CORDILLERA BLANCA 2014 – DISPATCH 3

Welcome to a new dispatch, courtesy of Sex Burger in Huaraz.

Huaraz is a bad city for climbers. As Nacho says, its bars suck away your money, give you a hangover and make you lose focus on the actual climbs. I cannot deny any of this and in fact, as we say in Brazil “the flesh is weak”, or as Sublime sings it “Lord knows I´m weak” or worse still, quoting Chantal Mauduit who quoted Rita, “so many men, so little time”… On top of all, the partying forces me to eat out and on more than one occasion I ended up at Sex Burger eating suspicious food that gave me stomach problems. I used to be a really disciplined athlete, I really don´t understand where all the motivation of my youth went…

Anyways, it happened by chance to finally start climbing something exciting. A night at Xtremo rendered some very interesting introductions and a great idea. After many drinks we reached no conclusions, but decided to set up another meeting at a bar on the following day with the basque guys, and that my readers, yielded the idea to climb the granite cracks on Huamashraju, a mountain which I had already climbed via the glacier in the previous year.

 

We went bouldering with this guy named Rolo, as in Garibotti, from Patagonia, and his friend Bruno Sourzac, as in Aconcagua south face speed record. Humbling.

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CRACK-FREEZE CLIMBING IN HUAMASHRAJU

 

“Let´s go to Huamashraju tomorrow” said I to the undecided basques. They promptly agreed, we chatted up arrangements for camping and food, and off I went with Kepa and Chusky to do some bouldering while Aitzol returned to the hostel to cook and surf the internet (on a day when there was an internet and phone blackout in Huaraz). Anyways, upon returning we finally got a hold of slippery Nacho Borracho who promptly agreed to go with us. So, it´d be me and Nacho, Kepa and Aitzol as the two teams climbing. Jacinto picked us up in his taxi at around 10 in the morning and after a typically eventful peruvian ride we were finally on route to moraine camp.

Last stop before reaching moraine camp: me, Nacho and Kepa eager to drop our packs and rest. Photo by Aitzol.

Once again I was playing mule with a 25kg+ backpack since I had all the equipment for my team. I did pass the rope to Nacho and he happily accepted it. We reached moraine camp in 3h40, just 10 minutes more than last year when I actually had a porter. This small achievement restored some of my confidence in my physical abilities – confidence that had been shattered by the rude and obnoxious comments from the previous partner. I may not be the strongest, but I´m doing pretty good and that suffices.

Huamashraju, meaning “Mountain of Fear”, as seen from moraine camp. A lot more snow than last year.

Aitzol had the topo pretty detailed and I was excited to lead some easy cracks on pros, but once we reached the base of the routes Nacho and Kepa decided to try other lines. Since I´m not accustomed to leading on pro, have not climbed trad on this granite and on this cold, and I´m not a super climber, I was put off about leading, which in the end I regretted because yes, it was within my abilities. Oh well, maybe another time.

Kepa and Nacho started leading on two different lines while myself and Aitzol froze our asses to death belaying, and our turn to climb seemed like it would never arrive. When I started on what was 3rd class I actually postponed taking off my boots and crampons as much as possible but eventually had to put on the climbing shoes and remove the gloves, which was a grueling task in that cold. Worse still we knew the sun wouldn´t reach the wall up until noon. That made me very, very sad, as in, icicle sad.

Approaching the wall from climber´s right side of the glacier. So much snow this year that it looks like a different mountain. Photo by Aitzol.
The several crack systems of the left wall. Photo by Kepa.
Looking cool, or rather not. Photo by Kepa.

The basques went up their crack system while Nacho and I went up more to the right, towards the roofs, which ended up being a bad decision because the cracks went “blind” (don´t know if that is the right way to describe them, it means no way to protect them). We then spent close to 2 hours traversing down with sketchy pendulums and traverses into the crack system the boys went up originally.

Kepa leading the first pitch of the day, at -3 celsius. Torture!
I don´t remember which pitch this is but that´s Nacho up there on the anchor station.

We followed on a bit worried about time, since we only had a 60 meter rope and rappels required two ropes of that kind. Also, snow was starting to melt from atop the route and running down our crack system. We persisted, exhausted, hungry and with almost no strength left, but reached the end of the route to finally spot the summit and the basque boys getting ready to set up their rappel from the base of the rock band. We put back boots and crampons and marched up stopping every five steps or so, but finally reached the rappel station. From there on it was all about dragging ourselves down the glacier and moraine to our camp. We got there at 6 pm absolutely exhausted. It was a 13h day, and none of us expected it to be this long and tiring. On the other hand, it was visible on their eyes the feeling of conquest and satisfaction with such an accomplishment. Kepa himself said this was a typical north face in the Alps, and that this had been a day of true alpinism. In the end our routes were in between 250 and 300 meters, about 6a+ in grade, some eventual bolts for rapelling, but mostly total clean climb.

