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30/07/2014

SURFING IN BETWEEN DISPATCHES


Wait! Isn´t this a climbing blog? What´s this picture doing here?

The best idea of the past months was to head down to Huanchaco and get a taste of a sport I should have tried before I was even born. I left Huanchaco feeling like part of the Brazilian Storm! Just kidding!

These days in the beach that have done wonders to my body and mind. I came back to Huaraz super motivated to climb, as if I was coming here for the first time in the season, even though everyone already told me that the conditions in the mountains just keep getting worse. Surfing drives up the adrenaline and is relaxing at the same time, but I´m simply not cut for glamourous and mainstream activities, so it works very well for rest periods in between my sufferfests in the mountains.

Some acclimatization again, an on to the mountains!

22/07/2014

CORDILLERA BLANCA 2014 - DISPATCH 4

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
- moraines
- 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.

Jinhirirca lagoon.

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.

16/07/2014

COLE

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.

11/07/2014

A REHEARSAL ON THE DICHOTOMY OF FAILURE AND SUCCESS, NOTES ON THE FRAILTY OF LIFE

Mountain climbing renders many stories of heroic deeds: people overcoming many difficulties to be in the mountains and then to reach their summits. These become news, books, films, and are awe inspiring and makes us think that those are the full stories and tell how things always go. It makes people think every try renders a summit, no matter how hard it may be. But we never hear much of failure though. When one comes down from the mountains and is asked "did you summit", if the answer is negative usually it is a quick and timid one, and the conversation switches to other topics in a matter of seconds.

Bad weather and dark days in the Blanca.

I have many stories of failures and in fact, I failed on most mountains I attempted, for the most various reasons. If seen from the perspective of reaching summits, I am by far one of the most mediocre climbers I have met, although I am not afraid to say I have not summited. Having coming down from attempting what would be my hardest route so far, the North Face Direct on Ranrapalca, a D+, but giving up for an idiotic reason, and now counting 8 mountains this season and only 4 summits, I could not help but feel like the shittiest and most incompetent wannabe climber I can think of. I still have close to two months to climb, but in a way I already feel like this season has been either a total failure, or close to absolute success because I´ve come so far from where I began two years ago, and this dichotomy has been killing me ever more as days pass. More and more though, I feel like I should quit this altogether - I started too late, I cannot train in snow and ice in Brazil, I´m getting old, I´m never the strongest, etc, etc. Unfortunately, it doesn´t make me feel any better to know this is a shitty season weather wise and that 90% of the people I know here aren´t summiting anything significant.

Every story has a few sides to it though, and albeit it may seem idiotic, this same reason which could be a reason for laugh for some, may also have avoided a major disaster that would have been even more idiotic and laughable. In the end, it is a matter of point of view, although the responsibility for my life and the safety of my partner is none but mine to decide upon, and I feel no shame on my decisions. My partner forgot his headlamp, but we still got onto the route. Close to the second rock band, since I was leading most of the climb, my common sense spoke louder and my instinct helped on the decision to turn us around after about 200 meters up on the route. I do feel responsibility for not checking his equipment as well as I do mine.

People don´t really care to congratulate much on success but are very eager to criticize failure without knowing the effort that was put into reaching a certain limit, and it hasn´t been different this season. Unfortunately, this bothers me more than it should. Bellow is the reason why.

As of mid August 2014 I will have completed two years of the ascent of my first high altitude mountain, being it Point Lenana in Mount Kenya, a walk up acclimatization hike reaching the modest altitude of 4985m - altitude which is nowadays absolutely common place for me, or as I call it sometimes "moraine camp height". I feel I have come a long way since then, in all possible aspects: I´ve developed skills as independent climber which was my main goal, decision making, route finding and slowly am sharpening my technical climbing abilities, which is something that requires an amount of regular practice I simply cannot have while living in Brazil. I´ve also learned to endure climbing in bad weather since that´s what I had in about 80% of my climbs. I faced new feelings though, experiencing longing while alone with my partners in high and sometimes not so high camps with no other climbers around. "What if something happens? No one will know about it until it is too late" has been on my mind quite a few times. Those feelings I confess, sometimes made me want to give climbs and simply pack up things and go home, so that´s how strong they were, making me question one of what I thought was my strongest ability - that of enduring isolation, loneliness for extended periods of time... our innate Brazilian ability to endure suffering. I too need human contact, I learned. And quite often.


