On Sunday, July 13th, I left Huaraz with Craig, Tomas and Vicente towards Parón valley. Craig and I would climb Arteson´s SE face and then Piramide´s NW face, Tomas and Vicente would stick to the first one. Upon arrival in base camp we met John and Cole. Immediately after dropping our huge packs we headed towards the two, as any climber always does, for introductions, check on conditions and overall meeting other climbers and hanging out. They were in the valley for nine days, for Piramide, then Arteson, then maybe Caraz. Cows seemed to enjoy licking their tent a lot.
The two were starting to pack to head up to moraine camp with a tarp, and then climb all day on Piramide the next day, and when done they would attempt Arteson, the exact opposite of what we would do, so we agreed to meet back in base camp in a few days to exchange route info. After Tomas and Vicente arrived, the four of us shared some binoculars to examine the route, and I chatted them about rock gear for Piramide. We finally said farewells as they left for their moraine camp and us to ours. At one point Craig pointed me out to them ascending on the distance, and that was the last time we saw Cole.
After attempting Arteson, on the morning of Tuesday, July 15th, Craig went back into the tent to sleep while I sat outside for some good 15 minutes thinking about climbing and life in general. I have been in Huaraz for 2 and a half months, climbing with little rest for 2 full months, and am feeling exhausted by now. At that moment I figured it wouldn´t be wise to enter such a commiting and technical route while not at the top of my game. In the morning I told Craig I didn´t want to climb the Piramide, and I felt it just wasn´t the right moment. I guess he was a bit disappointed but understood it was a matter of safety. We then decided to head back to Huaraz with Tomas and Vicente.
Upon arrival on base camp a german called Jakob told us one of the americans we met two days before was dead. We quickly figured, by the description of the german regarding the one that survived, that it was Cole.
This news hit us like a bomb.
The young boy we met two days earlier, gone like that. The second death on the same mountain, on the same route, in a week. The route we were supposed to be in in two days. This was a disaster. And Craig almost suggested we climbed Piramide first because conditions in Arteson were so bad. We did find it strange to see their tent very early in the morning but not to see their tent in base camp when we were coming down.
Apparently the accident happened on Monday morning, and it was an ice avalanche. The german told us there were already rescue parties up there, that his friend was devasted but up there again trying to locate the body. Walking out of the valley we did see many police and rescue cars, boat and rescuers, and that made it even more real.
Last week I wrote a piece on failure to summit but success to survive. I need not repeat anything that´s been said there, and upon realizing what was going on in Parón, I never felt more sure about the decisions I make in the mountains. I´ve also decided I am done with serious mountains for this season in this range, and will stick to the easier, walk up, safer ones.
This was very close though, and has affected me so far quite deeply, as well as the rest of the my party. I cried numerous times yesterday and have not really been able to smile at all since then. Tomas remarked yesterday during dinner that we were the last people aside from his partner to see this boy alive. Alive and so eager and excited to climb this awesome mountain. So much so that the news of the death of Cory Hall in the previous week didn´t seem to affect them all – and to me they seemed very fit and capable of climbing this mountain. Still, if it was a decision on route, or the decision to climb it, or mere fatality, Cole is not here anymore, and I am pretty sure that an immense amount of people are in deep suffering as I write this.
We know this can happen to any of us climbers, but still we never expect that one mere “bye” will be the last. We ran into Ueli Steck coming down from attempting the SE face of Arteson and he alerted us that conditions were very bad. A french guide with a client gave up even going to moraine camp of Arteson and said we defintely would not climb it like that. Still we attempted, and when we got down to base camp, this news. This all meant something, and we couldn´t wait to get out of Parón, which by the way is the prettiest valley I´ve been here so far. These three days in this valley are truly some of the darkest in my mountaineering experience.
This is the third time someone I know dies in the mountains, yet it has never been so heavy, and so close. My deepest condolences to Cole´s family and friends. I wish them an infinite amount of strength to cope with this.