Happy as we were, we didn´t even remember to call up our driver to let him know we´d be going down the next day, we were too exhausted to head down at night (see, even UIAGM guides get tired). Fortunately we had some leftover food (and what great cooks these basque guys are, I´m copying their menu from now on), for dinner and some crackers for the next day´s breakfast.

The team: me, Kepa, Aitzol and Nacho.

Finally, in about a month of travel, a true and accomplished climb. I returned to Huaraz super excited and eager to go even further and even harder. Now I needed ice!

 

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BOREDOM BOREDOM

 

I came down with plans to leave for Toclla on a friday, head straight to moraine camp, and climb the next day with a guy I had recently met and had never climbed with before. Aside from that, I would originally have only thursday to get some extra pickets, rent ropes (I only have 1 60 meter rope), buy food, arrange arrieros and a porter for I would definately NOT carry all that by myself to moraine camp and then lead the whole climb. On my trip report from last year I wrote regarding Toclla that “In truth, I didn’t care. I realized I need to stop attempting climbs I’m not really passionate about.” which also influenced me towards… giving up… especially when I received a Whatsapp message saying that my partner hadn´t really made to Ishinca the day he should, and god only knows if he would have time to climb Ishinca and be acclimatized and rested for Toclla. Since I´m not a guide or agency, I decided it´d be too much responsibility to put on my shoulders, and gave up the climb. Good enough decision for my stomach was once again effed up.

I was bored and started getting pissed though. I had been here a month and did only one technical climb and it was on rock. I had no yet seen ice, and I was needing true adrenaline to get me excited and going again. In other words, I was starting to wither, earning for something truly challenging, difficult and ultimately a rewarding experience.

Then came a pretty tempting, delicious, almost unrefusable offer.

 

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THE WILD SHAQSHA, 5703 m

 

Shaqsha, also known as Huantsán Chico, is one of the southernmost mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, most famous for being on the cover of Brad Johnson´s climbing guide. Nacho has told me about it last year and I really wanted to climb it but didn´t have the time, and being stubborn as I am, having received the offer from Victor, a super fun local guide I met last year, for opening a new route, I simply couldn´t refuse it.

Beautiful Shaqsha, from Brad Johnson´s book.

To be honest I didn´t do any research on the existing routes on the mountain, but this was a case of mountain I layed my eyes on and simply had to climb. Victor arrived from Lima on monday morning and on we went towards Olleros, and then Huaripampa, where we met our arriero. From there it tooks us maybe 4 hours on the fields towards base camp. The approach is similar in distance to that of the Ishinca valley, but quite boring, as the landscape doesn´t change and there´s not much of a path. In front of you most of the time though, you see Shaqsha and the Cashans.

Cashans seen from the approach trail to Shaqsha base camp. So many possibilities here! Definately one to come back to for some exploration.

Victor had just arrived from Daulaghiri a few weeks prior and was in Lima doing some speeches. He was pretty tired and not acclimatized, so we decided to set camp for the day at base, and rest the following day. In fact, on the following day we spent close to 3 hours at the moraine taking much more pictures than we needed and studying possible paths to the summit. The mountain is highly crevassed and has many enormous seracs we we managed to see a few bridges here and there and set plans A, B and C for the next day.

Too bad that the weather took a turn for the worse and by 18h clouds engulfed camp and we could barely see our equipment layed out in front of our tent. Always positive, I figured it would improve by 22h30 (we´d leave this early because we decided to skip both moraine and glacier camp and just climb from base), when we were supposed to get up and go. Well, it didn´t, so we decided to stay in for the night and attempt the next day, for we still had some food for it. In the morning, the sky was clear and and we regretted the decision a bit, but not too much.

Tijuana all set up during sunset at Shaqsha base camp. Bienvenido!
Celebrity Victor Snake Charmer asking Pacha Mama do let us climb this beast.

Good thing about climbing with friends and sociable people is that moments like these become much more lightweight and easier to bear. You chat, joke around, be goofy and generally relax body, mind and soul, so when time comes to tackle the mountain your mind is empty enough to think of climbing and nothing else. Victor and I get along super well, fortunately, and I do hope that my next partners are somewhat similar, for this type of easy going partnerships is one of the highlights of climbing itself, at least for me.

