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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.






06/06/2014

CORDILLERA BLANCA 2014 - DISPATCH 2

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

ACCLIMATIZATION ON THE ROCKS - HATUN MACHAY

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

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


ACCLIMATIZATION ON THE MOUNTAINS - ISHINCA VALLEY

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

Ranrapalca seen from the summit of Urus.

Cheese on the summit!

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

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

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


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

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

Heading towards the summit of Ishinca.

Hypnotic Huantsán.


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

BREAK

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

GAMBLING AT 6000

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

The approach from base to moraine on Chopicalqui,

The huge glacier.

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

Moraine camp all to ourselves, good enough for there was little water available.

One of the many avalanches on Chopi´s glacier.

Ascending to high camp.

A brief rest for some route spotting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Base camp, our last stop after a failed attempt.


12/05/2014

CORDILLERA BLANCA 2014 - DISPATCH 1

Oliver and his alpine-swissness-awesomeness kicking butt on the Cordillera Negra, crazy gringo!

So this is how this journey begins: head to the airport at midnight, flight leaves delayed at 4h in the morning, arrive in Lima at around 7h, 1h15 of traffic to get to the Cruz del Sur bus terminal, over 12h of waiting for my bus to leave, watched 4 movies, surfed the internet, had 2 meals, almost fell asleep on my laptop several times, got on the bus at 22h30, got in Huaraz at 6h30, arrived in the hostel shortly after that, chatted with Zarela a bit, got to the room a little earlier than 8h, got woken up by the arrival of Oliver at around 8h40, got invited to climb by Cesar at around 9h, got to Los Olivos at around 10h30, climbed several routes, had a headache, short of breath, nice dinner, finally slept in a bed after 48h of traveling, woke up at 7h, picked up at 8h30, climbed several routes at Los Chancos, more dizziness, went to bed early, got up early, rented bikes, rode up to 3900m trying to reach Punta Callyan, 46km total, out of breath, headache, dizziness, nice dinner, too many beers. Woke up today messed up, dizzy, short of breath, high pulse, weak = AMS.

At least the weather is improving.

Sport climbing in Los Olivos, a crag 15 minutes away from Huaraz, on foot. How awesome!


08/05/2014

MY 33

So here I am in the Cruz del Sur bus terminal waiting for endless hours for my bus to leave to Huaraz. I´ve had breakfast, listened to some music, did some crossword puzzles, cut some Alta Montanha stickers and just finished watching "500 days of Summer". In all those moments I kept asking myself what the hell I am doing here without script and no date of return. Goodness! The deliciously guilty and precise feeling of total uncertainty!

I´m already starting to lose the track of time as in, not knowing which day or weekday we´re in. Or getting tot he end of the day and realizing I didn´t even miss not checking Facebook. I then watch 35 to make myself feel less guilty about being "one of those people" (sorry dad).

Sometimes I am indeed afraid of myself and these crazy ideas of mine. Can´t wait to meet the boys and climb like there´s no tomorrow! :D

This is a pretty intimate post. Just a happy blurb though. Needed to share. ;)