Previously in Four months in Peru: Urus Central: To boldly err where no man has erred before.
Today, a big Jesus statue at the cemetery serves as a sober memorial. The town has been rebuilt a few kilometers further away, hopefully safe from similar future disasters. The new buildings are bright, but the town still has a more subdued feel to it than the lively city of Huaraz.
An inauspicious startEric and I planned to climb Yanapaccha and Chopicalqui, but we had left Huaraz too late to head into the mountains the same day. Yungay is much closer to Yanapaccha, so we traveled there instead, so we would have a shorter ride to our trailhead in the mountains tomorrow. We checked in at Hostal Gledel, reportedly the best place to stay in town, charging 10 Soles (about 3.50 US$) for a bed for the night. It was a bit spartan but clean, and the hosts would prove to be very friendly and helpful.
He had laid down his wallet only for a short time before he noticed it was gone. There were just a few people around that could have taken it, but, unsurprisingly, nobody knew anything, everybody played ignorant. He enlisted the help of the sympathetic hostal owner, but that didn't bring the required result. Now he suddenly faced a different kind of challenge than climbing big mountains: he was stranded in Peru, without cash or credit card.
He filed a police report. They were friendly, and went on to investigate, but nobody admitted anything and there wasn't much they could do. Eric called his credit card company to block his card, and his family back home to send over some money. In the mean time I lent him some to tie him over.
Next morning, he checked with the police, but they had no result yet. Later, when he got in touch again with the credit card company, he learned that someone had indeed tried to use his card at the local ATM. Unfortunately there were no camera images, so the investigation reached a dead end.
While this was going on, I figured that any development would take time, it didn't seem likely that there would be an instant result. And so I proposed we might as well do what we had come for, and go climbing. Besides, it would take Eric's mind off his misfortune. And so, early afternoon, we finally headed off.
Now, the guidebook descriptions to base camp for Yanapaccha are a bit confusing. John Biggar  describes the old route, but Brad Johnson  mentions there is a newer one. However, he gives it 3-4 hours from the trailhead to base camp, and from looking at the map, that seemed a lot. Fortunately I had met other climbers in Huaraz recently, who had assured me it was indeed much shorter.
Brad Johnson writes that the trailhead is at the curve just past marker post 42km. I explained that to our taxi driver, repeatedly stressing the "cuarenta y dos kilometros" part, and, as the book instructed, I watched the markers go by as we gained altitude on the winding road. Shortly past the 40km mark the driver declared that we were at the trailhead. I didn't see a trail, and we still had to go two more kilometers, and, more importantly, get higher. I said that we were not yet past the 42km mark, and that I wanted to go further. He was reluctant, but complied anyway. I have no idea why he was acting like this – I was convinced that I had been very clear where I wanted to go.
It was pretty late by now, already after half past five in fact. I really hoped that Brad's book was wrong and the climbers I had met in Huaraz where right, because we had less an hour and a half of daylight, and although it's easy to forget when you're surrounded by massive glaciated peaks, Peru lies in the tropics, total darkness arrives swiftly after that. The route was clearly well-used, making it easy to follow. It traversed the northern slopes of a big ridge extending roughly west to southwest from Yanapaccha, with a few ups and down. The road would continue to a high pass on the other side of that same ridge. We started out together, but after a while I went ahead, trying to make the most of the daylight we had. In 1½ hours I reached base camp, right around sunset. The climbers in Huaraz had been right.
It was a beautiful place, with a small tranquil lake providing water, and a few places where you could pitch a tent. There were two already. I put the last light of the day to good use and quickly set up camp too. Eric arrived half an hour later. Because of our late start, we had to do filter water and cook dinner in darkness and while it was getting colder, both of which made everything slower. As a result, it was 9 o'clock by the time we finally turned in. Pretty late, but we couldn't care less: we were camping in the mountains again! Since the forecast promised excellent weather, we decided to forego the alpine start that is normal for Yanapaccha, and planned to get up at 6, around daybreak. As a bonus, we would be able to see where we were going right from the start.
A glorious day
We took our time getting geared up, but after that we made good progress. It wasn't steep, and we had a wide trail to follow. Route finding wouldn't be any problem today.
Occasionally we saw a crevasse. Mostly they were babies, there were only a few bigger ones. The snow bridges looked very solid though and while we crossed them one at a time, we didn't set up a belay.
As we were making our way up the gentle slopes, we saw two other climbers struggling on the steep slope. They were descending, but I was thinking they were extremely slow and the lower one looked out of his comfort zone. Soon after we met them, and learned they were a local guide with a Swiss client. And it wasn't the guide that was so slow. Nevertheless, the Swiss guy looked very happy, elated to have made it to the summit. He went on to explain that the slope was about 80m high and 60º steep, and from the crest it was only half an hour along the ridge to the summit. That, in turn, made me happy, because that was less than I had thought. And since we knew that it might be steep, we had come prepared and brought two ice tools each.
We had a ball going up the steep slopes, it was great fun. There was no hard ice; it was solid snow, which gave excellent purchase. I went up first, but, knowing it would be too long to climb it in one pitch, I went up until I came to a spot that was marginally less steep. On one snow stake, and using my two tools hammered into the slope as backup, I belayed Eric. From there, the rope was long enough, so I climbed straight to the crest. I estimate that the steepness of the slope was somewhere between 50º and 55º, with the higher part being the steeper one.
