Laurie Skreslet, Larry Derby, Joe Duhaime, Tom Marron, and I came to he Yanganuca Lakes from North America in late May. Tom and I had climbed Yanapaccha, and Pisco, on which Joe also accompanied us. Then Tom and I decided to climb Chopicalqui, 20998 ft. There were other climbing parties in the area from different parts of the world: Scotland, Poland, Switzerland, and Germany. Indeed we had reached the Yanganuca Lakes from Huaraz courtesy of the Poles. The Germans, whom we had met and with whom we had talked, were setting out to climb Chopicalqui one day ahead of us. They were an experienced group having climbed Denali in a previous year.
From my journal from 1973
Tom Marron and I started out for Chopicalqui following essentially the route I had reconnoitered two days before. We passed the Germans' camp but their tent was closed up and apparently they had set out yesterday, also for Chopicalqui, as they had said they would. We kept right and about midday we were in a high valley, about 4500 m, surrounded with spine like flowers. Lobelia? We climbed to the crest of the moraine, which forms the east wall of our little valley, and crossed the large rock-covered glacier to the lateral moraine on the other side. We followed this to the highest rocks below the glacier from the Huascaran-Chopicalqui Col, and made camp here at roughly 5100 m.
A little way up the ridge from the col is a rock rib, whose top is at 5666m. Footprints in the snow went up the glacier to the left of this rather than to the col proper. Down in the valley on the east side of the glacier, Tom noted a blue tent, not more than 4400 m in elevation. Who are they?
Since we did not plan to go to the summit today we made no effort to get an early start. About 10 AM we were starting up the glacier following the footsteps of our predecessors, mainly the Germans we suppose, although some footprints are those of a person coming down. This surprises me a little since I would not expect to see Richard and Pietro's (from an earlier ascent) footprints after so long a time. Wands with red tips marked the path up the glacier. Just below the ridge crest we crossed a crevasse on a steep slope. On the ridge we climbed to a gently sloping area, where we leveled the snow for a tent platform and then put up the tent. It was then a little after 1:00 PM and we were at an elevation of roughly 5700 m. I spent the afternoon reading the actor Niven's The Moon's a Balloon, which took me far from this world of peaks and glaciers.
I slept very poorly last night – even worse than the night before. I was warm enough and comfortable enough and had plenty of time to rest. I watched the moon, which was nearly full, through the wall of the tent as it progressed across the night sky. In addition to being clear, it was also quite windy.
We got up a little bit before the sun came up. It was necessary to pack everything including the tent before we started for the summit at 7:40 AM. Still following the tracks in the snow, we came to two Salewa quonset-hut-like tents side by side in the snow just a little above our own site, but out of view so that we had no idea they were there. The tents were closed and quiet. After a long straight gentle section on the broad ridge we came to a somewhat steep section at the top of which there was a snow wall 3 to 4 meters high, which was overhung by about 15o. The previous climbers had gone that way and even cut a notch in the top of the overhang to get up.
Tom tackled the wall immediately. He fell off and slid about 10 feet down the steepening slope on his back headfirst when my belay, which I hadn't expected to need, caught him. He tried again without success. Then I tried; at first I chopped away at the snow and then tried jamming my ice ax in as high up as I could reach but the snow was not quite strong enough to sustain my weight. Finally Tom very graciously offered to give me a boost. First kneeling, then standing on his back, I could easily step into the notch already there and climb up. It couldn't have been very pleasant for Tom as I was wearing crampons. I punctured the water bottle he had in the back of his wind parka with the result that it no longer holds water. Once I was up it was still a bit of problem for Tom who had no one to boost him, though I could give him tension.
Above the snow wall we followed the tracks up a moderate slope and then turned right. We were very much surprised to find three-day packs full of gear together in the snow. Apparently the Germans were not sleeping in their tents when passed them an hour earlier this morning. If the were there, why had they left their daypacks up high? Perhaps they were just a few hours or minutes ahead of us, but out of sight. Some of the tracks had been blown full of snow suggesting the passage of several hours at least. To bivouac beyond this point without even their daypacks they would have had to be in some kind of trouble.
The ridge we climbed joined another coming up from the southeast and we climbed over a false summit and could view the true summit perhaps 50 meters higher. Crossing the low point we threaded our way among 25-cm thick blocks of snow, which had slid down the broad ridge from near the summit. We climbed the short way to the flat summit, which was covered with powdery snow and showed no traces of footprints. It was about 11 AM on a beautiful clear day with a fine view.
We did not feel optimistic about the German climbers and we did not stay on the summit long. Descending the slope to the high saddle we saw a pair of sunglasses perched on the edge of the cornice overlooking the east face of the mountain. This further alarmed us and made us suspect they had been swept over the side when the cornice broke off. The daypacks were still in the same place in the snow on our return and we took one each, leaving one behind, back to their tents. We opened the tents and, as we had feared, no one was there. Continuing down to our own campsite we packed up and descended to the place among the rocks where had spent the night before last. Using the binoculars from the Germans' tent we scanned the face for human figures, but could see nothing definitive. We rested and headed down the moraine and across the glacier to the spot where had lunch the first day and camped there for the night.
We didn't get up until the sun was shining and hiked down to the Germans' base camp, which we packed up moved down next to our own base camp where some one could keep an eye on it and to be close to the road. It was a brilliantly clear sunny day.
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The local police were notified and eventually they appeared in our base camp, no more able to do anything than the rest of us. The next day I hiked up to where a Swiss party was camped. They were very hospitable and I spent the night there and the next day we climbed up to the moraine again and scanned the face with binoculars for a long time but without seeing anything definite. Days later I talked to a relative of one of the lost climbers in the Monterrey Hotel north of Huaraz. I have learned no more about thess unfortunate climbers in the many years since then, though I have often thought about them.