Getting Hammered on Alpamayo: The Mountain of my Dreams

Getting Hammered on Alpamayo: The Mountain of my Dreams

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 17, 2014
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Ice Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer

Introduction

I've been fascinated by the Andes since I was a kid, inspired by exciting photographs and stories. Of all the wild places in the world, Alpamayo was my number one goal. In the past Alpamayo was considered "the most beautiful mountain in the world" according to Alpinismus. The idea of climbing the French Direct when I was younger intimidated me pretty heavily. I knew it was something I wanted to do, but never knew if I had what it takes. Years later I get an offer from a friend of mine to go to South America. I had been waiting for this for far too long, I quickly agree to going.

The views were easily some of the best I've ever seen, eye candy at every turn. Amazing scenery comes at a heavy price, this became one of the hardest climbs I've ever done. My 17 day sickness made it even tougher. For me I encountered altitude sickness, passing out, white out, falling ice, throwing up, aching heart, dehydration, hunger, and getting left alone in the dark. The climb was both astonishing and humbling. Not for the faint of heart.

Leading up to the Climb

Getting ready for this trip was a serious under taking in of itself. If I wanted to believe I had a chance at making it, I had to do some very hard training. My knee injury made it rough starting out, for over 5 months my knee couldn't take much. When I stepped up my running to 2.5 miles my knee would give me a hard time. At times I had to experience many moments of surrender. If it wasn't my knee, my heart ache really bad forcing me to stop. It's more painful to me to have to give up because of weakness than to fight out the pain. I didn't have a choice. Fortunately two months before Alpamayo my knee recovered enough so that I could do more intensive training at the edge of what was exceptable. At the end of my runs I would be in pain walking down the stair case, one careful step at a time. I needed a few extra hours of sleep because I was so exhausted. The next night I would go through the process all over again. Why some of us have to train so hard for so little is beyond me. But while I often have so little, I make it go far. Maybe even to the moon.

After touching down in Peru we did some warm up trips such as Laguna 69 and Urus. My sickness forced me to miss out on Tocllaraju and started to effect me on Pisco. Even with Antibiotics and other medicine it took about 17 days to recover. By the time our Alpamayo trip came around I didn't have time to get over my sickness, just enough to wing it. Vincent coordinated the donkey/porter situation with a experienced Peruvian mountain guide. Considering how poor I was at this part of the trip, I don't pay as much as the rest of the team. I still end up spending most of my money ($16).

Matt noticed that I didn't have ice climbing crampons, he looked at me as if I was crazy. "It's the best I got" I smiled back. Vincent let me borrow his filer so that I could sharpen my dull crampons. It may not be much help, but anything at this point is going to be needed for the climb. Because of my helmet set up, I cannot fit my hat and helmet on at the same time. So I decided to save weight on every front that I could. "Let's see, ditch the hat, passport, duct tape, wallet, and thin gloves". I was going minimalist. Those items wouldn't do me much good anyways with my circumstances.

The Approaches

In the morning we quickly had breakfast and brought our climbing gear down to the bottom. To our surprise Vincent announces that he cannot make it. He got a nasty sickness right before heading out and knew that it wouldn't work out for him. We wished him the best and proceeded on to the Santa Cruz valley. At the trailhead we waited a while for the donkey's to be loaded up and be ready to send up the valley. Getting bit from the sand flies wasn't pretty, but at least it was a lot nicer than the cascades. For the rest of the afternoon we hiked up the valley to Llamacorral where we set up camp.

 

The Beginning of the Santa Cruz Valley
The Beginning of the Santa Cruz Valley



Heading Towards Taulliraju
Heading Towards Taulliraju



Taulliraju Rising Sharply over the Valley
Taulliraju Rising Sharply over the Valley



The next day we hiked up the valley to base camp.

Alpamayo with Grassy Slopes
Alpamayo with Grassy Slopes



Pucajirca and Lake Arhuaycocha
Pucajirca and Lake Arhuaycocha



The hike up to Moraine Camp was probably the easiest day of the trip, but still a decent work out.

Windy Alpenglow on Artesonraju
Windy Alpenglow on Artesonraju

 

Going to High Camp

Things get more interesting on day 4 of our trip. We slept in a bit to feel fully rested for the climb to upper camp. It was about a 15 minute walk from moraine camp to the edge of the glacier. After roping up we walk alone the nicely beaten in boot path. It was a beautiful scene to walk on what looked like fresh snow but still have ease of travel.

Heading Towards the Alpamayo Col
Heading Towards the Alpamayo Col



Giant Icicles near the Alpamayo Col
Giant Icicles near the Alpamayo Col



Matt Lemke Leading to the Alpamayo Col
Matt Lemke Leading to the Alpamayo Col

 

Further up the glacier the slopes increased in steepness and eventually required the use of both ice tools. One of the steepest parts of the entire climb is right before the burgshrund below the col. The shrund required a bit of caution to by pass. After a little further beyond this we arrived at the Alpamayo Col. We descended a few hundred feet to the upper camp. The scenery was amazing, we took many photos.

Light Cutting Across Alpamayo
Light Cutting Across Alpamayo

The Beginning of the Climb

I had difficulties sleeping at first that night. I've heard about folks having difficulties sleeping at altitude and thought "surely I'll be too tired". This was pretty much the highest I've ever been, so it was a bit of a shocker to my body. I woke up at 12:40 a.m. trying to get my last 20 minutes of sleep. The excitement was too much, I finally got up and started to get ready. The moon light was shining on the slopes around camp, Alpamayo's face remained a dark shadow in the night. The first hour was pretty mellow getting towards the burgshrund and onto the French Direct. At the shrund we take a break and set up for the first pitch. Matt decides to lead. As Matt is climbing I get a quick chit chat with the Brits who approached us from behind. Mark was annoyed and told me to be quiet due to wanting to hear what was going on with Matt. I get the screaming barfees as I'm waiting. I do a little dance to get the circulation and feeling back in my hands/feet.

