The trip began with parking the car at the office, dragging baggage by metro to National Airport, and flying to Newark and then Lima. At the Lima airport, Fernando picked me up and took me to the hotel in Miraflores. The next morning he picked me up at the hotel and drove me to the bus station for the ride to Huaraz. The bus seemed to get out of Lima a bit faster this year, but it still took about 3 hours to get up the coast (overcast and a bit foggy as usual). After that it's a long climb up numerous switchbacks to 13,000 ft. (4,000 m.); the sun comes out and it warms up as you get up from the coast. Once at the top of the Cordillera Negra, it is a couple of hours gradually downhill along the Rio Santa to Huaraz at about 10,000 ft. (3,000 m.). The valley starts out as high grassy plains (called puna) with a slight ridge to the west and the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Blanca to the east. As you go down the valley, the river gradually gets bigger and cuts into the plains, the valley becomes more pronounced with high hills to the east and the ridge to the west becomes a mountain ridge. Once in Huaraz, I was met by the folks from Skyline Adventure School
and escorted to my hotel (Olaza's).
For the first day's hike I rode out to a village called Coyllur and then hiked up on a ridge above it. My guide for the day's hike was an Austrian named Claudio, who was building a climbing wall on the back of the Skyline office/house. We got up to about 12 or 13,000 ft. (3,600 or 4,000 m.) and hiked through and around a sizable patch of woods, passing farms and wheat fields. There was a pre-Inca ruin on the ridge top, buried or more likely built into the ground. Ruins from the Wari period seem to be everywhere in the valley (the Callejon de Huaylas). As we were coming back, kids playing in the fields down below us started hollering and giggling and Claudio laughed and hollered something back to them. He explained that the local children are told a story about the pishtaco
, which is some sort of white boogey-man who catches little children and drains their blood and sells it to the miners. The children were saying that I was the pishtaco and Claudio was telling them that he was the pishtaco and that he fried little children and ate them for breakfast. These may have been the same children we gave our leftover candy to at the end of the hike.
The second day we rode past Coyllur out to a village called Jancu and hiked up toward Nevado Huamashraju. I was joined by the two other guys who would be climbing Yanapaccha, Chris and Connor, and one of the mountain guides, Sam. We started out following a herd of sheep, but eventually got around them and left them in a pasture not too far from the village. We hiked toward a ridge and then headed up it toward the mountains. We got to some smooth granite rocks that were a bit too steep for me to climb, but Chris and Connor got quite a way up in the rocks. We probably got up to about 15,000 ft. (4,600 m.), which, in the Cordillera Blanca, is only the beginning of the mountains.
Day three was checking out the boots and crampons and practicing ice-climbing and glacier techniques at Pastoruri with Tyler, our other mountain guide. It was also more acclimitization, since the Pastoruri glacier is at 16,000 ft. (5,000 m.) and above. On the way back, as we went through Quebrada Pastoruri we saw Puya Raimondii plants in bloom; they are a relative of the pineapple and the flower spike on them can get to be 40 ft. (12 m.) tall although the ones we saw were only about 20 ft. (6 m.). We also saw some Andean geese and Andean coots; Quebrada Pastoruri is mostly a grassy valley with a stream (Rio Pumapampa) through it that has marshes and lakes along it.
Heading to Base Camp
On day four we loaded up our gear and headed for our base camp. We had two guides and one cook for the three of us. It was market day in Yungay so we stopped and wandered around looking at all of the things that people had brought in from the countryside to sell. While we were out wandering, the driver had found a porter for us and he knew some other guys we could hire. We stopped at his village on the way to base camp and he ran from house to house until we had four porters to carry the gear up to the camp. Then we got back in the van and headed up to the mountains. The road took us up toward a high pass, called Portachuelo Llanganuco, where we got out at about 15,000 ft. (4,600 m.), had lunch and then started hiking. At first the trail contoured around a rocky ridge next to the road and then it headed up a steep ravine covered with Ichu grass, which grows 2 ft. (0.6 m.) or so tall in large clumps of spiky blades. Near the top of the ravine, we climbed out the opposite side and contoured some more before climbing up over boulders to a stream that took us to a lake and our camping area just beyond it. The camping area was muddy in spots and rocky in others, but we managed to scrape out enough area to set up the tents. Our cook, Umbaldo, had brought some fresh trout which he put in some snow just outside the cooking and eating tent and we marked the spot with a wand . Dinner was aji de gallina (pieces of chicken cooked in a cream sauce that has cheese and aji pepper - mild yellow pepper – in it and is served with boiled potatoes). The night was clear and there were tons of stars visible, but the Cruz del Sur (Southern Cross) was hidden behind the surrounding mountains.