It was in Ecuador that I had a slight experience of "technicality" in the mountains. Shortly after I made a conscious decision although led by heart, that height didn´t matter to me, and that I wanted to climb hard, technical routes, however big mountains would be. "I´d rather not summit a hard route than summit a walk up one" has been quite the controversial motto since then. As awkward as that would sound for Brazilian mountaineers - most of whom are 8000m, volcano and Seven Summit chasers, I would eventually meet many like minded people, especially from the US. This has brought me comfort, as I met numerous highly experienced climbers who had never been above 6000m or such, but who were highly accomplished in extremely difficult routes all over the world. In the private rumblings of my head, I was timidly comfortable with chasing routes and not necessarily summits, although always bothered by some people in the local community asking me about the latter.

I have not met people who are trying D+ routes independently with less than 2 years of climbing in big mountains. Most climbers I know attempting the same routes as I have at least 5 or so years of climbing on their backs. It may be irresponsible to some, but I wouldn´t be doing it if I didn´t feel capable of. I do feel I´m climbing within my limits, but going beyond on this specific route without the headlamp felt like I would stretch that limit beyond my ability to later handle any issues that would arise from it. And I knew issues would arise from it. To me this was too serious a route to be gambling on.

I think it takes a split second of a decision to make a fatal error. And I am humble enough to recognize my mere existence as a human and realize that big, serious accidents can happen to me as well. Nothing really makes me or anyone else more special so as to render us immune to getting into serious trouble or dying because of stupid mistakes, bad decisions or simply bad luck. As much as I am ambitious, I also maintain a decent distance that separates me from being reckless and I am not afraid or ashamed to put it into practice.

To some that may seem as weakness, inexperience, inability, and it may well be all that. But the most precious thing for me, although it may not seem like it, is not really the high of finishing hard routes or reaching summits, but the high of having people I love around me. And to have that, I need to be alive. I do not intend to ever overcome the immenseness of mountains for they are truly unconquerable, as much as you may stand on their summits for a few minutes. I am satisfied in feeling part of them, be it in a hard route, be it on their summit. This all may be idiotic rambling, and unfortunately I have not yet had a chance to discuss these feelings with more experienced climbers although I know many. Maybe they´ve been through all this, and maybe these doubts are part of the process of developing into a more experienced and mature climber. I am sure that when opportunity arises I will learn a lot from feedback, but as of now I need to vent onto the web in order to understand my own doubts a little better, and this is my little space to do so.

All this has brought me to a familiar wish: today I feel like soloing something, as easy as it may be. This realization of things that could have happened - not the summit, but trouble - sometimes need to be digested in their own environment. As of this moment in time, I am eager not only for climbing my most desired mountains in company of the great people I´ve been meeting, but of the arrival of August, in which I plan to spend a few weeks completely alone in some easy but unexplored mountains, learning and humbling myself in a way only soloists understand how. This communion with the land you step on - this synergy of matter, body, air, mountain, the soul - is the epitome of the feeling of life, as if you could hold it with your bare hands, and sometimes the only thing that can take my mind off of this dreamy, selfish and obsessive state that climbing provokes, and bring me back to Earth, to remind me there´s people waiting for me to come home (now, if I decide to go on being selfish or not is a different post).

I need to digest Ranrapalca. My failure may be not finishing the route or having so many summits, but I feel that being here trying to understand this is for now, a small personal success. I came down alive and harmless one more time, and that suffices, as mediocre as it may be.

P.S. I: As I finish writing this, more news arrive regarding the death of a climber on Piramide de Garcilazo, a mountain I would very much like to climb by the end of this month, and then that would be my hardest route ever, a very respectable TD+. It makes me wonder what decisions could have been made differently to avoid this death? Because in reality, this could be, at any time, any of us climbers: me, my partner, or any of the countless climbers I´ve already met here and sometimes run into at the street or at the bar.

P.S. II: Yesterday morning I had a first hand encounter with one of the rescuers and the best friend of this boy who died in Piramide (they are staying in the same hostel), and it is heartbreaking to watch them crying over the details and the whole situation. I definitely do not want to make anyone go through that.


29/06/2014

"NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST"

There´s a saying that goes "if you don´t know where to go, just stay where you are". I´d like to think, if you don´t know where to go after the season is over, watch this:

35 from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Not that you´ll have any answers though, but it´s a great video. ;)

20/06/2014

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.

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!

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.

THE WILD SHAQSHA

Shaqsha (5703m, 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.

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?!?!?

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.