Being able to go and play for the first time in Peru was a great experience. I was working for Jagged Globe once again and was really excited. The expedition crew were, once again, simply fantastic and really motivated.
Enjoy the slide show and trip report
|Alpamayo and Huascaran 2011
There were reports of a volcanic eruption in Chile a few days before I was to leave for Peru……. On the way to Queenstown , South Island, New Zealand, I was wondering if I was going to make it to Peru at all. I had planned to get to Lima a few days ahead of the rest of the expedition team but this volcano was going to change all that. After a series of diversions, delays, bus and taxi rides I got to our hotel in Lima about two days later than expected. The rest of the team were coming from the northern hemisphere and had avoided the ash cloud , so despite a number of bags being misplaced in transit we were already go, the plan to be jumping on the bus at 8 a.m. the next morning. The missing bags would follow us to Huaraz.
I’m not quite sure what the group thought when we met each other. From my perspective everybody seemed to be quite relaxed and surprisingly refreshed after the journey to Peru. Whereas I on the other hand felt exceedingly jetlagged and tired despite seven hours sleep!
The bus ride to Huaraz itself is a visual journey not to missed. As you leave Lima you drive north along the coast road which is basically a desert, passing numerous towns, slums, farms, beaches and chicken farms …. lots of chicken farms! The most spectacular part of the whole coastal journey is driving through the middle of an enormous sand dune area that drops about 600 m directly into the sea, the road winds its way along the front of the face about halfway up.
Leaving the coastal road and driving up over a pass at 4300 m we get our first view of the Mtns. The great and we dropped down to Huaraz at just over 3000 m. Over the next few days we spent our time time making sure that all the equipment was ready and going on a few Acclimatisation walks. The crew enjoyed exploring huaraz , seeking out good Coffee and the elusive Fried Hamster!
Heading off on our first trip, we drove for a few hours until reaching the start of the Ishinca Valley. Most of the mountains here are accessed by walking up relatively narrow, steep sided valleys. They are not actually that narrow, it’s just that the high of the surrounding mountains changes your sense of scale and perspective. The walk through the valley takes about four hours which means that you can have a good rest once you’ve reached basecamp. At basecamp there is also a hut or Refugio – we can pay to sleep in a bunk bed and get food from the kitchen. We were here to acclimatise on Inshinca (5530m), a good introductory mountain to the region with a slightly steep slope just below the summit.
After spending a full day at Ishinca basecamp, resting training at acclimatising, we moved up to moraine camp at 4900 m. Whilst the initial walk to the high camp carrying our loads made a few people tired everybody was excited and keen the next mornings climb. We woke up to a calm morning with clear skies and having had a good breakfast to warm drinks we set off up the Hill. The climate self year at is not at all technical, more general mountaineering, but a great way to get everybody into the right frame of mind and to practice or retouch on some skills that we would need for the next few mountains.
At the summit were able to spend some time taking pictures before dropping back down to moraine camp and eventually back to basecamp. The next day we had an option of either a full rest day or climbing Urus Estes. Two members of the group, Stefan and Joe elected to go peak bagging whilst the rest of us spent the time relaxing in the morning sun and having a good breakfast, ….. followed by a walk up to 5100m or further acclimatisation. Today was the day that a member firmly established himself as the Joker of our little group. Simon decided to go for a swim in the creek, the very cold creek, a few screams later he was seen running across the field not wearing a hell of a lot trying to get warm…
The group were definately getting to know each other and all were looking forward to our next mission, Alpamayo. First we had the head back to huaraz where we met with the additional members of our team would join us on Huscaran. Oskar, Pasi and Kevin were heading off to climb Pisco first to acclimatise and then would rejoin our group back in Huaraz.
It’s another long drive to get to the start of the Alpamayo Valley which means an early start. Certain members of the team had called in their bets on a creek swim a few days earlier, and were nursing slight headaches on first day into the valley. It takes two days to get to Alpamayo basecamp. Once you’re there you are surrounded by a circle of mountains. The weather up to this point of our trip had been fantastic however at Alpamayo basecamp the weather changed this allowed us to use one weather day and our training day to get fully rested and ready for our push. To climb Alpamayo we were going to need another moraine camp before crossing the col above this and dropping down underneath the western face of Alpamayo.
The journey up to moraine camp is best described as a slog. it’s not hard terrain but with a heavy pack on your back it definitely becomes a bit of a task! Camp itself is a broad rocky area with multiple campsites dotted over the region. Just above you the glacier starts ….. The journey from moraine camp to Col camp is a lot of fun. The terrain is varied and interesting, with a large number of crevasse that are easily negotiated. The climb up to the col itself is quite exciting with the prospect of the view that we will get a when we get to the top. A moderately early start meant that we arrived in the early afternoon. We had camp set up pretty quickly with the imposing face of Alpamayo looming above us.