Day five was more glacier practice. We got to sleep a bit late and had huevos rancheros (scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, etc.) for breakfast. To get to the glacier we had to climb up and over the lateral moraine and then back down the other side. Then we had to put on the crampons (bending over to your feet doesn't help with the breathing) and climb up the edge of the glacier. The guides belayed us on the rope as we climbed up to the glacier. After that we mostly just walked around on the glacier, practicing using the crampons and ice axes, practicing self-arrest, and practicing running belays . We also got to see some big crevasses and jump over some small ones. We were pretty beat when we got back to camp. We had the trout for dinner and went to bed early. It was calm and cloudy that night, so it stayed a bit warmer; the stream kept running and the lake didn't ice over on top.
Day six was summit day! I got up at 2 am and was climbing with Tyler by 3; the other guys (being 30-somethings) got to sleep until 3 and start at 4. It wasn't very cold starting out (although it snowed a tiny bit), but I knew that when we got on the glacier it would be very cold. I was wearing two pairs of long johns (expedition weight plus regular weight) under my pants and one short-sleeve plus two long-sleeve undershirts under my fleece shirt and goretex jacket. Climbing over the rocks I got a bit warm, but that didn't last long. We were still using the headlamps when we started up the glacier, but there was a good moon and gradually it got lighter. At dawn we had gotten high enough to see Chopicalqui, Huascaran Sur, and Huascaran Norte; all over 20,000 ft. (6,000 m.) and very impressive. As the slope steepened we began to see Chris, Connor, and Sam below us. By the time we got near the really steep part (from 45 up to 60 degrees) they had almost caught up and I got a short rest as we waited for them. As I rested I got colder so I added the insulated jacket and replaced the gloves with warmer ones.
We then were all roped together with Tyler and Sam in the lead followed by me then Connor and Chris at the end. We did running belays from time to time as we went up and Chris was in the rear because he was the most experienced of the three of us, and was the logical one to remove the snow stakes. We had to jump a couple of crevasses, which was kind of hairy and then it really got steep and the climbing technique changed: we went from flat-footing to front-pointing. I was using the ice-axe like a pick at first, but the guides told me to grab it by the head and stab it in dagger-style, which was much easier. Every now and then the slope dropped back to 45 degrees or so and you could stand with one foot flat and the other on the front points. I've had times when I had to stop to catch my breath, and I've had times when I had to stop and rest my legs, but this was the first time that I had to stop from time to time to rest my arms. We climbed about 5 to 600 ft. (150 to 180 m.) at a 60 degree slope!
Eventually we got to the summit ridge (17,913 ft. – 5,460 m.), and the guides set up a group of anchors for us to tie in to. I stood facing the ridge and peered down the other side at the road that leads through the Portachuelo Llanganuco about 3,000 ft. (900 m.) below. From where my feet were up to my waist, the summit was nothing but ice; my feet were at the top of the rock that was holding it up! Then I decided to climb up on the ridge – just to sit, not to stand. It was about as wide as a big horse. We took some pictures, but soon it got foggier, and was nearly a total whiteout.
Because of the whiteout conditions the guides decided we needed to get down as quick as possible. The procedure was to tie the two ropes together and then we would all three downclimb with a prussik loop as a backup. Going down the steep part was a lot faster and easier than going up it. Sam went down ahead of us with the end of the rope and Tyler stayed at the upper end to remove the anchors and then downclimbed without the rope. We did two double rope lengths of 400 ft. (120 m.) each. After that we roped up again and just walked. We had to go quickly so that we would be off the glacier before the snow warmed up too much; that's when seracs topple over and the snowbridges over the crevasses soften up. Fortunately, the near whiteout continued all the way down, which meant that we didn't roast in the sun (and reflected sun). We were back at camp by noon, and mostly just collapsed for a bit after getting all of the gear and excess clothes off (you just can't relax in plastic double boots). Ted, the head guide at Skylkine, had arrived while we were climbing and had another client with him and Umberto, the cook from my trip last year. We had lomo saltado for dinner (strips of beef, stir fried with tomatoes, onions, and spices and served over french fries).
And, by the way, a large thank you is in order for the guides and my climbing partners. The guides were extremely efficient, informative, and supportive and I couldn't have asked for better cheerleaders than Chris and Connor - they were hell bent on seeing to it that I got to the top!
