Day 40 – Huascaran Day 5

We woke up at 6:30am and had a very slow getting up process. By the time we were packed up, fed, and walking, it was 9am.

It was a pretty normal walk back, nothing exciting. We were back in Musho by 12:30pm. A taxi driver came by within a few minutes and said that it would be S10 back to Mancos. I offered S2.5 each and he told us to hop in. A collectivo from Mancos back to Huaraz for S5/each and we were home sweet home.

Day 39 – Huascaran Day 4

Summit day! After far too little sleep, my alarm went off and it was time to get the water heated. I wanted the 2L of water in my bladder to be hot, to prevent freezing during the climb. Brad thought that this was a waste of time and energy, but there’s no way I could survive the summit day with only the 1L nalgene I would be keeping next to my body.

We set off at 2am for the bottom left of the Shield on slopes of variable and typically too soft snow, of about 45-55 degrees. I led this section and had a hard time kicking steps in the soft snow and having the steps give way so that my feet would slide back down. After a while, and once we had rounded the corner of the Shield, I saw a spot where we might be able to get on to the Shield. I placed a picked for protection and Brad took the lead.

The route went off the soft slope we were on, over a steeper and icier looking section, and then onto the Shield out of sight, around the bend. As Brad got onto the ice, I could see immediately that it was not easy. He had to try very hard to get tool placements and his feet almost slipped out a couple times. Keep in mind that this was not top-roping, it was leading! I took another look at my one hastily placed picket, looked at Brad, and prayed that he wouldn’t slip. If we fell, it would be thousands of feet back down to the base of the glacier. Brad later described it as the hardest ice he’d ever led.

With maybe 15m of rope out, I waited while Brad was out of sight. Twice while I waited I heard Brad drop something and heard it go clinging down the slope and out of ear-shot. Brad later told me that one was the clipless leash of the ice-axe and one was an ice-screw. After 15 minutes or so of no communication, Brad yelled for me to come up. I ascended (ice-climbing for the first time!) with the comfort of a tight belay. This was my first time ever ice-climbing, and it was at 6000m! Chunks of ice came flying off as I struck the wall and I was worried about being hit in the eyes.

I made it to where Brad was and anchored myself to the two screws he had placed. After some minutes of discussion, we decided that we would turn back – this was too difficult, and 400m of it would simply be beyond our limits. We decided to make a v-thread and rappel, but neither of us could let-alone get a single screw in. Finally, Brad decided that he would leave one of his screws, but neither of us could get it into the ice. The screws were sharp and new, this was just very hard ice.

After 30 minutes or so Brad finally placed one of his screws. He didn’t want to leave one of the ones already placed, since they were borrowed and more valuable. We wasted a bit of time, forgetting to feed the rope through the cord after finding the middle of the rope, so as to not have to leave a biner behind. Eventually everything was set up right and we rapped down. We could have continued up beside the Shield to look for a better route, but our nerves were shot by this point.

The whole time while we were trying to place the screws, I had been very worried about dropping my ice-axes. Since I needed both hands free to place the screws, I had clipped them to my harness. But as I rapped, one of them somehow torqued and unclipped itself and went hurtling down the mountain and out of sight. Brad said that it would be $300 to replace. I was distraught.

We started downclimbing and Brad belayed me for the first pitch since I still felt a bit scared. I asked whether I should weight the single picket he had placed and let him lower me, or downclimb and just use it as a fall-back. He said that he didn’t really trust the anchor and that I should downclimb. Talk about scary mountaineering!

After I was 50m out, we simul-downclimbed without protection. When we were a decent amount of the way down I saw perfectly set on the slope, about 1m below our up-path was my dropped ice-axe. I was overjoyed! This was a narrow strip of snow that the ice axe had plunged in to. It could have only been possible if the axe had fallen perfectly downards with the pick pointing towards the snow. If the axe had been at any other rotational angle, it would have just bounced off the slope, and continued endlessly downards. We were back at the tent hours before sunrise. Brad fell asleep with all of his clothes and shell on. I changed out of my big clothes, climbed into my bag, and crashed. We slept until 11:30am, when we grudgingly decided that we should head down. We had talked over the idea of another Shield attempt the next day or to do the normal route, but neither of us were fully comitted.We only had 500mL of fuel left (we had already used 1L), both of us were drained, and I only had one rest day in Huaraz before heading back to Lima to fly home. We were both very disappointed to be abandoning our summit chances.

