Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 19, 2009
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Winter

Pisco to acclimitize

pictures and video can be found at

6/18/09 Peru

The Beginning: (a summary of john quillen and brian moran's ascent of pisco and huascaran)

It was an opportunity of a lifetime. Travel to Peru and climb some tall peaks. Indeed, the Cordillera Blanca is like the mini Himalaya. Climbers from all over the world converge on this place to rope up and tackle any number of various peaks from simple high altitude walk ups to serious big wall ice climbs. As for us, our goal was simple. Undergo an acclimatization program ultimately ending on Huascaran Sur, the highest peak in Peru and fifth highest in South America. When we landed in Lima, we would board our bus to Huaraz the following morning. This meant a fitful night of sleep on the floor of the airport. Our bus ride was eight hours and it was the most nauseating ride in the world. Four hours of it were through curves that resembled the dragon on 129.

We arrived in Huaraz and were escorted to our hotel. The staff was very friendly, money goes a long way in South America. For 40 bucks a night, we had primo accommodations, probably the second nicest place in town. The owner, a Norwegian, made friends with us and invited us on an acclimatization hike up to lake Chirrup the following day. It was an offer to good to refuse as we had considered this as a great warm up to Pisco anyway. Lake Chirrup and Mt. Chirrup are in the 14k to 16k foot range. It took us a few hours to gain the lake and it was a beautiful sight in the shadow of Mt. Chirrup. I seemed to do real well with the altitude, Brian chewed his coca leaves for acclimatization. In fact, we were served coca tea immediately upon arrival in Huaraz. Another interesting side note is that we went to the pharmacy to secure emergency high altitude medications. We were immediately handed zanax. You can secure most anything in Peru, for a price. We skipped on the zanax.

Getting to Chirrup involved a 1.5 hour bus ride that the owner had chartered from the hotel for his friends from Lima. They were in marginal shape and we spent a lot of time waiting on them at the bus, three hours to be exact. I don't think they had much business at that altitude in that kind of shape and didn't seem real apologetic for making everyone wait either. Nonetheless, we were very happy with the trial run and our bodies ability to handle the heights.

The next day we planned to secure a cab over to Yuangay and proceed over to Cebollopampa and begin our ascent of Pisco. At 19000 feet, Pisco is an often climbed mountain with some real alpine glacier travel and crevasse negotiating. The thing about Peru is you can never trust anyone's word or a bit of info on Summit Post. From the beginning on Pisco, our packs were every bit of 75 lbs. Brian and I were prepared to carry it all ourselves to the moraine camp. Early that morning, I became somewhat stomach sick and the three hour dirt road cab ride didn't help things very much. I dosed up on medicine and made it to Cebollopampa where fortunately, the mules were waiting to haul our equipment to the moraine camp. I was elated. Yes, it felt like cheating but my stomach was acting up it and seemed a Godsend.

Summit Post told me that it was a 2 hour walk up to the Refugio at Pisco. What ensued was the most hellish hike of my life. As you can imagine, the medicine had worn off and the illness was now in full swing. Without going into too much detail, I will suffice it to say that I could take no more than 20 steps before having to accommodate the expulsion of fluids from my body. Which end depended on the vagaries of the "Duchess", a.k.a. my stomach. I have taken to naming her that because she is such a precarious, fickle and attention seeking little royal pain that rears her head anytime I am in dire straits and need for her to behave. All my travels to a foreign country of less hygienic repute have been impacted by the Duchess' royal temperament. This situation was no different. Why could this not have waited until I gained the Refugio? By now, Brian and the Burros were gone, along with all my gear, water, jacket and medicines. 20 steps, stop, expel fluids, march on. Praying for the strength to make the Refugio, I had no choice. Retreat was not an option. Brian had moved on. All I wished for now was water. I was parched. I had 3000 feet to climb. What Hell this was going to be. At one point, I stopped to have another episode and a descending group of climbers gave me wide berth. I recognized the face of one of them, it was the guy we spoke with in town at one of the outfitters shops. He looked at me in horror. Another Italian patted me on the back and told me to descend, that I was altitude sick. I explained that it was not altitude, I had a stomach bug and he marched on. I appreciated his gesture. I have been in situations resembling this before. I have learned to practice every precaution in my travels to avoid such incidents. I had the right medicines, vaccinations and ate no questionable foods. In Ecuador, I made the mistake of putting my toothbrush into the tap water. That's all it took. No such deal here. All bottled water, the best restaurants in town, everything. How did this get me and not Brian? That little princess went out of her way to find the bad stuff on this trip. Several hours into the death march came a reprieve. That guy pictured above was descending. I was sitting on a rock heaving my guts out and he wheeled the burro around for me to mount. It could have been a cat and I would have boarded. There's an old saying in N.A and A. A. You can't save your face and your ass at the same time. I was glad that the ass saved my face on this one. As I rode him the last mile to the Refugio, I literally fell off him onto the ground. It was a rough ride, considering all the factors. (burros that did double duty for JQ)

