Hello lazy people killing time at work! Welcome to a new dispatch! So far July has been a month of long approaches, great partnership, insomnia, World Cup and some tense moments in Parón valley. I´ve hit the 2 month mark of climbing non stop with few rest days in between, which means I am exhausted, my body is rotten and my legs can´t take me anywhere anymore. My mind still wants to climb a whole bunch of stuff by my body simply is not obeying anymore.
“LIFE´S NOT JUST ABOUT BEING UNEMPLOYED AND CLIMBING”
So said one of my partners when I complained about feeling stressed. I´ve worked so hard on being disciplined that the other day I gained the friday-thru-monday-climber status. SUCKS! Party scene on weekdays in Huaraz is non existent and I haven´t had a decent night out partying in over a month. No more Tamboraju for me, Kepa! 🙁
It´s also a month when its been latent to me the coming and going of everyone. People come in, I make friends, they spend 3, 4, 6 weeks, and leave to go on with their lives. I´m not used to that, I´m feeling lonely, I want my mom! (Nah, just kidding, I thought it´d be funny to write that). It does make me think I need to start thinking of next steps though.
Also worth noting that spending the season climbing here is ruining my equipment. I´ve already had to had my trekking boots fixed, and then so poorly done so that I had to buy new ones, my mountain boots are covered in duct tape, my gaiters have had to be sown and so are my favorite and only climbing magnificent Marmot climbing pants. That´s not to mention some slings, biners and several pickets I already left behind. How am I as a successfully unemployed person am supposed to replace these things when time comes?
Anywho, here´s a few lists I was working on the other day:
Things I like in the mountains:
– being able to buy cold beer at base camps
– pop corn at base camps
– blue eyed beauties from South Carolina in base camps
– being the only party at high camp
Things I don´t like in the mountains:
– sleeping bag zippers
– frozen boot laces
– being the only woman in a high camp and in need of going to the bathroom for #2
So let´s to the mountains!
QUITARAJU, THE LUCKY ATTEMPT
July is usually prime time for climbing the big technical walls in the Blanca, and that means that since I left this place last September, most of what was in my mind was the arrival of July 2014, so that I could get my hands (actually, my ice axes) on some very wanted lines. Alpamayo is not and was never on top of my wish list but if you´re here for more than a few weeks it is sort of a must do. Since it´s a long approach and not too close to Huaraz I figured we´d have to climb Quitaraju as well.
|Santa Cruz valley, here we go again!|
|Tijuana posing in our camp in Llamacorral.|
|We´re coming Quita, don´t move!|
|Santa Cruz Grande and a cow seen on second day of approach.|
I wasn´t too excited to head to Santa Cruz valley again because of that, on top of the first approach days being kind of boring, but it was more than about time I started climbing some serious stuff. We were excited though, and who wouldn´t be! One ice climb and one snow climb from a high camp, two classics of the range, and probably an intense week both physically and mentally. Feeling strong and able, we got to Llamacorral in 3 hours, slept a night and got to base camp in 4 hours. There we initially thought of heading to high camp all in one day because I confess, we didn´t so much research on the altitude of each camp or distances from each, but after running into Damian, a local guide I met last year, I got times cleared up and we decided to go to moraine camp and high camp on different days. That would eliminate our spare day on high camp, meaning we´d have to climb each mountain in one day, head down immediately after the climb, and no chance for bad weather. Damian also mentioned there was an avalanche on the French Direct the previous morning at around 3 am and so he came down with his group. He also advised us to climb Quitaraju first, and that was one of the best advice we ever got.
Funny enough, the soundtrack to my ascent to moraine camp was The Clash´s “Every little bit hurts”. We got up to it with our immense packs in 3 hours, rested a lot and headed up to high camp the next day. It was 5 grueling hours with about 28 kg on my back, and in total we brought up 11 pickets plus the 2 we picked on the way up, and 10 ice screws. Not fun leading the 50 degree ramp with that on my back, but lucky me Craig is such a great partner and led the steeper two pitches that put us on the col. And by the way, although there was a highway on the glacier, the steep parts were quite messy from so many people passing and quite sketchy to climb up. At least one good thing, when we finally reached the col, there was not one soul on high camp. A few hours later some Argentinians arrived, but no immense guided groups, which was quite a relief.