It felt like a long trudge back to our night 1 camp below the refugio. There was consternation from Brad against me because of my very slow pace on the descent. Brad was quite exhausted for the final hour as we moved from the glacier’s edge to our night 1 camp. Sunset just before we arrived.

Dinner of 1.5L of squash soup, 3 packets of ramen noodles, 250g of cheese, sausage, and milk powder. Then crash! Note to self – 250g of cheese is a ridiculous amount to put into one meal. It tastes pretty awful.


Day 38 – Huascaran Day 3

We slept in late as the sun didn’t hit us until 8:30am or so. This side of the mountain is in Huascaran’s shadow in the morning. A guide passing along the normal route started shouting at us in Spanish – probably warning us about being in the serac fall zone and that we should get going quickly. Brad later had a cautious laugh that the guide had probably warned his clients that they should move as fast as possible through this danger zone, then lo-and-behold they see us camping as if nothing’s the matter.We looked through the guidebook again and read with reference to where we were camped, move quickly… look around and you’ll see why. We got our act together and packed up, Brad being faster than me as per usual.

We had a game-plan moment as I second guessed our desire to do the Shield instead of the normal route. There were loads of people doing the normal route, all making it to the summit, while no one was doing the Shield. I figured we were risking our summit chances by doing the Shield. Brad convinced me that we should stay on plan and do the Shield.

After reading the route description again, we realized that we had gone wrong. So we hiked back to the Candeletta and straight up and slightly to the right. Eventually we found a campsite that worked, after some adzing out of a tent platform. We arrived around 2pm and while Brad worked with the adze, I got snow melting. It took infuriatingly long, at about 20 minutes/litre just to melt the snow.

We both took naps and then started melting snow again for summit day. I wanted 3L + 1L in the morning and Brad wanted 2L + 1L in the morning. We also wanted enough for the night plus for dinner. This meant many hours of stove-usage.

We went to bed after a dinner of instant mashed-potatos with cream-of-mushroom soup, fresh vegetables, cheese, sausage, and a tomato sauce, all filling a 1.5L pot. Our bellies were satisfied. Bed by 7:30pm for a midnight wake-up!

Day 37 – Huascaran Day 2

We woke up at 6:30am and set off at 7:30am. The big thing nagging on my mind was that my month-long Huascaran Park Pass had expired yesterday and I didn’t want to buy another full month just for this trip at S65 ($22). Luckily we passed the ranger gate at 8:30am, which didn’t open until 9am. This was right by the refugio at 4600m.

We lost the trail after this, but continued upwards over slabby terrain. With the help of the GPS we reache dmorraine camp, at 4900m. It was 11:30am by the time we were roped up, fed, and ready to start along the glacier.

It was in the ballpark of 2:30pm by the time we got to camp 1, 5400m, but we had more ambitious plans for the day. We hoped to make it all the way to camp 2 (Shield route) at 5800m.

It had been very slow going along the glacier and we were averaging around 100m/hr. This was my fault, as Brad was always eager to go faster, but I was slow and steady with my big pack. The section from camp 1 to camp 2 was especially difficult.

By 5pm we found a flat spot where I was keen on camping, but Brad wished to press on. I forecasted our arrival at camp 2 at 7:30pm, well after the 6pm sunset, based on our speed over the rest of the day. We pressed on, and by 6:30pm we were very tired. Brad thought he saw a spot that might work, just at the end of twilight, but upon examination realized that it would take ages to dig out a tent platform. Brad wanted to sleep right there without a tent, but I was quite opposed to the idea.

