After a week of “resting” around Huaraz (3000 m) and rock climbing (usually around 4000 m), and trying to keep up with the Swiss boy´s daily calorie intake (about 5000 calories a day maybe, half of that for breakfast), I had recovered maybe 1.5 kg of the 5 kg or so I lost in the Alpamayo event, and was felling maybe 60% better, although not yet good for doing a multi day climb with lots of portering.
I didn´t know what to do: to climb or not to climb, or go to the beach for a few days to accelerate the body´s recovery at sea level. I was eating more, and was trying hard to increase caloric intake… But keeping up with Swiss Direct and Gringo Mandarina was proving to be a hard task. Maybe as you grow older the stomach shrinks, had to be that. But then when we got back from Antacocha, came an awesome invitation in my Zap Zap, from Gaspar. Again I did not want to wake up at 1 am for a 3 hour ride after sleeping for a few hours, but the invitation was so interesting that I finally got some motivation to climb again.
HUARAPASCA, 5420 M
Huarapasca is a lesser know peak in the southernmost part of the Cordillera Blanca, quite technical but a short climb. I don´t know when it started gaining more attention but I remember wanting to climb it when Nacho and Chusky described it to me last season. By then, there were two pitches of very steep snow, a flat ramp, and another 2 pitches to the summit: short and technical. The mountain was three hours away from Huaraz, near the Pastoruri glacier. I was in doubt and a little lazy but Gaspar was like “come!” and Swiss Direkt was like “go!”, so I went.
Also worth for check it out is that, because of its distance from the main part of the range, the landscape here is quite different. Instead of the rugged, agressive fractures that give name to the “quebradas” (breaks), the valley of the Pumapampa river – where we approach it from – is smooth and with delicate transitions between valley floor and mountains. Sitting to the south of Pongos, Mororaju and Paria, this small group of mountains is hidden behind big rock cliffs, and some of the closest mountains to the Huayhuash range.
Gaspar had a client and Chebala was assisting him, and he invited me to come along and rope up with her. Cheba is Argentinian, and guess what, she´s the girl that broke Fernanda Maciel´s speed record ascent of Aconcagua´s normal route a few days after the record was established. Apparently, not even willing to do so, sort of unaware, as if going to the corner to get some bread in the morning. Argentinian climbers (emphasis on real climbers) have cemented fame due to their endless endurance, but are also quite technical and efficient. I´ve seen it myself in my other seasons here, and in Chamonix as well. They will just run over you on routes (in a good way), so I was a little intimidated (and honored) by the invitation, but hey, chicks rope team, I was down for it!
So all things packed super fast so I could get 3 hours of sleep after eating a whole pizza. The boys went for a beer and I jokingly but seriously told them to come back after I left so I could sleep. They got back and 30 minutes later Gaspar got up, and then myself (and so consolidated Swiss Direct´s dorm burnout). We sort of slept on the way there, and once arrived, Gaspar set up a fancy breakfast on the trunk of the taxi. We headed out through the moraine as I was happily just following Gaspar´s route finding in mindless walking mode (what a relief).
As day broke, we could finally see the mountain, and it was super icy. “Damn!”, I thought. “This is gonna be hard work. Fun!” Well, we got all the junk on and I left for the first lead. The ice was super hard, blue at times, and plating a lot. Some abalakovs were in place so I tried following the most obvious line. Had I knew it´d be like this I would have sharpened my crampons and piolets a bit more. The ice screws however, were working to perfection.
Once again, we were climbing in the shade and I started feeling the cold. As Cheba came up her hand were freezing so I led the second pitch, so that on the next she could get her fatter gloves out. As she came up the second belay, she noticed I too was quite cold and we agreed I would keep leading the third pitch and then she´d lead the other half of the route and the two pitches to the summit. “No problem!” I though, I was having fun and the third pitch was the steepest… and with the worst ice. These pitches had maybe 70-75 degrees at their steepest, enough to have some fun (but I need new blades for my piolets…)
Gaspar´s client had some headache since he was still acclimatizing so eventually they bailed mid second pitch but we went on. As I finished the third pitch, I could see we´d be doing the rest of the climb in the sun, which was awesome. I brought Chabe up and from there she continued on lead. We went on a snow ramp to a small flat area, then crossed rightwards on a crevasse, and then a long flat area before the summit. From there another two not so steep pitches to the summit (maybe 50 degrees at times but really bad snow and ice), and then finally at the summit. A refreshing view of a corner of the range I was visiting for the first time, and to top i off, a huge condor flied by as we were there, and according to Chabe, a sign of good luck.
Wow! A short and fun climb, Chamonix style as Gaspar would say it. I hadn´t talked much to Chabe when we went to Antacocha, but she was so centered, so calm, and so in touch with the mountain, it was like, although cold at the beginning, she was flowing with it. Something I noticed in peoples that are born and grow near mountains, not just Argentinians, but Europeans and some Brazilians born near the highlands in Brazil. It´s inspiring to see these people in action especially for someone like me, born in a metropolis, and still fighting my way into this lifestyle. They do it effortlessly. Aside from that, it was an immense and completely unexpected surprise to finally have a girl´s team working so well. Success here went well beyond the summit. Yes I did have some bad luck with partners this season, but usually when I get lucky, I get really lucky.