Very nice rock walls on these mountains seen from base camp. The steep triangular one seen on the left is apparently still untouched.

Anyways, enough cheesyness. We spent the day doing nothing and took some more pictures. Changed plans a bit but our excitement was reaching record highs. Slept in the afternoon a bit, cooked dinner and were inside Tijuana (some people name their cars, I named my tent after a Manu Chao song) by 17h30. I slept a few hours to wake up to a clear, starry sky. We were super excited and seeing this just pumped us more, therefore we couldn´t sleep at all. Alarm went off and off we went.

After maybe 40 minutes of moraine we reached the beginning of the glacier, gaining the gentle slopes that lead to the more complex part of the mountain on the left. That all took us a little less than 3 hours, and then we finally started our hard exercise of route finding. The moon was almost full and that helped us a lot in analyzing possible risks, and we changed plans twice. On the first time we realized we wouldn´t be able to reach the small bridge that would put us on the wall because it would put us right underneath a corridor on which either giant cornice on the summit, if broken, would fall straight into. So we decided to simply go the Brad Johnson route that starts on the left ridge and leads to the summit. Well, well, not even that we could do! The ridge was too broken up and seemed like that route doesn´t exist anymore, at least for this year.

The closest we got to the summit, which wasn´t really that close. Path blocked by huge seracs.
A view of the Cordillera Negra during sunrise.
And even though we decided to head down, we couldn´t help but make fun of ourselves and celebrate our non-summit day.
Our track down there and views of the east side of the valley.
Very broken glacier, although not as much as Antisana. Still, complex and time consuming route finding.
The west summit. Only now I realize how interesting a wall there is on the right side, with passage. Worth a visit later in the season.

So go for yet another change of plans, and we decide to head up to some steep slopes and try a traverse to the right to see if there is passage anywhere. We climbed a few pitches at 60 degrees to be once again blocked by immense crevasses. It was about 7 in the morning already – our planned summit time. We still had a last option that was a bit too risky and would probably lead us to another dead end, but I wasn´t willing to climb down a snow plaque on top of a crevasse to check it. We spent those long minutes wishing to see a miracle in front of our eyes but that was it for us. We were at about 5300m or 5400m, don´t know, and decided to descend. We took some pictures, messed around and laughed a bit. Albeit frustrated, like I said before, it was a good partnership and that helps a lot in moments like these.

Frustration, anger, and yet another mountain and no summit, but that´s the price one pays for not going the most walked paths. I like wild and unkown mountains and I´m aware that the more difficult and unknown, the lesser chanc eof making a summit. Still I had tons of fun route finding and actively participating in the climb, which is something not everyone is able to share. Ultimately, if you don´t take anything from an experience like this, you need to quit climbing.

We descended to base camp where Calixto, our arriero, was waiting for us, quickly packed and headed down quiet in our thoughts and frustrations. We arrived in Huaraz 15 minutes before the Brazil-Croatia match ended. I quickly got myself ready to meet one of my next patner, Peter from Hungary, at Cafe Andino.

 

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YET ANOTHER HUARACINO WEEKEND

 

I´m now truly realizing how hard it can be to travel alone for climbing and having to constantly keep on searching for partners. This is definitely harder than finding a boyfriend! The basques were at Alpamayo and so was Nacho. Some spaniards were off at the mountains and the frenchies were leaving. Seemed like I´d have to start making friends all over again. Thank god for Zarela who accompanies me to some beers, we make a good sleepy drinking team.

Anyways, as it was last year, it took me a month to start feeling like a million bucks and I felt I didn´t need two or three days of rest anymore. So I decided I wanted to climb Huarapasca, a 1 day technical climb near the Pastoruri glacier, but I got stood up by my partner and decided to drink my anger away. Next day I met Craig and we decided final arrangements, for I would join them on Toclla the next week. Yes, here we go with the Tocllaraju soap opera again.

(I´m really trying to get rid of the Mon-Thu climber status but people keep asking me out to the bars and I finally ended up in Tambo. It´s really not all my fault. José at Xtreme is the best rock DJ ever and it´s my favorite bar in Huaraz. And by the way, the party season in Huaraz has finally began. Nothing else to add). Why am I still writing about this?!?!?

 

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TOCLLARAJU, THE SOAP OPERA

 

I´m not an “everybody goes there so let´s go there too” type of person, but I was on the hunt for good climbing partners and I felt these two would be it. A guy from Hungary and one from the US, both of whom I had been talking to through the SP partners section. With Peter it was a go but with Craig I was having some schedule issues and it seemed like we wouldn´t be able to climb together. Surprise, surprise! The three of us ended up deciding to give it a go, and because they were still acclimitizing, we headed up once again (for me) to Ishinca valley. Them for climbing Ishinca, and the three of us for Toclla.

