Preview and Preparation
The following year I returned to the United States to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. I was a bit worried about being able to do the whole thing, because the whole way through the Sierras, the trail goes over snow covered passes. I bought crampons and borrowed an ice axe, but didn't get a chance to practice with them before the hike. I figured that when we got to the first snow covered slope, I would be able to practice, but there was really no opportunity to on the way up Forester, our first pass. When we got to the top and started down the other side, we were faced with lots of snow on a steep slope, and it was too dangerous to practice there. I never did get to practice self-arrest, but did carry the ice axe through the Sierras, and fortunately never needed to use it in an emergency. I lost my crampons a few days later, having never used them either.
Before returning to Peru, I bought an ice axe and new crampons, knowing that I would need them for Solimana. I had been in touch with Carlos and Hugo, my climbing friends that I did Coropuna with, and we made plans to climb Solimana shortly after I returned. After a few changes in the schedule, we finally had firm plans to make the climb on November 11th. I had already returned to Cotahuasi, and Carlos and Hugo would be coming from Lima. They were to be going to Coropuna on the Reyna bus, and I was to meet them at Visca Grande, the closest place on the road to the base of Solimana, at about 2:30 am. I wasn't sure exactly where Visca Grande was, so I left Cotahuasi early to give me time to find it, as well as to find a way to drive as close as possible to the start of our climb. We had basic directions from a trip report on Summit Post, as well as a copy of a topo map of the area.
Meeting my Friends, Getting Ready to Climb
In the morning, we drove towards Cotahuasi to the intersection of the other road, and then started driving back towards Solimana. The road curves a lot, so for awhile it looked like we were as close as we could get, but we went a little farther, and after going around a curve, we started getting closer to the mountain again. We soon saw the small Soro River, that the report had said was the landmark to follow as the approach route. We parked the car and started to prepare our gear for the hike. It is very remote area, off the main road, so it seemed like a safe place to leave the car for two days.
Carlos and Hugo are both members of Camycam, A Lima based mountain climbing club, and both had experience in snow and ice climbing in the Huaraz area. They were also carrying all of the technical climbing gear; all I had was my crampons and a regular ice axe, in addition to trekking poles. I offered to carry more of the gear; they did give me a snow anchor.
You can read Carlos' report in Spanish here
The Hike to Base Camp
We were making slow but steady progress, and stopped for lunch at a large boulder where we surveyed the climb ahead of us. After a nice break, I again led the way up the broad ridge, hoping to get as close as possible to the glacier to set up our base camp. I was getting quite a bit ahead of the other two, but we had two-way radios and they were in communication with me, so I continued on to scout out the best route. About 4:00 pm Carlos radioed that they were too tired to go any farther, and were going to go down to the stream, to camp near the water. I was right at the base of a cliff so decided to leave my pack there and climb up to get a better view, and explore a little farther.
It was a fairly easy trail, still on a broad ridge, but was getting steeper, and by now I was above 16,000 feet, so had slowed down quite a bit as well. I went a ways to where I got a good view of the rest of the approach, and then turned around at about 4:45 to go back and meet my partners at the base camp, at 15,865 feet. I arrived there with enough time to get my tent set up, get water, and have dinner before dark. Hugo and Carlos were feeling better after having stopped early to rest, so we went to bed early, planning on a 4:00 am start.
Another factor was that the normal route to the summit is a snow climb up a steep ravine, and we could see that there was no snow on the route. We thought about crossing the glacier to the base of the summit wall, just to look at it closer up. I walked out on the glacier a ways to see what it was like; it was really slow going due to all the penitentes. Along the edge of the glacier was a very steep slope, and it was very difficult to traverse along that in the loose gravel. We agreed it would be foolish to try to continue to the summit, and there didn't seem to be much point in expending the effort just to get to the other side of the glacier, so we headed back to camp. The final decision was to wait for better conditions on Solimana and move on to Ampato. After arriving there, we packed up and headed back to the car, arriving there about 4:00 pm.
Oh Oh, More Problems
I took everything out of my pack except my warm clothes, sleeping bag, a little food and my headlight, and headed cross-country towards the main road. I was hoping that someone might be heading to Cotahuasi and I could get a ride part way. Otherwise, I had the choice of walking all the way to Cotahuasi or waiting for the Alex or Reyna bus to pick me up about 3:00 am. After about 1½ hours of walking, I got to the main road and started towards Cotahuasi. Another 1½ hours later, I arrived at the rim of the canyon, where there was a small concrete block building. At this point, I was really tired, after about 15 hours of hiking. I also had only been on the steep trail down to Cotahuasi once, which was a couple of years before, so didn't really want to try going down that in the dark, as tired as I was. Walking down the road was an option of course, but I knew that was at least 13 miles, if not more, and didn't want to do that either. I set my alarm for 30 minutes before my earliest estimate for the bus to go by, and laid down on a bench in front of the building, and tried to get some sleep.
The Alex bus came by first, at about 3 am, so I flagged them down. There were no seats available, so I sat on my pack in the aisle, along with a number of other people. It was about 4:30 before I finally got home, and got to bed. I slept for about three hours, and then got up to go see the mechanic. Of course he was busy, but said he would be able to take me back to my car in a few hours. About four hours later, he was finally ready and we took off in his Ford pickup. He insisted on taking a couple of planks along, saying if he couldn't get the car running up there that he would put it in the back of his truck. I made sure he had a tow strap, knowing that the car wouldn't fit in his truck. We got to the car at about 3:30, and of course my buddies were very relieved to have us finally show up. They had made friends with a couple of young shepherd kids, not knowing why it was taking me so long to return. After about an hour's checking, the mechanic finally gave up, not being able to figure out what was wrong with the car. He still had to measure it to admit that the car wouldn't fit in his pickup, and then started towing us back to Cotahuasi.
It took almost three hours to tow the car back, so it was dark by the time we got to Cotahuasi. We were hoping the car would be fixed by noon the next day, but when we went to check on it, there was no sign of the mechanic, and his garage was locked up. Carlos and Hugo decided to take the afternoon bus to Arequipa, but I wanted to wait and get my car fixed, so they took off without me. They went on and were able to climb Ampato in the next couple of days, and I was able to meet them in Arequipa after they got back from that. It turned out that the fuel injectors were dirty and that caused the computer to shut down the engine, everything was fine after they were cleaned.
I plan on doing some exploratory hikes around Solimana to check the conditions, now that the rainy season is over, and we hope to make another summit attempt in May or June.