|Craig cooking yet another delicious tallarin+tomato sauce+tuna dinner in perfect weather. That´s not Tijuana though.|
|Sunrising on our way up to high camp.|
We had some time to evaluate both mountains, and indeed, there was still a part of the broken cornice hanging on top of the French Direct on Alpamayo, as so we followed the advice of Damian and decided to climb Quitaraju first. Tired as we were, we ate and were in “bed” by 15h. We had about 10cm of that damn hail for several hours during the night, which worried me since Damian said he had left footprints to the bergshrund and I wasn´t exactly in the mood for route finding, especially in cloudy weather.
|Alpamayo´s summit and its endless flutings.|
|Los hermanos coming down the col. We´re not alone anymore!|
But that´s what we had to do. We got up in cloudy weather and no footprints once out of camp. Craig led for about 30 minutes in the glacier until he stopped and told me he had really bad stomach cramps. Since I always carry my kidney stone medicine with me I gave him some cramp pills and took the lead until we reached the bridge, after crossing a sketchy avalanche zone. Craig requested a pit stop and so I got on the wall and climbed a bit to set up a belay and wait for him. After a while he asked if that was really the wall to which I happily replied “hell yeah!”We were finally about to climb stuff! And for several hours! Orgasm!
So excited to finally be actually doing some actual climbing! I brought him up and from them on it was perfect synergy and teamwork. We climbed about 200m taking turns in the lead, reaching an area near rocks and thinking we were already close to the ridge, until we realized we needed to head right to reach a cleaner part of the wall. By that time we had heard a big avalanche on Alpamayo and were kind of worried that we couldn´t see the Argentinians on the wall, but then I figured they probably had given up on their climb for that day.
|Sunrising over Santa Cruz Grande and Norte.|
|Sunrising over Alpamayo. Gorgeous view!|
|Sunrising on my face! H-A-P-P-Y!|
Sun was rising and finally light was illuminating our climb. I took off leading to take a look and find the best way to do so, and in that we had a few slightly sketchy pitches traversing to the right over hollow flukes that wouldn´t take pickets very well to the point I actually found some ice and stuck an ice screw after running out over a few flukes. Not the most dangerous thing I´ve done but those flukes have bad fame.
After finishing the traverse, which took us quite some time, the sun was already hitting the wall and baking us. We were pretty dehydrated and already pretty tired. By looking sideways we realized we still had about 200m of wall to climb but kept miscalculating the pitches… “just 4 more” when in fact we knew it´d be more than that. We kept going up though, already questioning ourselves if we were taking too long. I was eager to keep going and led a steepening pitch until the limit of the rope, from where I could finally see a clear way to the ridge. It looked pretty far away although in fact it was 2 and half pitches away. Craig came up and led the next one, but when he brought me up somehow I was feeling exhausted, and felt like giving up. Thanks to being a great, awesome and amazing partner, and having that motivation and team spirit that Americans are unbeatable at, Craig motivated me to keep going. He led the two final pitches to the ridge and in one of them I realized my tiredness was actually overheating.
|Doesn´t look like it, but we still had 200m to go up. That´s me leading. Photo by Tallarin Team member Craig.|
|And then descending. Photo by Craig.|
So much excitement when I finally walked up straight on that ridge and could see the other side of the mountain! We had just finished the north face of Quitaraju, totally unexpected, in a day of doubtful weather and taking a little detour on route, but hey, there we were on top of this underrated but quite respectable 6000m! Although the weather was great all through our climb, when we got to the ridge it got very cloudy and we couldn´t see much. So, summit picture taken, we started our descend.
A few hours and 8 rappels later, a few prussik loops and biners abandoned and just enough pickets to make it back through the snow bridge at the bergshrund, we finally reached the glacier and went back to camp, in a total of almost 14h of climb up and down. Again exhausted, we rested just a few hours, enough to cook and hydrate, chat with our camp neighbors (now there was a Czech team and in the higher camp a Venezuelan team), and then back to “bed”. I was super glad we took the chance to climb this awesome mountain instead of just sitting in camp waiting for Alpamayo to be in condition. The long and arduous approach had already been worth it.
|We climbed it! Hell yeah! Photo by Craig.|
We were feeling pretty tired which is always worrying. On top of it none of us had been sleeping well, especially me. My insomnia was already in record breaking mode as I hadn´t had a decent night of sleep in almost a month and a half. Still, we were so psyched by having climbed Quita I felt that if I had to climb a wall like that for the next 7 days I´d be totally okay with it because climbing is that much fun.