Checking out the route on Toccla the day before our climb.

On Monday morning I raced from Pashpa square to Ishinca base camp in about 3h20, which is without modesty, quite fast (for me, definitely not for anti-social swiss men who can probably do it in oh… 15 minutes faster). Anyways, I scoured base camp to find my partners who had just came down from Ishinca, Apparently one of them wasn´t in such good shape, as in not very well acclimatized, and presenting some worrying symptoms of AMS. Still, we were up for Toclla the next days, and that´s what we did.

To cut short to the interesting part, next day we got up early and packed quickly to head to moraine camp. I finally managed to get everything in (and out) of my 35 L backpack (food for a day, stove, pan, sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, climbing equipment, you name it). Nacho would be proud! We missed the entrance of the trail by a whole lot and wasted time and energy amongst bushes trying to find the real trail. Whatever time I saved the day before, we wasted on this day. Original plan was to camp at 5300m, but upon reaching moraine camp we run into a three men Austrian team that told us how miserable it was camping up there because of high winds, so we decided to stay in moraine. In our own team, one of the members kept presenting symptoms that worried us and made us wonder if he really should be ascending instead of descending.

Now to the interesting part. 00h30: alarms ring off, we get up, cook breakfast, get gear ready. 30 steps to the glacier. About 5 minutes later, Craig and I are at the top of the entrance of the glacier, while our partner is ever more so tired, panting and slow. When he gets up to where we are, we have a small chat and tell him he really is not in condition to climb this mountain and it is best that he descends before it gets any serious. To my surprise, he agrees, descends and we continue on. A few hundred meters later Craig and I rope up. By the way, worth saying Craig and I hit it off (in the climbing sense of the word) from the beginning, and he´s got that unbeatable american team spirit. Now THIS is a good partner!

From then on I lead non stop to high camp where we stop for a quick bite and some water. To my surprise, Toccla was empty on this day. Worse still, Austrians left later then we did, and were much slower (I was hoping to meet them in the route and I imagined they had studied it during the day since they were camped there the day before). And even worse still, it had snowed the day before, it was windy as hell, and therefore, no footprints. That meant we had to do the hard work of route finding on limited info with slight moonshine. No problem! We reached the so called “traverse, all the way on the left of the mountain” after taking the long way and wasting about 1h, and after climbing the steep step twice because we thought it couldn´t be the right way but it was, and wasting another 40 minutes or so.

Sunrising on Toclla.
More sunrise from high on Tocclaraju.
Our turn around point, very close to the summit headwall, around 5817m.
Strong winds all the way. Annoying but tolerable.
My new partner, Craig from the USA. Awesome guy!
A pretty big crevasse sits in between these two slopes.
Deadman to the bottom of the traverse.

But let me talk about this steep step for a moment, since it was the only actual climbing I´ve done so far, aside from some 60 degree slopes on Shaqsha. You have to get on this steep 10-12 meter wall, and in order to do so, you have to cross a bergshrund. Now for Craig who climbs waterfalls and is very tall that´s no too hard, but on both times I got on it, at moments I was hanging but one ice ax and supported by one foot and everything else was in the air. Something exciting for a change! On the first time we climbed it was about 75, maybe 80 degrees, the second time we got in it, it was a bit less, but still very enjoyable. That´s what I came here for!

Anyways, from there we got to the other side of this ridge and traversed left, switched leads a few times and finally we walking up again. I was already pretty tired by this time, but seeing the summit headwall made me really excited – we were at 5817m – I really was almost sure we would get there, until Craig started making me questions involving rope lengths, number of rappels, math, chemistry, quantum physics and logic, and we realized that if we did get to the summit we wouldn´t have enough pickets to come down.

Imagine my face. Try it.

This is the only reason I will ever come back to this mountain. As the Argentinians wisely say, “normal route my ass”.
Heading back to moraine camp, with Ranrapalca and Ocshapalca on the background, another two good reasons to go back to Ishinca.

Yeah, I can´t either. I never wanted to climb this route in the first place, we were close to the summit and had to turn around for such a stupid reason. Worse still that when Nacho told me to take 6-7 pickets I thought it was too much. We had 5.

Lesson learned the hard way. Yeah, you can laugh your ass off and call me an idiot. I´m doing the same right now. Nothing else to add for now aside from enough with these walk up routes. July is around the corner and I wanna to some real climbing, summit or no summit. Over and out.

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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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