On the descent I felt the Alpamayo effect and was super sleepy, so Chabe handled the first rappels, and after I woke up I handled the last ones. I then just mindless walked behind her back to the car, since I had no idea were we were (yep, I was lazy on the way up and didn´t pay attention to the trail). Gaspar, his client and the driver had slept and ate, and were waiting for us to get back to Huaraz. I thanked Gaspar for inviting me with a big smile on my face and I hope he understood it: I was motivated again, although not as strong as I should be, but happy to be climbing, and with such a great partner. The all girl strong rope team I was hoping before coming here finally happened, and out of the blue. Thanks Gaspar and Chabe!
And it was stamped in my face… when we got back the little crew were all happy to see me motivated again. I´m a person of few words but my face never hides it.
GO BIG OR GO TO THE BEACH
So back in Huaraz I wanted to go back to climbing but I knew I was still messed up. I had only three routes in mind: NW face of Piramide, Jaeger on Chacraraju, or one of the corridors of Ocshapalca. I kept receiving invitations to climb lesser stuff, and even to get on Chacra, but with the bad experience with partners this season it just didn´t seem right to get on the Jaeger with just anyone, especially considering its low success rate and 50% death rate.
Swiss Direkt was sick and trying to recover, so we went for more rock climbing in Llaca valley, where there´s tons of horrible nasty slabs that I didn´t even make an effort to climb, and a multi pitch called Mission Lunatica, which we´d try the second day there. But Gianci arrived and very shortly started feeling worse. Pesky and I got our asses kicked on some slabs but eventually I went to organize a taxi to take us back to Huaraz because Gianci would get way too worse if he slept at 4500 m that night. And as I was thinking I had never met anyone that likes climbing slabs… Gianci tells me he loves it. Go figure, that´s proof enough of addiction to climbing!
Also met someone incredible whom I admire a lot at the Llaca base camp: Carla Perez, a super strong Ecuadorian climber, who was the 6th woman to climb Everest without oxygen and no big expedition support. I´ve been following her career for a while and am super inspired by her life story and achievements – first Latin woman to climb the south face of Aconcagua for example. She does it all in any altitude. I think to say she´s the strongest Latin American female alpinist is an understatement, and it would do her more justice to say she´s one of the strongest independent high altitude alpinists (man or woman). Not only we talked for a long time, and she is super nice and sweet, but I also let out my fandom and took a picture with her (in 2014 I could have taken a picture with Ueli Steck but was too embarrassed to ask but I couldn´t miss this opportunity). So here´s this awesome lady and me:
So after some consideration I figured I wouldn´t have time to recover and climb more stuff, even if I went to the beach for a few days. I´d have to acclimate all over again and I´d end up climbing boring stuff I didn´t really want to climb. So, I went down to Huanchaco, where I learned to surf two years ago, and then Chicama (amazing waves but not really for beginners). Had a few weeks of surfing, boredom, solving bureaucratic problems from France and preparing my outings in Brazil. And finally, after 2 weeks in the beach, I had recovered most of the weight I lost in Alpamayo.
In terms of climbing this was probably the poorest season of the three I´ve done here. But considering I wasn´t trying that hard, I wasn´t super disappointed. I climbed two pretty cool, absolutely technical routes and that made if for the quality over quantity that I was aiming for. This was also a season of quality friendships and tons of inspiring people. Right when I got here I met a french couple traveling around the world doing extreme skiing. Boris and Carol are on their 12 Mois de Hiver (here´s their Instagram and Facebook pages) project, and were super nice and friendly. Both were machines, cruising on hard routes in a lot less time than most and coming back to Huaraz as if they had just gone take a walk in the park. It was funny to get to Huaraz and keep talking French right away, it was probably the best French I ever spoke!.
And aside from the local friends, this season I spent a lot of time hanging out with the Swiss, especially the sweetest couple Beno and Alex, Gianci´s quirky friend Pesky “Gringo Mandarina”, and of course, Gianci Gringo Guapo “Swiss Direkt” (plus unnamed nicknames), who´s been the greatest travel boyfriend ever, aside from some (as usual) great spanish people. Now I have to go visit other parts of Spain I didn´t get a chance to, and the Swiss Alps. Oh, tough life this one of travelling around the world and visiting friends, than making more friends and travelling again to visit them, then meeting even more people and having to keep travel to visit them…
Last season I learned some about systems in Alaskan climbing, and this season, some of the Swiss boys being in guiding school, it was great to also watch and learn some different and new techniques that they apply in their ranges, and incorporate them into my own set of tricks, especially considering they are experts in lightweight climbing which is something I am always striving to improve at. And oh well… although they tried they haven´t been able to come up with a funky nickname for me… until the last days on the beach. I´m still Cissa Sonrisa, and I like it (although I admit that “Rope Gun” would fit this season very well), but they came up with “grampi” which is the Swiss word for people that go to the mountains but are mot from the mountains. It may be pejorative but it´s true, so I take it.
