CORDILLERA BLANCA 2014 – DISPATCH 2

Here we go for a decent post about this trip, vacation, gap year or whatever one calls it. Yes, it´s an El Niño year and I only got to know about it a few weeks before I left, but that didn´t make me change my plans. Positive thinking all the way, and by the way – I´m used to climbing in crappy weather.

 

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ACCLIMATIZATION ON THE ROCKS – HATUN MACHAY

 

Because weather has been crappy enough not to permit any brave climbers to attempt these big mountains, the solution for our problems in the first week was to head to Hatun Machay for some days of rock climbing. Although I was hit by a case of moderate AMS for a few days, police officers trying to bribe the driver and then our driver almost on purpose getting the car stuck in mud, I did make it and made some new friends in between. In the refuge nothing but known faces: obliged to mingle with others since my partner was quite the misanthrope, I hung around the argentinians I met in Los Olivos, the basques we met in Zarela´s, the americans that came in the car with me (super nice Alex and Jennifer – I love meeting these happy couples) and a few faces I remembered from last year, aside from the white cat that jumped me over during the night and adopted my partner´s back as his new favorite couch. Once again I tried routes around the 5 and 6 grade (french) and nothing more than that since my rock climbing has gotten worse since last year, but still had tons of fun while at it. We also walked up the 4700m high cerro that´s near the refugio in order to acclimatize a bit more. I felt like shit especially since my partner´s pace is out-of-this-world extraordinary.

Claus from Argentina working his way out of a 6a fr chimney.

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ACCLIMATIZATION ON THE MOUNTAINS – ISHINCA VALLEY

 

Back to Huaraz and drooling whenever we turned our heads to the Cordillera, we decided to give it a go and head to the Ishinca valley to start some real acclimatization where we´d be able to put to practice our mountaineering skills, even though the weather forecast wasn´t very promising and there were some 71mm predicted for wednesday. Decided upon playing mule for a few days, we left Huaraz early on a monday morning with close to 30kg each on our backs, and arrived to Pashpa to start our grueling 5h walk to base camp. We set up camp, admired the beauties around us (Toclla super packed with snow) rested and had a pretty poorly planned dinner that preceeded our clumsy attempt at Urus. Clumsy for my partner said he knew where the route began but when we left in the middle of the night there was a lot of mist and we couldn´t find it, therefore we “climbed” the moraine through some other path which was obviously not a trail, and that consumed us some time. Me going ahead with these ever annoying plastic boots, I suffered most and still had to endure some awfully rude (WTF) comments from my partner who helped in nothing into finding the trail (he did like the fact I had a GPS though). Also wanting some more adventure, once we reached the snow line we chose a variation of the normal route, and entered the glacier to the left of a buttress, on a more steeper section, although nothing actually technical. A few hours later we were at the summit, for me as usual with cloudy weather.

Ranrapalca seen from the summit of Urus.
Cheese on the summit!

We descended to base camp and just about an hour later so did the predicted 71 mm of rain and hail. Every time the rain seemed to stop I attempted to get out only to be obliged to head back into the tent. Oh I never wanted a book so bad! It rained all afternoon and I was stuck in the tent while my ever more anti-social partner was in the refugio. I wonder if is the not-so-funny jokes I tell that put him away or if it really is possible for someone to be so withdrawn all the time, especially considering you´ll be spending most of the days isolated in mountain settings without much other people to talk to. Or maybe I´m too Brazilian, oh well… Anyways, at this point I had already given up the efforts to socialize and be nice, it was just too hard and demanding to try to engage someone who speaks several languages but can only say “yes” or “no” aside from complaining about absolutely everything. Tough work.

This unpredicted day off  wasn´t in the food plan, and starving as I was, with no food but snacks for the next day and the day´s dinner, I went to grab lunch at the refuge. Made me think I need to stop being so nice and accept other people´s suggestions just because they seem to be more experienced. How is mashed potatoes with tomato sauce an energetic dinner for someone who´s climbing at altitude? In the end, my fault, should have been more incisive when we went food shopping, for this is not the Alps with fancy refuges and rescue a phone call away. Stupid me, I know…

A beautiful alpenglow on Tocllaraju (left) and Palcaraju (right) after torrential rain and snow.

Anyways, it would obviously be a bit idiotic to attempt anything that night and so we decided to go for Ishinca on the morning of Thursday. So on Wednesday, after waking up to obvious copious amounts of snow on the mountains around us, I used most of my time to be a human and socialize with fellow campers. Some Arc´Teryx sponsored skiers from the US, some students also from the US, some guides in training from Ecuador, and especially my friend and former guide of mine, Nacho, also from Ecuador, who was guiding a couple.

On Thursday we got up early to tackle the right side route of Ishinca. Moraine took us longer than expected but once we hit the snow, which was pretty decent, things sped up and after 6 hours we were at the summit, pretty much at the same time as two other parties that ascended up the left route, including Nacho and his two clients. Weather was clear, but being moi at a summit, there had to be something wrong, and this time it was the wind. No problem though! We took some pictures and quickly headed down the shorter and steeper left route, taking the time to do some crevasse training in the end and using the opportunity to show my Alps trained partner how good and reliable estacas can be (he still had doubts because according to him, everything in Europe is better and South America sucks).

Heading towards the summit of Ishinca.
Hypnotic Huantsán.