Weather didn´t think the same though, and we had twice the amount of snow that had fallen the night before. Freaking hail! We got up with the alarm clock and none of the other groups was heading up. Since previous groups had already said there was too much snow on the wall and we had that much new snow, it was pretty clear we wouldn´t climb it. Bummer, for the adrenaline was still running thru this lazy body and that meant that adrenaline – climbing = more insomnia.
The next day we went down to base camp and that afternoon we had the worst storm of the three days. Craig came over to Tijuana for some food since Achiles, our arriero, was taking way too long to cook trout and super oily fries for us. The next morning we could see the extent of it, as the snow line probably reached as low as 4500m. In little over 5 hours we got back to Cashapampa and packed to head back to Huaraz. We were kind of bummed of not having climbed Alpamayo, and already making plans of coming back for Alpamayo and Arteson on the end of July, but definitely it had been a worthwhile trip: we had a near perfect climb, and from what I know we had been only the second team to climb Quitaraju this season. Alongside our alpine rock climb in Huamash, this was the highlight of this season so far, for me. No famous, fancy climbing, just plain honest and fun hard work. I was so happy I descended thinking I could totally live in Huaraz forever and just exist in my unemployment and be a dirtbag alpinist in Peru. Wanda and Lydia would be proud.
|Sunrising on Arteson seen from Alpamayo base camp, after the night´s storm.|
RANRAPALCA, THE NO COMMENTS ATTEMPT
Craig and I were so much on the same page on many aspects that when he asked about which mountain we should climb next the answer was pretty obvious. Ranrapalca had been in condition since very early on the season, and it would be a nice but plausible challenge for both of us. We initially thought of doing the NE face but upon some research and after talking to some Spaniards who had climbed it the week before, we realized that the North Face Direct was more fit to our capacity and desire as climbers. The NE face is in fact a steep glacier ramp and not so much a technical climb.
I dreaded going to Ishinca for the third time this season but had already made clear that this mountain was the only reason I would go back there a third time. Although I did the approach to base camp just 20 minutes slower than my record, and still in pretty decent timing, I was feeling like shit the entire way. The approach to high camp was even worse because not only I had the weight of the heavy backpack but it was also a 900m gain. It took us 5 long hours and I had to stop several times to catch my breath. I thought maybe my blood was too thick from so much going up and down, maybe I was sick from altitude, maybe I wasn´t fit, but in fact, I realized it was the two months of non stop climbing finally catching up to me. Thanks to running into this gorgeous southern US climber we had previously met at base camp I recovered my energies and made it to high camp. I´m a climber but still human!
|This partner´s mom doesn´t mind him eating canned food. No-nonsense dude!|
Fortunately we had a spare day because we´d knew there´d be bad weather, and Craig suggested we took a rest day, to which I happily agreed upon. He too was tired, although I guess not as much as I, but fortunately he´s humble enough to admit it. We did have a problem though: this same day he realized he had left his headlamp at base camp, and didn´t have a spare one. At first I didn´t think much of it. I do know normally this would cause us to abort the climb, but since we are not on a guided trip and assume responsibility on our own decisions, we agreed we´d try to climb with just my headlamp, and he´d try to borrow one from people coming down Ishinca on our rest day.
Too bad no one came down Ishinca on our side that day and so we were left with just one headlamp. I wasn´t very happy about this but we´d follow with the plan. We checked the route in the afternoon, cooked dinner and were in bed early. The plan was for me to lead all the snow and ice, and on the rock bands the leader would shine the light on the second. Because we knew we were tired we decided to get up and leave pretty early, and by my calculations we´d be in the second rock band, the longer one, still in the dark, which could be a problem since it was a 5.9 section.
|Our high camp on the north face of Ranrapalca, and the wall seen from bellow.|
Anyways, the climb was on, the alarm went off and off we went. We simul climbed until we reached a snow plateau to the very left of the route. Snow conditions overall pretty good with small penitentes that worked as stair steps, so no problem there. Craig followed in the dark but it was pretty straight forward. He took the lead on the first rock band taking my headlamp. That´s when things turned sour. The rock was of very bad quality and hard to protect, and of course, hard to climb in crampons. This section had this sort of positive dihedral and lots of rock flakes lose and falling, and tilted to the right, Craig had to belay and try to shine a light on the rock so that I could see some of what I was climbing, but in fact light only reached the last 3 or 4 meters of this section which were the easiest, so I ended up climbing two thirds of it in the dark, and the only light I could see was actually the sparks coming out of the crampons when I scratched the rock.