Aside from female crushers Carla Perez and Chabela, I also met Mariano Galvan, Argentinian monster solo crusher of 8000 m mountains, of almost unbelievable stamina and mental strength and founder of the mountain guide school of Mendoza, and yet, super approachable, humble and down to earth. While in Chamonix I met or ran into several famous climbers – all sponsored, famous, born around mountain regions and with easy access to climbing and all the luxuries of being born and raised in a rich countries, where climbing is an option among many others, and anyone can do it. Yet one of the highlights this season was to come across Carla, Chabe and Mariano: all came from developing countries with long history of deep economic problems, with very difficult access to mountaineering, and for sure who have struggled and still do to practice their passion, mostly without sponsors, paying for many things out of their own pockets, and often on very tight budgets. And not only that, they diffuse the sport and take action to make it more available and more accessible to other people, even though the economic and social limitations that Ecuador and Argentina have always been through. People that are badasses anonymously have my highest admiration and respect, and I am too lucky to even spend a few hours with them. Not only are they accomplished climbers, but they are amazing human beings.
So here goes a big thank you to all the people that were part of this season in positive ways. From the bad experiences, we learn and improve, as climbers and as human beings. I certainly always do (and in the end, the bad stuff we forget anyways). Special thanks to Zarela for being such a cheeky matchmaker and to Swiss Direkt who always kept me smiling even on the few difficult occasions I had and made me super happy during the season and …. Two words for you kid: a-mazing! ♥
So, last season I climbed 9 mountains over 5500 m in 9 weeks, and my body was wrecked in the end. I lost pretty much all muscle I had, kept travelling without watching my diet and training, and eventually arrived in Chamonix a mess. It took me a year to rebuild myself to the best shape I ever was, so I didn´t want to exaggerate on the big mountains this time. Although it was very frustrating to not climb the really hard routes I always dreamed of, considering I was in the best shape to do so, and therefore feeling like a waste of talent and preparation, I also didn´t want to lose my shape on lesser objectives. It wasn´t that hard of a decision, and I´ve spent enough time in this range to be happy with everything that it meant to me. Time will come to climb those routes, and with the right people. I finished this season with less muscle than when I started but I kept my shape pretty well for the rock climbing objectives to come.
And finally, Peru is the country that I visited the most in my lifetime, for tourism and alpinism. I love its culture, its food, its mountains and beaches, and especially the people. I have no plan to come back to Peru after climbing three seasons here and almost becoming an expert when it comes to the Blanca. It is however undeniable that this range shaped the climber I am, my values, my ethics, my style. Being in Peru never really felt like traveling and more like being home, and these mountains felt like my school, my “home crag”. Being there is enough to put a smile on my face, and I hope that in the future I get to come back at the right time with the right people. My biggest thank you to this country, people and my local friends, former partners, mentors and everyone involved in my climbs in the Blanca now and in the past, for making me the happiest alpinist alive whenever I was there.
For service in the Cordillera Blanca and Huaraz area, please see the end of this post.
In Huanchaco I always stay at Casa Amelia, ran by dutch friend Paul Hendriks and wife Dani. The place is right in front of one of the breaks, super cozy, great common kitchen and full of domesticated animals. Pepe the psycho parrot is still there but now there´s also cute bunnies and Silvestre, the cutest cat in Peru. I rent boards and suit in Muchik Surf School, which is good for classes as well, but Onechako, next door, also has a good selection. Chocolate Cafe has one of the most delicious chocolate mousses on Earth, as well as good coffee and tons of vegan and gluten free options for all times of the day. It is run by a (guess what) Swiss lady and her Peruvian husband. For ceviche I usually go to El Peñon, near the hostel, and for a special dinner I like La Barca, which has the freshest fish.
In Chicama I stayed at Surf House Chicama/El Inti, ran by Brazilian native Katia and husband from Tarifa. They weren´t there but Jenny was keeping things going smoothly with the help of volunteer Carmina. Breakfast is huge and served until 11h30 so you can have a long morning session and then feast on fruits, eggs, quinoa, palta, bread… and then siesta before another session. They rent boards too but not a huge selection, you may have to shop around other hostels to find something adequate. They have the number for Frank, a local guide who showed me around the breaks and saved me a hug amount of time trying to figure out the waves, where to get in, etc.
Familia Palma has great ceviche all days of the week. Aside from that, Puerto Malabrigo (the actual name of the town) is super tiny, with pretty much nothing to do at night except have a beer with the other guests of your hostel. No ATM either, bring all the cash you expect to use.
And although the wave there is better than in Huanchaco, unless you are at least an intermediate surfer it is really hard to catch them. Current is strong, you are always paddling and if you miss a wave is super hard to get back on the break unless you have boat service (50 soles for 2 hours). You can catch the following waves until you reach the main beach and then walk 15-25 minutes back to enter at the Point or the Cave. Sessions there were short and without many waves and waaaaay too much paddling. But anyways, good enough surfers were on the waves for sometimes 2 minutes, and I would be happy with that. As in climbing, watching more experienced people surf teaches a lot, and I had great opportunities to watch people surf green waves for long periods of time. And finally, the water is warmer and it is sunnier than Huanchaco. I even went to the beach in bikini to tan!