Second Choice for Conditioning ClimbThis trip report is part of a climbing trip that we did at the end of 2007. The full report on that is called "Seven Summits – Arequipa, Peru", and can be found here.
We were thinking of trying Volcan Ubinas as a conditioning climb because it is lower, but it had just been erupting so we chose Pichu Pichu instead.
Hard Approach Drive
On Friday morning we threw our gear into my 4x4 van and headed for Pichu Pichu. Nathan and I thought we had found a starting point when we were up there the day before, but after checking the information that Smiley had, we realized that we needed to drive around to the other side of the mountain. The approach road leaves Arequipa in the direction of Puno (it is actually the old road to Puno), going between El Misti and Pichu Pichu. Only a few miles out of Arequipa, just past the Misti turnoff, the nice paved road turns into very rough gravel, with lots of holes, rocks and curves. We got past where we had been the previous day and finally arrived at the turn for Laguna Salinas, which is somewhat between Pichu Pichu and Ubinas. There was really no good beta, and what we had was somewhat conflicting, so after looking at the mountain, we decided to chart our own route, going up the south ridge to what looked like the summit. The map showed a jeep road crossing the ridge and that looked like the highest and closest we could drive to the summit.
This whole area is around 14,000 feet or more, and is a very desolate landscape of sand and rocks, with clumps of prickly ichu grass, coral like mounds of green yareta, and some small scrub brush. After a three plus hour drive from Arequipa, we parked alongside the road at 14,900 feet and started the climb at 10:40 am. There wasn't any trail but the surface was firm and easy to walk on, later it turned into more rock hopping but not difficult terrain. I was expecting a relatively easy day, having trained quite a bit and being used to hiking up to 15,000 feet. However between a combination of strength, being younger and energizer bunnyness, Smiley and Nathan kept me chasing them all the way up, in spite of both having severe headaches the whole time. When we arrived at the first peak, we realized that we weren't on the top, so started following the rocky ridge to the true summit.
Success and a Scare
There was a fair amount of third class and some fourth class scrambling on the ridge, as well as a cold wind, but we arrived at the summit at 3:40, five hours after leaving the car. There was no snow at all on the mountain, but with clouds climbing up on one side all the way to Misti, and Ubinas smoking on the other side, the views were otherworldly. Rather than take the ridge back, we dropped off the northeast side from the summit, slid down a sand slope as far as possible, and then angled downhill cross-country for the car.
After the sand slide, we got to some rock strewn bowls where we had lots of rock hopping. Going down into one of these, I either slipped or stepped on a loose rock, and did a face plant in the rocks. Fortunately I was able to almost catch myself with my hands, but did hit a rock with my cheek, which bled inside and outside for a bit, but no serious injury.
The real scare came just before dark when we were getting closer to the van. Smiley was walking behind me and saw a set of keys that had fallen out of a hole in my pocket. They were my house keys, but there wasn't any sign of my car keys, which were on a different ring. After trying to follow our tracks back a ways, with no sight of them, we finally gave up and headed to the van. On the way, I finally thought of checking in my pack lid, and there they were - right where I had put them for safe keeping! We finished in the dark at 7:10, for an 8 1/2 hour climb, and drove back to Arequipa to get a good night's sleep before heading to El Misti the next day.