Those two steep pitches had put us on the crest of the NW ridge, directly to the right of a large mushroom of snow and ice. Although we had it easy, only having to follow the clear big trail, someone must have been the first to make it. The choice of route was obvious though. As we had seen lower down, the shortest route, directly to the summit, up the steep western slopes, was too dangerous because of seracs hanging high up there. That left the NW ridge as the next best option. And while it would have been easier to get up on the ridge further from the summit, that would have meant having to deal with the big mushroom blocking the ridge. By gaining the crest on the right side of the mushroom, we didn't have to go around it anymore.
We had a break and enjoyed the scenery from up on the ridge. The view of neighboring Chacraraju was especially impressive. I know I'll never climb it – too difficult for me, and even if I could, too dangerous – but it certainly looked awesome!
We were happy to be up there - probably Eric even more so than me, as it was his first summit on his trip to Peru. Once more the views were breathtaking. Yanapaccha reaches the respectable altitude of 5460 meters, but all around there were majestic mountains of more than 6000 m towering above us.
First and foremost, to the south lie the Huascarán peaks, the two highest summits in Peru. I had climbed Norte (6655m) a few weeks ago, but with Sur (6746m) at the top of my wish list, I look at it with more than just casual interest. Norte actually apppears higher, but that's just because it is closer. Much closer still, left of Sur, is our next goal, Chopicalqui (6345m). From Yanapaccha it doesn't look much lower than Huascarán Sur. But again, first impressions are deceiving; Chopicalqui is the nearest, and therefore it doesn't look like it is 400m lower.
To the west, about the same distance as Chopicalqui, lies the equally impressive Huandoy (6395m). That's a huge mountain, with four distinct peaks that remind me of a crown. Three of the four are higher than 6000 m. I had seen it up close when I decended neighboring Pisco (5722m), but it looks just as beautiful from further away. Finally, to the northwest lie the very steep and dangerous Chacraraju twins, also topping out over 6000m. As if defying gravity, the snow somehow sticks to the near vertical face - which seriously adds to the danger, for occasionally it comes tumbling down.
All in all, that makes eight peaks over 6000m close by - and then I'm not even starting on the rest! It sure is a magical place, the Cordillera Blanca, and there is hardly a better place to enjoy it than on top of of a mountain. Not necessarily the highest ones, mind you – looking up and around from the top of the somewhat lower ones can make at least as big of an impression.
Along the way I picked up the stake – as I was climbing down, I could see a reflection in the sun from far above. By the time we were together again, we weighed our options. Because it was not quite as steep anymore, we agreed that we didn't need to rappel the bottom part of the slope after all, we could both climb down.
By the time we reached the gentler slopes of he glacier, Eric was tired. I have to admit that I pressed on a bit, thinking that we still had a chance of making it to Yungay. We did all right on the descent, but were not quite fast enough.
By three o'clock we were back at our tent. Eric still thought we would pack up and continue, but I replied that it was too late for that. I reckoned that if we would pack up right away, we might make it to the trailhead somewhere after five o'clock – given that we were tired, it would probably be closer to six. Now that may not seem very late, but with the short days of the tropics that would put us there around sunset, and I reckoned it would be difficult to get a lift by then – if there would be any traffic at all that late. And while we could put up our tent again at the trailhead, there would be no water anywhere near.
As I started filtering water and preparing dinner, Eric lay down in our tent to have a rest. Once horizontal, he realized how tired he really was; he didn't even have the energy to take his socks off. Almost two hours later he came out, to drink and eat a little, before quickly going back to rest again. In hindsight it was no surprise, really. After only a week or so in Peru, he wasn't nearly as well acclimatized as I was.
A bumpy ride back
Shortly before 10 we were on the move again, and, well rested and well fed, we reached the trailhead in less than two hours. We waited for half an hour, hoping to catch a ride. However, while there were a few vehicles on the road, they were all going uphill, the wrong way! So maybe we should hike down instead? We had enough time for that, but it would take the better part of the afternoon to get to Cebollapampa, where I expected a taxi would be easy to find.
We felt energetic enough, so instead of just sitting around, we started moving. Mostly we followed the gently descending winding road. Occasionally we chose a steeper route, sometimes following some sort of a trail, sometimes not. The sparse vegetation didn't pose any problems, but the steepness limited our options.
After a while, we spotted a truck coming down the road, still far away, and we headed back to the road. Sure enough, for a small fee we could get a ride.Five other tourists and two Peruvian kids were already in the open back of the truck, but there was plenty of room for more. It was a very bumpy ride down to Yungay, from about 4600m to 2550m, and, taking two hours, quite slow as well, but who cares. By 3 o'clock we were back in civilization and we didn't have to do anything special that day - except to pop in at the police station.
Despite this incident, I always felt that Peru was a relatively safe place to travel. Sure, there is a bit of crime going on, but as long as you make a few inquiries about where it's safe to go and what places to avoid, you'e usually fine. You can still get unlucky, as Eric did, but that can happen to anyone in just about any country in the world. Apart from a little bit of corruption, the only noteworthy mishap that I fell victim to myself was getting separated from my rain jacket early on in my long trip – and I never found out if it got stolen or if I forgot it somewhere myself.
The story continues here: Is there a mutated strain of contagious summit fever on Huascarán?
Notes The Andes - A guide for climbers, John Biggar. 3rd edition, 2005. ISBN 0953608727
 Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, Brad Johnson. 2009 revised edition. ISBN 9780975860618.