Obviously I was a bit pissed when I got to the top, but kept on leading the second ramp. That gave me time to think up how shitty it´d be to climb the second rock band – longest, and graded at 5.9. It doesn´t matter if it´d be me or him climbing in the dark, the fact is that whoever was unlucky enough to climb that without a headlamp would be screwed. So, with the non dry rope freezing on the Guide, and frustrated with this headlamp situation – even more so because conditions were pretty good, and even though I had insomnia for almost two months I did get up with lots of energy – I talked Craig into getting down, for it would be risking a little too much getting on that rock band without such crucial piece of equipment. So we down climbed most of the route in heavy silence and slept a bit before heading back to base camp feeling like idiots.
Couldn´t help but getting a few beers in base camp. Ate some pop corn and socialized a bit which led us to meet Tomas and Vicente, two Americans that were acclimatizing in the valley and also wanted to climb Arteson in the next week.
TENSION, FEAR AND DEATH IN PARÓN: ARTESONRAJU AND TRAGEDY AT PIRAMIDE
For the weeks prior to attempting Arteson´s SE face I´ve been asking around everyone I could about conditions, and all I heard was that there was too much snow. The more up to date info I got was from a party of Italian skiers who had been to the valley but not only did not get to wall but also only took four pickets for their attempt, so, I don´t really think that could be reliable information at all. One day prior to leaving a local friend passed me the info that his friend said you could stick your full arm in the wall, so that´s how much snow there was. But then, I was hearing the same thing last year, and people here tend to exaggerate things a lot, aside from the differences of info that comes from guided parties and independent climbers. I may be stubborn, but I´d rather go there and see it for myself than sit around in Huaraz waiting for perfect weather (maybe that´s why I don´t summit much? Hmmm). So, we were supposed to leave on Saturday, July 12th, but then this Canadian wanted to join us and asked us to wait to leave on Sunday the 13th and so we did, but then he bailed. Nothing changed though, but I got an extra day of rest.
|Arrival at Laguna Parón. Lots of excitement for climbing two awesome mountains in what is to me the prettiest valley in the range.|
|Looking back towards the beginning of the trail.|
|Piramide de Garcilazo, the butcher mountain of the season.|
|Organizing the packs to begin our walk towards camp.|
Our plan was to reach moraine camp of Arteson on the first day, climb on the second or third day, rest on the fourth all day in base camp, head to high camp of Piramide on the fifth, climb on the sixth day, and then head back to base camp and Huaraz on the seventh. Not too aggressive but also not too laid back a schedule, although we still had some flexibility on it. We knew we were both tired and not at the top of our game so we allowed ourselves those extra days for rest.
This was the first time I´ve been to Parón valley, so I´m gonna describe here to the best of my internet writing abilities. First, it is far. It seems like it is tucked in a hidden corner, because the taxi drives on endless switchbacks to the entrance of the valley, and then when we finally start entering, it is another set of endless switchbacks, although this time, we are surrounded by immense steep rock towers pointing up the sky, among them, the impressive Esfinge. May Keith Richards shine a light on me so that one day I can be a good enough climber to lead on that beast. So the valley is a short one, and that is very clear when we get dropped off at the Laguna Parón. The view from this point is already impressive: you´re circled by Huandoy Norte, Pisco, and Piramide in the very end of the valley. Hidden to the left is Arteson and both Caraz peaks. Between them a beautiful turquoise blue lagoon. No naked castaway kids running around though.
