The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit
My wife Cibele and I started at the end of July (2009) a classic Huayhuash circuit. It's a fantastic 11 days trek that takes you clockwise around the beautiful peaks that form the Cordillera Huayhuash These are amazing mountains that you have all the time to admire from all sides, among them the impressive Yerupaya, at 6617m the second highest in Perù, and Siula Grande best known for the events described in 'Touching the Void'. We trekked along gorgeus valleys and up several passes between 4000m and 5000m, observing wildlife such as condors and vicuna, getting used to the sound of regular avalanches tumbling down from the nearby peaks and of course to the altitude that you feel even after few acclimatisation days in Huaraz. The trek itself is definitively worthwile by itself. but it's also an excellent way to acclimatize for some climbs. We chose to try Diablo Mudo (5350m) in the Cordillera Huayhuash, followed by Pisco (5752m) in the Cordillera Blanca.
Here follows the report for the Diablo Mudo climb. First, however, I have to mention our guide Saul Angeles Cruz of Solandino in Huaraz (www.solandino.com), without whom all this would have not been possible. If you are planning to hike or climb in Perù I strongly recommend Saul. He is a very nice person, an exellent logistics organizer and a very very experienced mountain guide. Climbing runs in his family, with his father and uncle writing some of the first pages of what now is the history of andinismo in Perù.
The Diablo Mudo Climb
As we were progressively approaching the end of the trek and Diablo Mudo we started to think about the climb. Saul, who has done the climb many times and had taken three Swiss climbers to the top only few weeks earlier, told us that he wasn't too happy with the standard ruote up. This route departs at laguna Susucocha at 4740m to follow the S side of the Nitishccocha ridge in a SE direction, finally crosses the ridge and approaches the final glacier from the East.
Perhaps due to global warming, the glacier has retracted exposing some rocks of poor quality that require some laborious and slow climbing and expose climbers to the risk of falling rocks. Also, according to Saul, what has now become the standard route involves some gaining and losing of altitude while negotiating the way around the top ridge, a tiring exercise being all above 5000m.
From the top of Diablo Mudo Saul in the past noticed that it looked possible to climb the mountain from the North side, following a narrow valley between the Nitishccocha and the Sueroccocha ridges. In the following nights at camp we studied closely our topographic map. It did look indeed possible. "Shall we try it?" said Saul. "Yes!", we replied excited.
We therefore decided to move the base camp from its usual place near laguna Susucocha to quebrada Angocacha, a couple of hours walk up the valley at around 4450m. Just to be sure, in the afternoon Saul went to scout the route from below and came back confirming that it looked possible.
So we started at 2am, first crossing the pantano in the quebrada and progressively making our way South along the valley, staying mainly on its right (West) side. The ground, a mix of sand and moraine, climbed initially very gradually, an we reached in an hour of so the end of the valley at around 4600m. From there the ground rose steeply and we made our way up crossing diagonally the moraine (moving NE), until we reached a pass at around 5100m. It took us about 3 hours to get to that point and altough still dark we started to see the contours of the mountains around us. Continuing climbing, with the first light approaching we saw below and on our left the laguna Collotta. We continued to climb, without losing altitute aiming for the Nitishccocha ridge high on our right and a gap into it. Here the ground was rather varied, with areas of snow/ice, followed by rocks, followed by areas of sands and small rocks. Fortunately, due to the time of the day, the ground was all frozen and therefore even this later surface wasn't very slippery. After overcoming the ridge through a rocky bit we finally approached the summit glacier which we approached from the East to reach the top. It was now 6.30 am, 4 hours from leaving camp, and we were standing on top of Diablo Mudo while the sun was coming up coloring of pink and orange the higher Huayhuash peaks nearby and the Cordillera Blanca in the distance. A truly magical moment. After few minutes of amazement at the views and a few pictures we started our way down. We retraced our steps on the summit glacier to reach the ridge and from there we went down directly East, trough rock and ice, towards the laguna Collotta and Huacrish. We then joined what I believe is the standard route down, through the Huacrish valley. On our very long way down we encoutered many cows and bulls, not all entirely friendly(!), and few condors flying above until we reached our camp at laguna Jahuacocha at around 4000m and a few deserving beers.
We found this route, which is probably a first, never boring, very interesting and varied. We generally like mixed ground and there was plenty of that. As mentioned before, this route requires very little loss of altitute and we found it non particularly exposed. I guess one must be careful with the sandy and icy parts, particularly when the sun is up. We came down from the top at around 7 am and the ground was already starting to get softer! Perhaps, given the status of the standard route, could this become the preferred route of the future?