The BackgroundI'm spending 6 months in Peru and while here starting to get more and more into mountaineering. I'm currently living in Cusco, and have done a fair amount of trekking in recent weeks now that the rainy season is coming to and end.
A few weeks ago, through the South American Explorers Club (http://saexplorers.org/club/home) my girlfriend and I and a few other people (total group size of 8) spent 4 days climbing Ccampa mountain, a 5500m peak near Ausangate in the Cusco region. It was my first "real" mountain, meaning that it required crampons, ice axes, and harnesses - although it wasn't a technical mountain by any means. The most difficult part was the altitude and the final summit approach, which was a roughly 50° slope.
After talking with one of the fellow climbers, and experienced German named Tim, we decided to join up with our guide a second time and attempt to climb the big brother of Cccampa - Ausangate. As this was a much more serious mountain, at almost 1000m higher, and slightly more technical, I was a bit nervous. But because German Tim was moving on in his travels, we started planning to do it right away...
The group was organized as myself (American Tim), German Tim, our guide Adrián, and his brother, another guide/porter, Alfredo. The entire trip was planned in a matter of days and we left less than a week after completing Ccampa.
We organized for a driver to pick us up in Cusco and drop us off on the backside of Ausangate, near the town of Chillca. There is a relatively new road that continues by here to Laguna Sabinacocha, yet this approach valley sees very little tourist attraction until you get right to the foot of the mountain, where the Ausangate Circuit cuts across.
After provisioning up at a supermarket in Cusco and organizing for a pickup 4 days later, we were off...
Ausangate: The MountainDay One:
This was a relatively easy day, assuming you are acclimatized. After leaving Cusco around 6am, we were dropped off in Chillca (~4400m) at about 10am and we started walking along a wide valley with a well worn llama path towards the foot of Ausangate. After about 3 hours, we reached Base Camp (~4800m) and set up camp. We had hired a horse in Chillca to help bring our stuff, but after unloading it, we were on our own until 3 days later. The day was sunny and relaxing, and we made sure to get plenty of sleep as the next night was to be a short one...
After a great night sleep, we awoke to cloudless blue skies and began our steep ascent up towards high camp along the edge of a large glacier (name was never given to me, but it is a very large glacier that flows between Ausangate and neighboring Mariposas mountains). The route on Day 2, was much shorter, but involved 900m of vertical gain to reach High Camp. In some places, the route was quite exposed, and it involved some rather steep rock scrambles before reaching the ice of the glacier. We did this relatively early in the season (I believe the first group to ascend Ausangate in 2012) and the ice was still pretty low on the mountain. We set up High Camp a few hundred meters below the Ausangate Wall at about 5700m. I was somewhat affected by the altitude by this point and took the afternoon easy, melting snow to fill the water bottles (takes FOREVER at this altitude) while German Tim climbed a small vertical ice wall nearby and the guides began to open up the route towards the summit for the next morning. The plan was to leave by 11pm that night to start the summit approach, so I went to sleep around 7pm after a small meal of spaghetti and tuna.
Woke up at 10:30pm to have a small breakfast(?) and to gear up, and left for the summit around 11:30pm - just after the moon ducked behind the peak. The first hour was an easy ascent as we zig-zagged across the ice field at the bottom of The Wall, and by 12:30 or so we were at the hardest part of the trip. The Ausangate Wall is a 200+m semi-vertical wall that varies between 65°-75° and tends to be composed of mostly hard-packed snow with a bit of exposed rocks in places. It is not extremely technical, but does require crampons, two ice-axes, and a harness and climbing partner. For me, being relatively new to the sport, this was extremely difficult, and the altitude made it very challenging. After about 1 hour or so, we reached the top of the wall, and the terrain levelled out. It was about 2am at this point. By the light of our headlamps, we continued another few hours along terrain of various difficulty, but without the need for any upper-body work until the sun started to rise around 5am. We were well above the clouds that covered the surrounding valleys, and the sunrise was beautiful. Around 6:30am, we encountered the final obstacle, another 40m or so wall of about 65° that leads to the summit ridge. Adrián climbed this first, secured by German Tim from below, and after placing some protection, the rest of us followed to the top. From here, it was a short 20 minute walk along the knife edge summit ridge to get to the top. At roughly 8:30am, we reached the summit. The skies were blue, the clouds in the valley had almost completely disappeared, and the views were outstanding. Ausangate is 6384m / 20,945ft above sea level.
After spending roughly a half hour at the top (and calling my girlfriend from my cell phone, which surprisingly had 4 bars of reception from the summit) we began the descent. I had noticed at the top, that my fingers were very numb and as I type this 4 days later, the feeling has still not returned to most of my fingertips. The descent went very quickly. We rappelled down the first wall, continued quickly across the flat upper section, and reached the big wall around 12 noon or so. This required both ropes to be combined, but the rappel went quickly. After reaching the bottom of the 2nd rope, I was still 40m or so from the bottom of the wall flattened out, so I decided to wait until Alfredo reached my position to secure me for the rest of the descent. I'm happy I did this, because not more than 20 steps after roping up I hit a hole in the wall, lost my purchase and began to fall down the wall. The rope tightened before I had the chance to self-arrest with the ice axe, and Alfred had stopped my fall after only about 5m or so. About this time, the weather had closed in and it started to snow/hail large round white things, which looked like confetti and began to fill the more vertical channels in the rock like waterfalls. A few minutes later, we reached the bottom of the wall, regrouped and continued through the storm along the zig-zags back to High Camp. We reached High Camp a little after 2pm.
Originally, the plan was to take a short rest here, pack up, and continue back down to Base Camp, but a combination of complete exhaustion of both the Tims and an ever-increasing seriousness of the approaching storm, it was decided that we would spend the night at High Camp again. Within an hour, over 8cm had fallen, and the thunder and lightning was frighteningly close. We took off our climbing equipment and tucked into our tents. I slept soundly through the late afternoon and into the night, and awoke around 6am the next morning. I had issues with dehydration and my clothes were wet, but I was happy to have successfully reached the summit.
The weather had cleared, although we probably received over 10cm (6 inches?) of snow/sleet over night. We packed up camp and began a slow descent down to Base Camp. Once there, we refueled on some noodles and cracked open the celebratory beers, before loading up some extra weight on the horse and continuing down the valley to Chillca.
Reference InformationIf you decide to do this mountain, I would fully recommend the guide I used:
Ausangate Peru Expeditions
And his younger brother, Alfredo.
They were great - friendly and knowledgable - and I hope to join up with them again on another expedition before I leave the area...
In addition, we hired a very friendly driver, who had the 4x4 necessary to approach the mountain from the backside, although I can't remember his name (sorry!) - he was organized through our guide Adrián.
We also hired a horse in Ausangate for $15/day. We only used it for Day One and Day Four, to get us to/from Base Camp from Chillca. Another suggestion if budget allows would be to hire porters to assist with the load. We didn't do this and had to carry all tents, food, and climbing equipment from Base Camp to High Camp - which is definitely doable, but difficult with the altitude, and anyone visiting from a lower altitude may find it helpful. I'm sure Adrián, a local from the town of Tinke (on the other side of Ausangate) could organize this...