Less than two hours walking with a 30kg plus backpack on my back later, I was in base camp. We were gonna leave a cache of food and equipment on base camp, so I´d have to repack into my smaller backpack in order to go up to moraine camp. We dropped the loads for some rest and took the time to chat up two climbers who had arrived the day before, Cole and John, both from the US. They were planning on staying for 9 days in the valley, to climb Piramide, then Arteson, and then maybe one of the Caraz peaks. After Tomas and Vicente arrived, the six of us sat for a while studying the route and chatting. I was pretty worried Craig and I didn´t have enough rock pro for Piramide so I used the opportunity to chat Cole asbout what they had and get some of his info on the route.
|Tomas and Craig on base camp before heading up to Timber camp.|
|Ueli Steck heading down to base camp after his scary attempt at Arteson.|
|Tomas and his quirky little camera.|
We were in base for maybe 1h30, enough time to make new friends, repack, rest and take several pictures. Diagnostic on the route was that it was obviously packed with too much snow, and secretly from my short experience in this range I knew we wouldn´t be able to climb the cornice. Not even Ueli could and he´s a little better than us. French guide who was around with his client told us not only you could not ski that but he wouldn´t even climb it. Thanks for the support bro! Just kidding…
Timber camp is about one hour up from base camp, amidst trees and in a grassy area, pretty protected from wind but still receives sun light. Although with a lighter backpack, and being it just 400m up, I felt like shit going up, in what was probably my slowest pace so far in this season, aside from when I was acclimatizing. I kept checking on the boys as they ascended to moraine camp of Piramide, sort of suffering in anticipation cuz we´d ascend to high camp in one day (taht meant 100m of vertical gain). Last time I turned around I saw them up on the moraine ridge with shiny stuff on their backpacks. Tomas and Vicente were speeding ahead and ran into a 3 person group in the distance. What was my surprise when I approached and saw who it was: Ueli Steck, his wife and a local guide were descending from their attempt on that same day. I arrived late at the conversation, but essentially he said conditions were shitty, he got avalanched on and buried, and didn´t make the summit. So, if the world´s most bad ass couldn´t do it, we´d probably have a hard time as well, to say the least.
I had a decent night of sleep in Timber camp, like, maybe 5 hours, which has been a record for the past months, so I woke up rested the next day and ascended to moraine without suffering too much. Initial idea was to set up a high camp, but it was so windy and cold that we decided to be more comfortable that night and stay at moraine. Set up camp, went out to the glacier to check the route, and by 15h we were already in the tent “sleeping”. Heard a big avalanche at around 19h on Piramide, kinda hoping it was the excess snow falling off our face, but it wasn´t. In truth, because of all the expert opinions aside from our own, we were pretty tense about our attempt, and one could probably sense it pretty well. I guess all of us were at least a bit scared of even getting into this glacier with the amount of snow on this wall, but we were already in moraine camp and since we each know what we were doing and take responsibility for our actions, we decided to give it a go. Certainly every local guide I know wouldn´t even be here trying to climb this, and the french guide with his client also gave up on it from base camp, but we´re hard headed and had to go.
|The mountain that is way more beautiful than the most beautiful mountain in the world.|
Alarm off at 23h, we´re off at midnight. Wind hasn´t died and there was a pretty big cloud blowing from the summit, although the night wasn´t as cold as the one before. People told us to be careful with the water holes on the glacier but still I managed to get my foot into one, although I got it out pretty fast with no damage. In order to leave camp and get on the glacier we have to do a sketchy down climb on frozen sand, then walk on the border of the frozen lake to finally get on the dry ice part of the glacier with all those holes, then the snow ramp. I was frustratingly slow for my own standards though. We finally got up on the snow ramp with various qualities of snow, from crunchy hard to deep and sugary, which was all totally normal for this range, but as we got up, not only the wind got worse, but so did the snow conditions. I´m not super experienced on this range from what I know, and how the snow conditions were, I just knew it would be even worse on the wall. As much as we would be able to climb up, it would be nearly impossible and very risky to rappel and even down climb on snow as lose and sugary as it would be, and that´s not counting on the most obvious danger of all, of the huge wall slab sliding at any giving moment and we be under it or on it. Craig and I both ran snow condition/avalanche tests with not very nice results, but still kept going up.
