to finish strong and rush the summit, but comes up a bit short of air! :)

Summit of Urus Este!

Tony descends the moraine trail, with Ishinca base camp and refugio far below, we were back to camp by 11:30am

Ready for Ranrapalca!

View of Tocllaraju from the hike up to Ranrapalca high camp.  This was the first day that it was clear, and coincidentally the day that David, Adam and Mike headed up it.  Lucky bastards!  If you look VERY close here you can see them descending the lower left ridge.

Zoom in of what I think was David, Adam, and Mike descending Tocllaraju

Giardia be damned!  Tony fills bottles directly from the running source.

Tony doing what he does best.

Break time, those packs are heavy!

Ranrapalca high camp at about 17,000 feet, after a 4 hour approach.  The sexy looking North Face of Ranrapalca is above and tempting . . .

Tony managed to hack his way through the ice to get to a water source without having to melt snow.

NF Ranrapalca, we were tempted to try this instead of the regular route, but since it was our first big technical peak of the trip, and since even the regular route looked very much technical enough to be fun, we decided to save the Northface for another day.

When we awoke at midnight for Ranrapalca, Tony felt like crap.  It took him 2 hours to get ready, and After only a couple hundred yards he was doubled over coughing and heaving.  He realized that it wasn't going to happen for him.  Feeling rested and strong (actually the best I felt during the entire trip), I decided to continue solo.

After cramponing seemingly forever through the night, the sun came up and I was able to see 5 other Basque climbers ahead of me.  Since they were passing the upper rock band on the left, and I didn't want to be soloing under them in case they dropped any ice/rocks/gear, I decided to pass the rock band on the right.

I ended up climbing the icy corner just right of center in this photo.

Here is a video that I took midway up the technical corner of the upper rock band:

Looking across the rockband. If you look close you can see the Basque climbers.

Video from the upper rock band.

Having a good time despite the lack of air.

The basque climbers make their way up the rock-band, which proved to be much larger than it looked from below.

Ice-tool guitar at +/- 20,000 ft.  The true summit is just behind me.


Unfortunately, I did not go all the way to the summit.  It appeared to be maddeningly close, but the snow on the summit plateau became waist deep postholing.  This quickly drained my energy.  Wanting to save enough juice to safely descend, I made the hard decision to turn around shy of the summit.  You can see in this photo where my tracks stop.

Video of rappelling into a large crevasse on the descent.

After the final rappel (I think we did 6 total, as I shared ropes with the Basque climbers), I began to run down the snow.  In my haste, I went the wrong way, and ended up dead-ending on top of this beautiful 80 foot WI5 pillar.  I couldn't get far enough over the lip to get to the good ice to build a V-thread, and the snow above was so wet a and soupy from the afternoon sun that I wouldn't have hung my hat off anything but he largest imaginable bollard, which I did not have a shovel to build.  Being out of snow pickets (I had left both on previous rappels), I sadly resigned my tired self to re-climbing probably 800-1000 feet to join back up with the correct descent route.  Just as I was about to head back up, however, I noticed something in the snow.  A little digging revealed that it was a piece of webbing tied to a snow stake, I was saved!  I buried that sucker way under the snow and rappelled down the ice pillar.

Looking back up, you can see that I took the snow ramp in the middle, when I should have gone to climber's left (skier's right).

Upon returning to high camp, Tony cooked me dinner and I passed out.  The next day we descended to base camp, radioed the arrieros, and then descended all the way to Huaraz. What a shock going from high camp at 17kft all the way to the busy city in one day!  Here, I find a way to pass the time while waiting for our burros.

The dusty trail out of Ishinca Valley was polka dotted with many purple flowers.

Back in town, I needed to clean up.

So I shaved my whole face . . . except my upper lip :).

In town, Jared was feeling better, and was anxious to get on a mountain.  Tony's knee was bugging him so he wanted to sit this one out.  Thus Jared and I decided to go give Churup a try after I had rested only one full day.

Churup is a beautiful mountain that you can see from anywhere in town.  The imposing east face is ascended via technical mixed climbing up a weakness in the center of the face.

On the approach I felt very sluggish.  My boots felt like they were made of lead, and my pack felt massive (despite me packing what I felt was the bare minimum).  We set the alarm for 1am and tried to get to bed early.  Here, I am faking a smile just after waking.

There were two other people camped near us that planned to try the route. We started earlier than them, trudging up the endless moraine.  Eventually the moraine seemed to dead-end into what looked like a pitch of WI3.  We couldn't see very far with our headlamps, but figured this must be the way.  I led up, placing a few screws, about 90 feet or so to a rock ledge where the ice seemed to end at an over-hangning rock headwall.  After bringing Jared up we scanned around with our headlamps, trying to see where we needed to go.  It was at this time that we noticed the headlamps from the other two climbers, far to the left, at about our same elevation.  They appeared to still be hiking up the moraine.  Crap, we must have gone the wrong way!  

After rappelling back down the beautiful WI3 pitch, we found the missed turn, and resumed slogging up the moraine.  Thank you sir! may I have another?

Eventually the sun came up and we found our way on to the lower glacier.  This started with a traverse across, weaving through some crevasses. Eventually, the glacier turned from snow to ice, and funneled into an hourglass shaped couloir.  I resumed leading up this portion, having fun climbing,  but still feeling slow.  After topping out the hourglass couloir, nothing stood between us and the "start" of our route but a simple snow field.  The snow was thigh deep, and it was hiding several crevasses.  