We headed onwards by headlight. Finally, at 7:30pm, amidst a whole pile of serac fall, we had both had enough and found a relatively flat spot to put up camp. Despite being very beat after our 12 hour day ascending the lower slopes of Huascaran, we efficiently and quickly set up camp. Our current elevation: 5,775m. Camp 2 is not in sight, despite the book saying that it’s at 5,800m.

We had a bit of trouble setting up camp, with the snow being very soft. We both sank in a number of times, soaking our feet since we hadn’t donned gaiters. After one such sink-in for me, the hole made by my foot looked like it continued down into a crevasse.

It is now 8:30pm and Brad has the stove going, melting snow and preparing dinner. We are both optimistic about summitting 2 days from now, as long as we aren’t killed by serac fall or sucked into a crevasse tonight. Though I’m so tired, I’m going to have a sound night’s sleep!

Day 36 – Huascaran Day 1

I met Brad at his hostel at 7am. After some shuffling around of communal gear and after a quick breakfast, we were at the collectivo station destined for Mancos (S5) with a transfer to Musho (S2.5).

By 11am all out gear was sorted and we began hiking. We had monster packs – double boots lashed to the exterior, double technical axes, rental tent, 1.5L of fuel, a 50m rope, 5 days of food (including an unnecessary kilogram of cheese), plus all the usual. Our goal was to hike past base camp and all the way to morraine camp in one day. It wasn’t until we looked at the route description that we realized that this would be 3000m (10,000 feet) elevation gain in one day.

The hiking was nice, with perfect weather. I decided to forgo my hiking pants for this trip to save weight, so I hiked in just my base layer. There were many junctions in the trail, but we always headed to the biggest path. I figured they would all meet up eventually anyways.

It was a long day of hiking, and was especially difficult with our packs. We were bringing more weight than I had brought on any of our other climbs.

At 5:30pm, still not at morraine camp, but with an enticing field by a river, we decided to call it a day. We had started at 3000m and ended at 4400m. Not bad for one day!

Day 31-35 in Huaraz

The past 5 day’s have been spent in Huaraz. Alex went to Vallunaraju with other Alex and Hamik while I stayed in Huaraz. I’ve been going for lunches and dinners with people from the hostel, met up with Skyler and Brad a couple times, etc. There was a big street market on Sunday where the whole town was out selling their wares and produce. I started making sandwiches for lunch instead of going out: bread from corn flour, avocado, tomatos, butter, and fried eggs – delicious!

Today I spent getting ready for Huascaran. Brad and I are heading out tomorrow to attempt the shield route of Huascaran. It will be by far the hardest route I’ve ever tried. The whether has been pretty bad the past few days, but it got better today. Hopefully the weather holds for the next week. We spent a decent amount of today looking around at the trekking agencies and renting gear. We ended up renting for each of us: 2 ice tools, plastic boots, a tent, 7 quick draws, and 4 ice screws (Brad already has 5). We paid 470 soles ($170) for everying for 5 days. It was a lot of money, but the equipment is worth well over $1000.

I also sold some gear to Max from Solandino today, since he expressed interest when I met him on Pisco and Yanapaccha. It would have also been difficult to transport it all the way back to Lima and then on the plane. It was very difficult packing my bags when I came over in the first place.  Whisperlite International and 650mL fuel bottle ($75), BCA Arsenal shovel (without probe, since I left it in Vancouver) ($65), and 1.1L GSI Soloist pot ($30). Used gear is worth a lot here since it is so hard to obtain. Manufacturers charge a fortune for gear, so agencies typically obtain all their gear from climbers.

Day 30 – Sport climbing at Los Olivos

We met Vicky and Fernando as well as Alex and Hamik, 2 Californians we had met in the Ishinca Valley at 10am at Plaza de Armas. We had 2 full ropes and plenty of quick draws between us. Alex and I rented a crash pad for S15 ($5) and I rented rock shoes and a harness for S10 ($3.33). I didn’t feel comforable sport climbing with my glacier harness, since the straps are very thin and it would have been pretty uncomfortable.