I knew we would get turned around at the cornice near the summit, but was hoping to at least to some pitches on the wall and then maybe have a pleasant surprise under such cornice. But it would be way too risky to even try to get on the wall itself. “What do you think of this snow? What about this wind” – I kept going, tolerable wind and sketchier snow as we ascended… but at one point I just replied that we´d eventually get turned around in an hour. We got up a little bit more and stopped at around 5200m for some 15 minutes ping-ponging the decision to go on or go down to each other. I´m pretty terrified of avalanches and the image of one of the top alpinists in the world having to be dug out of one really had its impact on me. Again, one of those moments where you question your risk tolerance and if “now” is the appropriate time to stretch it. It wasn´t. On the way back a crevasse lip broke as I was crossing it and I was swallowed by the snow with one leg hanging in the crevasse for a few dozen seconds until I managed to get myself out. Scary.
We were back in moraine camp by around 4h30. Craig quickly went back to sleep while I sat outside for about 15 minutes in a state of trance, thinking of climbing, summits, my favorite mountain, and about how spent I was. I began considering not climbing Piramide in such a state – it was too committing and serious to climb in average speed, which was my speed at this point. I got into my sleeping bag until about 7h, which is when Tomas and Vicente arrived from their attempt, thought about this issue and decided I coudn´t go, that it was just not the right timing. I told Craig in the morning and so we decided to head back to Huaraz with the other two. That would mean rush to base camp and to the beginning of the trail in order to catch a ride with one of the incoming groups. Craig let slip he almost suggested we climb Piramide first because conditions were so bad on Arteson. This would haunt me later.
I arrived at base camp followed by Craig. Right away this guy with a big puffy jacket, like those ones people use at 8000m peaks, started heading towards us, obviously to ask about conditions. Duh. This was Jakob, a German, and for about ten minutes we chatted about conditions, made pop corn and found out Germany had won the World Cup. Then the dialog went like this:
Jakob – Did you guys meet the two americans that were here?
Us – Yes.
Jakob – One of them is dead.
I repeated “no” a few times because obviously to me, these two boys were safe in high camp after their climb. From then on, the German started filling us on the details, that an ice avalanche hit one of them, “the tall one without the facial hair”, that the rescue parties were already up there, the other boy had come down the day before desperate and looking for a sat phone, was devastated, back up in the glacier looking for the body. This cold chill kept running through my body as I realized one of the boys we met two days before and were supposed to meet again that same day, was dead. The same one we said goodbye and “see you in a few days”, the same one we saw hiking up the moraine, or whom we were joking about the annoying cows. The same one I chatted about the rock gear for Piramide while thinking to myself “I´m gonna flood this guy with questions when they get down”. Twenty something. Gone.
Second death on the same mountain, same route, in a week. A mountain a few hours earlier I decided to give up on. So much went through my head in the 5 minutes after I heard “one of them is dead”, that three days later while writing this I was still trying to un-knot all this stuff in my head. I thought of Cory´s friend who was at Zarela the week before and all he was going through. I thought of Cole´s partner, of his family, of my family, of my friends, of my partner. I finally thought, what if we had switched mountains and climbed the same day as Cole?
Tomas remarked about all this shit that happened in these three days, that it meant something. It did. I don´t know what yet, but at that moment, it meant we needed to leave the valley. As gorgeous as it is, at that moment, Parón meant high risk. It meant death. I´ll have to do a lot of mental work to come back to this valley and climb these mountains in the future.
I will, but right now my mood is the worst possible and completely anti-social. I haven´t yet figured out how to deal with this. I don´t wanna climb, I don´t wanna talk to anyone, I can´t sleep and I don´t feel like eating. I´ve refused two unrefusable invitations to climb, to trek, to party, and just decided to go the opposite way and head to Hatun Machay for a few days to decompress, which didn´t help much for I ran into some people who knew about the accident and knew friends of Cole and such and couldn´t keep the info to themselves. All I did not want to do was to talk about that, so instead of staying two nights I decided to head back to Huaraz and hide for a while and decide on next steps. I was sharing the dorm with Cory´s close friend and we couldn´t help but talk about both deaths, although that chat did help some in relieve these heavy feelings. Then I thought of soloing Vallunaraju but since the weather will be crappy on this week I had two other options: do the Huayhuash trek on my own or head to the beach where certainly I will not think of climbing. So, the beach it is.
Till the next dispatch.
|I made this friend in Hatun Machay. Best thing about him is that he doesn´t talk.|