The next day we packed up and hiked down to Cebollapampa after a breakfast of tortilla verdura, which is a sort of vegetable and mushroom omelet (Peru doesn't have tortillas like Mexico; in Peru a tortilla is an omelet of sorts). The porters showed up and packed up whatever we hadn't already packed and carried it out to the road where a van took them down to Cebollapampa to meet us. We took the scenic route: a trail that led through a valley with streams, waterfalls, and quenual trees and ended at Cebollapampa. We shared a beer in the cooking tent before Connor, Chris, and Sam headed back to Huaraz.
After a night's rest at Cebollapampa (down at 13,000 ft. – 4,000 m.) we packed up again and headed up to Pisco base camp (at about 15,000 ft. – 4,600 m.). This time it was just Tyler, Umbaldo and me, with burros to carry the gear and all the time we needed to get there. The day was sunny and warm a good bit of the time and the trail has some scenic views and it passes some interesting flowers and trees. One flower that is abundant is the lleqllish aster, which has a large daisy-like flower (white petals and a yellow center) that grows flat on the ground surrounded by long thin gray-green leaves. By evening it had gotten cloudy, and it always gets cold once the sun goes down, so it was early to bed again.
In the morning we packed up again for the trip up to moraine camp (at about 16,000 ft. – 4,900 m.). We had a porter to help carry the gear and he wouldn't let me carry hardly anything. To get to moraine camp, you first have to scale an old lateral moraine. Once you get up it, you have to go back down the other side to a rock covered glacier. Both sides of this moraine are incredibly steep and are held in place by the interlocking effect of the various sizes of rocks, fragments, etc. Once over the moraine, you have to rock-hop across the glacier and then go up the moraine on the other side of it. Moraine camp is on a flat spot up near the top of this second lateral moraine. There was a French guy camping by himself at moraine camp and Tyler and Umbaldo had an interesting conversation with him. The French guy got quite upset when he learned that in Peruvian parlance, he was termed a gringo. It seems that in Peru (except maybe in Lima), anyone who has light skin and light colored eyes is a gringo; not just Norteamericanos as in Mexico. Gringo is not in any way derogatory, though, in Peru.
Once again it was up at 2:00 AM and climbing by about 3:00. Also once again, there were many boulders (about an hour's worth) to climb over to get to the glacier. But this time, we didn't need to climb up the edge of the glacier, we just stepped onto it. It snowed lightly as we made our way up to the Pisco-Huandoy Col and it continued for a while after that. The going was fairly easy after Yanapaccha: all of the slopes less than 30 degrees, except for maybe 20 ft. (6 m.) or so of 60 degrees. At one point it started to clear up and we could see the Huandoys, Artesonraju, Pyramide, and other nearby peaks. Then it started to get foggy and gradually turned to a whiteout. When we go to the summit, the only way we could tell we were there was by looking down and seeing that the snow sloped down in every direction, although the GPS's elevation reading certainly hinted that we were at the summit (officially 18,870 ft. – 5,752 m.). Once again the whiteout continued most of the way back down to moraine camp, which again spared us the heat that you can get on a glacier in the sun. Once at moraine camp we rested for a bit and then started packing up for the trip back to base camp. This time I was glad to have the porter carry as much as he wanted. I was really tired by the time it got dark so I went to bed extra early. I woke up in the middle of the night and had to knock an inch (25 mm.) of wet snow off the tent before I could head out to the privies, but most of the snow was gone in the morning.
We packed up at Pisco base camp and headed down to Cebollapampa with burros carrying the gear. From there it is a short walk to the road where the van was waiting to take us back to Huaraz. Tyler had sushi for lunch, which I passed up in favor of empanadas. Back in Huaraz we unloaded at Skyline's gear shed and I went on to Olaza's and got cleaned up (first shower and shave in a week). After some souvenir and gift shopping and repacking I met the group for dinner at Cafe Andino; Sam was off trekking with some friends from the U.S., but Jenn, Ted, Cole (Jenn and Ted's baby boy), Tyler, Chris, and Connor were there and we had a great dinner. The next morning I ran around doing a bit more shopping and then took the afternoon bus to Lima. After getting checked in at the airport, I had time to do a bit more last minute shopping at the gift shops (more expensive than Huaraz, but still often a bargain) and duty-free shop. I also decided that the restaurant in the airport would be a good place to try the seviche and I was right; it was great.
I was 2 for 2 on the climbs and extended my personal altitude record by another 1,000 ft. (300 m.) or so. I decided that I also probably topped out as far as skill level is concerned. I think if I tried anything harder than Yanapaccha it could be dangerous. I still might go back again though; there are some good treks that I could do and maybe I can find an easy 20,000 ft. (6,000 m.) peak to do. The people there are very friendly, the food is great, and everything is fairly inexpensive, but I still haven't seen Machu Picchu so maybe next time I'll have to head over toward Cusco.
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