I then became our official haggler and got us a taxi the 15 minutes to Los Olivos for S6, or S1 per person ($0.33). We were squeezed in pretty tight, with Hamik laying on the crash pad in the boot.

We had a good day, finding plenty of routes to climb. The rock was very nice and juggy. There were also many bouldering problems including a cave that we had tried a few weeks ago.

We stayed for 5 hours or so and were back in Huaraz by 4:30pm. Alex and Hamik went to a gringo restaurant, Fernando and Vicky went home, and other Alex and I went to a chinese “Chifa” place for S5 each.

I was very tired, so went to bed. I hadn’t slept last night because I had been thinking about my interview this morning.

Day 28 – Return to Huaraz

We spent about 4 hours walking back out of the Ishinca Valley to Pashpa. At Laguna Cochobampa there was a taxi who would have charged us S60 ($20) back to Huaraz. There were another 2 climbers who had come back from the Ishinca Valley, so this would have been S15 each ($5), but we were told that there was a collectivo in Pashpa that would take us back to Huaraz for S5. We arrived in Pashpa at 12:30pm and were told that the collectivo would leave at 1pm. Someone offered us a taxi for S70.

After over an hour, the collectivo finally came around 1:45pm, but was full. We were told that there would be no more collectivos for the day. The taxi that would have charged S70 was now asking S100. After a while, one of the climbers who had come down, a Peruvian guide, called a taxi company from Huaraz and we caught it back for S60 around 3:30pm. The whole ordeal was pretty unfortunate. We were just looking forward to getting back.

Arrived back in Huaraz, ate a ton of food from all the street stands and went to bed

Day 27 – Climb Tocllaraju

We left camp bright and early at 3am. It was nice being able to rope up and attach our crampons right from camp. We started off about an hour or 1.5 hours after a guided group with 4 Australian clients. As we went, we would occasionally see their headlights far off in the distance. Vicky and Fernando started off at about the same time as us.

There was an hour or section through avalanche rubble. Both of our feet got pretty cold, since the sun was still a ways off from rising. We got to the base of a bergshrund and had to wait while the guided group went up first. Two ice screws were used for protection. The slope was perhaps 60 or 65 degrees at the steepest part. I led up the bergshrund, placing screws which Alex reclaimed on passing them. There was then a 60m slope, which we simul-climbed in 2 pitches.

This gave us access to the ridge, which we arrived at just after sunrise. It was then another few hours to the summit. We did the final summit pyramid in 2 pitches. At the base was a crevasses with a few snow bridges across. I figured this would be a good chance to show Alex how strong snow and ice are. I asked him to give me a tight belay and I cautiously headed over the smallest snow bridge, maybe just over a foot wide at the thinnest part and eerily skinny. But lo and behold, it held, and I was across, leading the first of 2 30m pitches to the summit ridge.

We pushed with our last remaining energy the 5-10 minutes to the summit. It was motivating being able to see the summit as we pushed forwards. Maybe 15 minutes spent on the summit taking photos and having a snack before the descent. We were thinking that one of us would have to downclimb one 30m pitch, since with only 2 30m ropes, we could repel a maximum of 30m.

Just as we got to the top of the pitch, Vicky and Fernando got up on their way to the summit. Since they had 2 60m ropes, they left them with us to rapel while they went onwards to the summit.

The rest of the way back was straightforwards, with a tricky bit at the bergshrund. Since it was 60m, I belayed Alex down from a picket, where he had to take his weight off the rope to pass over the knot. I then downclimbed the 60m

Round trip time from high camp: ~11h. We relaxed for a couple hours once back, feeling exhausted. It then began to hail, so we quickly packed our things and started back towards base camp. We were pretty drained for the way back and the boulder field for the first part of the way back was slippery. When we arrived back at base camp, we bought a couple beers for S5 each ($1.67) as we passed the stand, we set up camp, and went straight to sleep. We left the door closed since it was drizzling most of the night.