Jared was leading the way, placing the occasional snow picket.  We were running behind, and I could tell he was trying to push the pace, but I could not keep up.  Several times I ended up doubled over, hacking, and gasping for breath.  I was supposed to lead the technical rock portion, as Jared didn't want to lead any mixed climbing.  I eventually had to admit that in this condition, I would be a danger to myself on lead.  I yelled up to Jared that I did not want to continue, even though it looked like we were just about to get to the fun part.  I know Jared was disappointed, as he was feeling strong, but he's a good friend and merely said, "OK", as if it were not big deal.

I hate bailing.  Even though this peak is nothing more than a side trip for most technical climbers who visit the Cordillera Blanca, it will be #1 on my list if I ever make it back.

Just after turning around Jared fell ass-first through a snow bridge into a crevasse.  He managed to catch and extract himself before the rope pulled tight, but that gave each of us a shot of adrenaline!

At the top of the hourglass couloir we found a comfortable seat on the lip of a 12" wide crevasse and built a V-thread to rappel from.

After getting back down from Churup, I took two full rest days.  Then Jared, Tony, and I wanted to try and summit a peak together.  We chose Pisco as it would give us a high(er) chance of success.  That said, the main route up Pisco is nothing more than a long approach to a long snow slog, and while I was excited to climb with both of my friends at once for the first time on the trip, I wasn't that stoked on the route.  Slogging should be used to get to the climb, not as the climb itself!

The morning that we were planning to leave, Tony's knee was still painful, so he decided not to go.  Sitting in the common room at Zarela's, neither Jared nor I were very stoked on Pisco.  Then we overheard two girls and a guy from Columbia talking about some route on a mountain called Huamashraju . . .

They were saying that it had a relatively short approach, great granite climbing (the route they were thinking of was 5.10a), bolted anchors, an a beautiful summit.  Compared to the long slog to no climbing that we were thinking of, this sounded like a much better idea!  So we promptly struck up a conversation and invited ourselves along.  At the last second the guy from Columbia got a guiding job with someone who wanted to climb Tocllaraju, so it would be Jared, me, Katty, and Maria.

Within an hour we were in a taxicab with two people we had never met heading for a climb on a peak we hadn't heard of (although it turns out the climb is visible from town).

Katty and Maria both turned out to be very experienced climbers, and it became clear by all of their newish state of the art gear, that they had some generous sponsors.  Katty had done numerous Yosemite big walls and submitted Everest, Maria had attempted some 8000m peaks, and Maria's husband had submitted Everest sans-O2.  

The taxi dropped us off in a field near a very small farming village, where we camped for the night.  The plan was for the arriero to meet us with burros the next morning.  All four of us had several exhausting climbs in the range already, so we tried to keep the pace of this trip as relaxed as possible.  

When we parked the car, many dogs ran up to us.  This little guy, in particular was super friendly.

The two girls made friends with this local lady, who asked us to come back and stay there again sometime!

Our friend the dog took a liking to us, and would not leave!  We started calling him Huamash.  He ended up following us all the way to base camp, sleeping outside the tents at night to guard us.  When we went to climb the route, he followed us all the way to the base, then somehow found his way back to base camp, where he was waiting for us when we came back!  I wish I could have taken him home with me!

From camp we had a great view of the route.

Upon seeing Jared and my stash of freeze-dried dinners, Katty and Maria became very upset and invited us to eat some of their dinner, which was a vegetarian feast with more good local fresh food than we could believe!  Why pack lightweight food to base-camp when you are hiring donkeys???

Being a rock climb, we didn't want to start until the rock had a chance to warm up.  Consequently, we set the alarm for 4am.  After all the 12am and 1am alarms on this trip, sleeping until 4 felt like I was sleeping untll noon!

The only beta we had for the route was that it was supposed to be 4 pitches, 5.10a, have bolted anchors, and start with a slab that has a first bolt you can't see from the ground.  Well, after much wandering back and forth along the bottom of the wall, we couldn't tell where the start of the route was.  Not to be deterred, we did see a nice looking crack system that ascended the left side of the face, so decided to climb that.  

The size of the face, angle, and type of rock all reminded me of Tahquitz in Southern California, solid granite with splitter cracks!

After about 3 1/2 pitches our route hit the ridge.  After 2 more pitches, we reached the top of the rock and the start of the snow.

The views weren't too bad from the ridge . . .

Katty and Maria climbed together and weren't too far behind us.  Maria is more of a mountaineer than rock climber and seemed to get a big kick out of all the great exposure that the knife-edge ridge had to offer.

Jared, on the snow approaching the top.

Summit baby,yeah!

Katty and Maria coming up behind us.

Look at those sweet shades!

Group summit photo.

After summiting we were able to locate the top of our originally-intended route, so we used the bolted anchors to descend.  Here we are working our way back down the upper snow field.

We used this opportunity to teach our Columbian friends the American phrase "cluster fuck" to describe the giant knot they were undoing.  

Later, Jared checked with the Casa de Guias in town, and discovered that there were no recorded ascents of our route.  A probable first ascent, SWEET!

After getting back to town, Jared, Katty, Maria, and Tony went out to celebrate.  I only had a couple hours until my bus was to pick me up and send me homeward bound, so everyone did their best to get me drunk enough to miss the bus so I could stay and climb some more.  (Un)fortunately even the shots of tequila couldn't keep me off the bus, so back to real life I went.  This trip was such a great adventure, and I made so many new friends, I can't wait until I can return!

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