After and hour rest at base camp, we packed our stuff and again played mules down to Pashpa, arriving in Huaraz late afternoon. We hit the bars on Saturday for some celebration. On Sunday I was invited for some ceviche, and although last year it caused me damage and delayed my trip to Toclla, I eagerly accepted it. Bad decision! Once again I was hit by a case of Huaraz syndrome and had to delay our departure to Chopicalqui.

 

BREAK

Should I get into details of Huaraz nightlife? Hmmm… maybe not… we´re already gaining bad fame as Monday-Thursday climbers. Worth saying that upon returning to Zarela I met the frenchies that opened the new uber hard route on Siula Chico. On Saturday Zarela made us some Pisco Sour, then we all went to Cafe Andino and then 13 Buhos, and the other day to Xtremo, on which I introduced the basque guys, Kepa and Aitzol, to Nacho, and there was formed a little latin climbing clique. Can you believe they painted over all that graffiti from the wall and ceilings? Bummer!

 

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GAMBLING AT 6000

 

Chopicalqui is known to usually have a lot snow, maybe because its normal route sits on a face that receives wind and little sun, and therefore there´s more accumulation than normal. We were feeling fit and eager to tackle a 6000er, even knowing that we would encounter probable difficult conditions. This time I hired a porter for myself, which was a wise decision considering I was pretty sick the day before (I won´t get into details for the sake of my parent´s hearts, but although I was off for a shorter period than last year, it did get more serious).

The approach from base to moraine on Chopicalqui,
The huge glacier.

In order to avoid the possible bureaucratic problems of not having a guide (regulations are being enforced more thoroughly this year), we left Huaraz at 4am and entered the park at around 6h30, and by lunchtime we were already at moraine camp enjoying the sunny afternoon with eventual clouds and eventually, a view of the mountains on Paron valley. Abraham and I chatted and joked actively to relax while I sensed a growing and unfortunate break in the group. In reality, the situation was becoming a pain in the ass, and I couldn´t imagine myself out for almost 10 days, for example on Alpamayo and Quitaraju, with one who is so “superior” that he cannot even sit down to discuss climbing plans or even say buenos dias in the morning to the person sleeping next to you in the same tent. I´ve never been so pleased to have a porter and a cell phone with a long lasting battery. Coward that I am, I started hoping to get dumped… What´s the point of having a strong partner if he´s more like a cold cyborg than a human? I have no pretension of being Ueli Steck and mountains are supposed to be fun. Period.

Moraine camp all to ourselves, good enough for there was little water available.
One of the many avalanches on Chopi´s glacier.
Ascending to high camp.
A brief rest for some route spotting.

On the following day we had time for an easy going breakfast before crossing the glacier in about 3 hours to reach camp. Footprints weren´t very clear but the snow platforms were definitely there! No hard work for us, although I was pretty tired and did not join into searching up the route. Installed camp and already working on my glacier face, we ate early, slept and woke up a little later than 1 am to head for the summit.

High camp on Chopi! All set and ready to go.

This was definitely a heinous day in the mountain. I knew there would be a lot of snow but a lot of bad snow was endless on our route. On the steepest ramp we ran into you could at time put 3/4 of your arm into the snow, pickets were useless and for every step up one would fall 2 steps down. Oliver being much taller than me, his footprints didn´t help much and I had to break my own trail to hold on the energy for the whole route. It was annoying, even more so because we both had energy enough for average to poor conditions. For 7 hours we broke trail and only got to the false summit. Obsessive compulsive people could have (and would have) continued, for they ignore safety standards such as going down on snow as bad as this one. After doing some math with the time it would take us to reach the summit and then descend, and then pair it up with the noon sun, I finally made myself heard (I was sort of stuck in an authoritarian situation) and demanded we get down, at around 6015m, just bellow the false summit ramp. Demand promptly accepted, the descend was awful as well, both from the summit route as from high camp, and I kept getting either leg stuck all the way into snow to the point of having to dig snow out to pull it out. We had to dig over a meter and a half to place pickets for rappel and the second one didn´t hold well at all, even with all that digging. Obviously I was frustrated but I have the whole season to retry Chopi and therefore a month into it with these conditions is not ideal timing for getting myself into serious trouble. Worth saying that at the first rappel, while I was midway rearranging the mess that my partner did with the ropes, a block the size of a fridge fell 15 meters away from me. I´m sure Oliver would have wished it had fallen ON me, but fortunately I´m still here to write about it. I do not appreciate recklessness at all.

I can´t really tell the feelings my partner had about us not making the summit because he doesn´t communicate.

Anyways, it is worth saying that I finally reached the 6000m mark, which was a myth for me, and in the end, it wasn´t as difficult as I thought, and more like a psychological barrier than anything else. Had the snow been half decent, we´d had reached the summit in good timing.

On the same day we descended to base camp at around 4300m, and left on the next morning to head back to Huaraz. Again, lots of celebration, a nice basque dinner at Zarela´s, caipirinhas for the gringos, but no sign of life breathing out of my soon to be ex-partner. Yes: on Sunday I got dumped  and we decided to part ways and not climb together anymore. My sister´s definitely right when she says I´m a man! Oh if every divorce conversation was as objective and quick as this the world would be a much better place, for sure! No worries though, I had a hard job of keeping my Mon-Thu climber status, and so we went for it on yet another huaracino weekend that yielded a great idea.

Base camp, our last stop after a failed attempt.

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Written by Cissa

Fanatic alpinist, rock climber, and wannabe surfer. Sports and travel content writer and graphic designer in the meantime. Self sponsored, based out of a haul bag.

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