We were both belayed at the same time to save time. Half way through the pitch I notice the slack building up big time. I realize that something is very wrong with this situation, so we decided to free solo the rest of the pitch. Matt looks incredibly wasted by the time we arrive to him. The water he drank the previous night made him temporarily sick. He knew there was no way he would make it with how he felt (normally he would do great with this kind of stuff). The Brits generously delay him down in exchange for a double rope rappel on the way down the route. After asking me if I was willing to proceed, Mark takes the lead. As the early morning light comes in I lead about half a pitch. Once I arrived at the water ice section I knew I had no business leading considering I have very limited experience in placing ice screws. It took a bit longer than expected to setup an anchor because the snow was rotten in a few places. Finally I find a bomber anchor spot that takes way less time to set up.

Getting Hammered

As the sun flares pink light on the peaks behind us I announce to Mark "check out the views behind you". "Your not taking this seriously" he replies. If I'm not supposed to enjoy the scenery on a mountain, what am I doing here? I didn't waste any time considering that he was being belayed when I mentioned the beautiful moment. From here on out Mark led the rest of the pitches which I greatly appreciated. As we climbed higher I kept getting the sensation of fear and excitement. I've never climbed anywhere near this high before and I haven't done pitches like these. I accidentally knocked a piece of ice down the face, from that moment onward I was a lot more careful about what I placed my ice tools in.

I didn't want to risk hurting the team below us. I often had to choose bad placements in order to not risk knocking more ice down. Some ice was great, and some had a bit of air in it.

The climbing was becoming quite physically demanding, I could feel my heart aching from the altitude and strain. The clouds rolled in around us and before long we were in a white out. There were moments were one of my feet would slip a bit freaking me out a bit. "Don't fall here" I kept thinking as I used quality ice tool placements. The route was more technical than I expected, at times I felt that maybe I'm out of my league climbing here. Regardless to the thoughts that passed by, I was absolutely driven to go as far as I could go. The pitches get steeper and the altitude starts to really take its toll. What I've learned in my years of experience is that sometimes one has to go to unreasonable bounds to make their dreams come true.

As I gaze into the white sky I get into a dream like state. Suddenly I am woken up by sound and fury, whizzing ice coming down on me. With a bit more climbing we arrive at last to the final pitch. I pass out again without even knowing it.

The cold pierces through my fingers begging me to warm them up. I had my hand on the brake the whole time while this went on. The final pitch was 70 degree ice while feeling hammered. If the summit was another 300 feet away, I certainly would have bailed. Each step was a new crux, my heart was racing so fast, and tiredness was starting to over take me. I knew that if I held on just a little longer I would summit this thing and get on with getting down. After pushing hard I arrive on the summit. I am struck by amazement and fear. "Thank you so much for leading" I announce to Mark. I brought up my heavy camera but couldn't take a single photo. Even if I could, I was a bit worried about getting down.

Get me out of here!

I had to take the first rappel slow in order to let the Brits pass and reduce the amount of snow that I knocked down. We went back and forth between us and the Brits to save time for them and make the workflow efficient. After many exhausting rappels we made it safely back to the Burgshrund. The snow was much softer by this point. As I down climbed the steep snow I slipt and did a swift arrest. I was pleased to see that even when I'm very tired on steep ground I still have good reflexes. I looked around the snowfield for an ice screw which I didn't find, but did however find Mark's belay device.

Back at camp I tried to make haste to get down as fast as possible. I was so tired that my packing speed was much slower. I was still very dehydrated and still could not drink anything. Matt and Mark went ahead to the col while I packed the rest of my gear. It was so tiring to hike up to the col, I kept having to take little rests. When I got to the col, the sun had already set. It was Mark's turn to rappel down. Below him I saw a cloud deck and boy was it gloomy. You could literally say that he was descending into darkness. One of the coolest things I've ever seen. I was still feeling quite awful. A moment later I start throwing up again and again. As I wait for Mark to go off rappel I pass out unintentionally. The Brits help me to realize that Mark would not be able to communicate when he is off rappel. I feel the rope and sure enough he is off. Half way down the rappel it's true night, I had to be careful with crossing the shrund. Once I was off rappel we waited for the Brits to be done with the rope. We did another rappel at another location to speed up the travel.

This is where things start getting really messed up. With the rappels being over we could finally start walking down the glacier. My heart was still aching. In short it was a tough descent.

The next morning we head on out down the valley and back to Horez. Wow, what a trip!



Comments

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Viewing: 1-4 of 4
Scott

Scott - Aug 26, 2014 9:29 am - Hasn't voted

Huarez?

The next morning we head on out down the valley and back to Horez.

Not sure, but do you mean Huarez?

Matt Lemke

Matt Lemke - Aug 30, 2014 9:15 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Huarez?

Scott...It's actually spelled Huaraz

Scott

Scott - Sep 2, 2014 12:12 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Huarez?

Doh! I knew that. Typo. Aaargh.

We should all plan to climb Hvannadalshn├║kur (highest mountain in Iceland) and all write separate trip reports and see how many different spellings we get.

EricChu

EricChu - Oct 21, 2014 3:27 pm - Voted 10/10

Great trip report!

Very alive and gripping, how you wrote your story, Josh! I can just imagine what that must have taken to get up there and back...Hope you're recovering well from your climbing accident!
All my best wishes to you,
Eric

Viewing: 1-4 of 4

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