The afternoon excitement was not over, a large serac collapsed and sent a fair amount of debris over our route into camp! We have been told that the bergshrund had collapsed leaving it overhanging and almost impassable. We had come prepared with a short section of latter that our amazing porters went and fixed late that afternoon. As a sunset we were all outside needing a dinner excitedly about the next days climb and who would be in what rope team. We had for guides on the expedition team, myself and three Peruvian local mountain guides. We would climb in 4 teams up the French Direct route. We got up at the lovely time of 2:30am – everybody was very quick to get ready, eat breakfast, rope up and get out of camp. There had been a bit of recent snowfall and and there were many times when loose snow avalanches were coming down over the bergshrund! The spindrift look quite surreal in the lights of our headlamps. The first 2 ½ pitches of loose unconsolidated snow gave way to steeper hard ice. The route itself only gets as steep as 75° but it is quite narrow. 4 groups climbing on this terrain behind each other causes a few hazards and whilst everybody was aware of these hazards and we try to mitigate them it was inevitable that we would get a bit of ice falling. There was so much falling ice that in fact I tried to catch some with my face …. Not the best plan!
By the time we hit pitch seven the route had steepened to 75 degrees and narrowed down considerably, a small dogleg at the ends leading onto a long snow runnel to the summit. The team was all on top by 12:30 and treated, once again, to great views with very little wind. The descent took some time, 11 people abseiling down a narrow gully does tend to have a few traffic jams! By 4pm we had all our gear and team members off the mountain and back in camp with a hot drink in hand and the promise of hot food to come! Overall it was an awesome day!
Our next two days were spent walking out! Up and over the col back down to base camp was the first day – by the time we got back to the bottom we were all pretty tired – our support staff were well and truly loaded down! The Burrow team was a in basecamp so the plan was made to head all the way down the valley to Cashapampa and have a good night sleep before getting back to Huaraz …
This is where two of the team departed (Janet and Jon) and we gained Oskar, Pasi and Kevin. The final pahse of the trip was to make an attempt on Huscaran. The mountain has a reputation of being cold and windy – often with summit attempts needing to stay at high camps for a few days or with a retreat being sounded! The first day getting to Basecamp is a fairly long 1000m + climb – walking up through the surrounding bush you could be mistaken that you are in the Australian bush. The locals use Gum trees as a major wood source and the whole area is packed with eucalyptus trees!
Huscaran basecamp is where I came down with a fierce bout of the dreaded Peruvian Super Bug. I had started to feel a bit odd early in the morning but by evening I was really unwell. This meant that I had to wait at BC whilst the rest of the team headed up to Moraine camp. Stuart and John waited down lower with me and we went up the following day. Morain Camp is perched near the Huscaran Refugio – a remarkable construction and a comfortable place to hangout to play cards!
@ camps are needed on huscaran – Camp 1 is at about 5400m and Camp2 sits just below the lip of the Col between Huscaran North and South at 5900m. It is a windy, cold mountain. The col (or giganta) acts as a funnel for the prevailing wind and a stiff breeze kicks up in the evenings of most days and blows until mid morning. Once the sun gets around onto the face it becomes quite hot … One one hand your cold – on the other your boiling hot….. oh yeah thats right, we’re mountaineering – all you need now is a little bit of objective hazard …. No, got that as well.
The journey from Morain camp to camp 1 is a straight forward walk on a gently angled slope. The journey from Camp 1 to Camp 2 on the other hand is something entirely different. The terrain is defiantly steeper with a number of serious crevasses to negotiate. The kicker is the traverse across below the shield face/icefall. There is a lot of avalanche debris and here we are moving ourway slowly across under it – we have no choice but to go ahead if we’re going to give the summit a crack.
Camp 2 is a windy place and whilst I’m still feeling the effects of being ill a few days ago, the rest of the team seem pretty well rested and fired up for a summit attempt the next morning. During the night it’s really hard for me to keep my feet warm, even with a hot water bottle. Waking up at 1 am I accept that I have no chance of going any higher, I’m still too weak from being ill and by feet are frozen, seems like my circulation is reduced by whatever I’ve been sick with. The plan is now for the rest of the team to go to the summit with the Peruvian guides and the assistance of some of our high altitude porters.
At 2 am the team walks slowly off into the night, up and over the lip of the col and out of sight … I’m already back in my sleeping bag trying to get warm! Whilst I’m dealing with a headache and cold feet, I’m wondering if the rest of the team is feeling the same way. By the time the sun has hit my tent at 9:30 am the summit team has climbed up onto the flanks of huscaran South, through some impressive glaciated terrain and is nearing the long broad summit ridge. Up up the mountain there’s not much wind, no cloud and as the team reaches the summit they’re rewarded with a fantastic view of the entire range – they’re higher than any other peak in Peru …
Descent takes almost as long as the ascent, with tiredness, crevasses and some steep exposed terrain slowing things down. Near 4 pm the team comes into view over the lip of the Col and descends back into camp. Everybody looks tired and windswept but pretty damn happy!
Another night at camp 2 is needed since it is too late to descend any lower that day and everybody is exhausted. We descend from 5900m to 4300m in one go – all the way to basecamp, with a stop at the Refugio for a few plates of hot chips! Being at a lower altitude and with the anxiety of the climb behind us we all enjoy a beer or two (brought up by the burrow team) and look forward to getting back to Huaraz one day earlier than planned for a bit of a party ….
The party ……. well that is another story, best to say that there were people still out dancing until 5 am and that it was a VERY good thing we had the extra day in Huaraz before we caught the bus back to Lima .. Awesome trip, Awesome people, Awesome mountains