When I fell off the burro, I stumbled into the Refugio in search of my backpack. I immediately pulled out my down clothing and set to work crawling inside of it. The fever was on and I was trembling with the cold. I stumbled into the kitchen area and pulled the hood over my head. I was in another world at 15000 feet. Survival was my only goal. Someone helped me to the bunk upstairs and put me in my sleeping bag with a hot water bottle and a bucket next to my sleeping bag. For the next 12 hours I was in a daze of hallucinogenic fog. At one point, Brian felt my head and proclaimed that I was hotter than a stove although I was ensconced in the down clothing and down sleeping bag. I don't remember much over the next day or two, finally waking up long enough to go to the bathroom. I drank some water. Life returned to my body again and I became very warm now. The fever had broken, I might live. By now, Brian was summit focused and forced food on my to get my mind headed in that direction. I told him there was no way I was going for the summit now. I understood his frustration but I was sick. He was pushing me to get well and that just wasn't going to happen because he was in a hurry for the summit. We waited another day and I began to eat and drink. Another day made the world of difference in addition to the cipro dosages. Yes, I might live. Climbing was another story. We would work on the ascent of Pisco in the morning.

During my illness, the impatient brian had scouted a route through the moraine to the summit, or so I thought. As you can see, the moraine is a real pain in the butt. Several hours of scrambling in the dark and light for a trail so faint you couldn't see it unless you have hiked it.

(this is a pic of the part of the moraine trail, can you imagine finding it in the dark? It proceeds out of the pic on the left, over that big hill to the Refugio for miles)

Through no fault of Brian's, we got lost on our alpine start. I certainly had no inclination of the trail direction. My only focus for those days was not dying. We stumbled around in a snow storm trying to crawl over icy rocks and possibly see a trail. This was a true exercise in futility. When I continue, I will share the story of our time on the glacier and near Pisco's summit flanks. Stay posted, it is worth reading.

Part 2: The Pisco Attempt:

We decided to embark at 1 am and that was a wise decision given the difficulties were were destined to encounter. Losing the ability to follow any headlamps through the moraine field briefly characterized above, we scrambled until hopelessly lost at 3 am. When we started, the snow was light, by the time we crested the hill, the snow was sticking to any surface making our rock hopping even more interesting. We would follow a trail only to see it peter out, retrack to the point of departure and head another way. I realized the futility of this course and suggested we wait until headlamps appeared. The folks behind us had the good sense not to follow our stupid souls and I convinced Brian of the notion of following them. Sometimes pride is a strong thing but he eventually relented and we were no on the crest of the moraine, hopefully headed for the glacier at a somewhat late hour of 5.30 am, four and a half hours after departing from the refugio at 15,500 feet. Things were now in line. We were headed up to the glacier.

The sun crested the summit of Pisco and lifted our spirits. Unfolding before us was the lip of the glacier with (beginning of glacier)

several footpaths crossing a few smaller crevasses. We took some time roping up and doing security checks and it was off to the races. I noticed that the altitude was definitely taking some effect upon me as my breathing was very labored. I was gasping for air. (I now realize it was a cumulative effect of dehydration and just being weakened from the illness the days before our summit attempt.) Brian would take a few steps and pull the rope, I would lean over my ice axe and gasp like my head had been underwater. Either way, we were making progress up the glacier. Each new hill presented another new snow hill. The hill climbing was endless. If you have ever wondered why you don't get to see the steep stuff in climbing videos, this is the reason. While exerting like that, the last thing on your mind is any extraneous videography. Breathing is critical. It must have been about 8 am when we got to the end of the foottracks. We knew that several teams were above us and indeed the summit was in sight. We began to question our choice of routing. Were these old tracks? Had we somehow missed a turn in the low light and been following an old route? We proceeded onward. It certainly had to be a matter of distance and they had been moving quite rapidly, those danged Germans.

We would crest a steep snow slope only to be presented with another steep snow slope. As I peered over towards the summit, I noticed we were going around the horn, so to speak and coming up the rear flank of the mountain. That is always the way things go in the mountains, large or small. You can look at the summit and assume that the route will follow the most circular and lenghty clip to the top. It looked like I could throw a rock and hit the top. We stopped again. Now we were making our own tracks. In retrospect, the previous footracks had just been covered by the windblown snow. We stopped for a break. I remember cursing. Then we were enveloped. Not just kind of covered in a cloud, but totally enveloped in white. I could not see Brian on the rope ahead of me. It was a total whiteout. Time now was about 9 am. Our decision was made. Brian mentioned something about a turn around time. I told him, this is it. He knew what we had to do. Descend.

(whiteout on Pisco)

Getting down from mountains is usually a very simple chore. The amount of energy required versus the alternative is minimal and each descending step ensures restored vitality to lungs, legs and heart. I can literally, skip down a mountain. However, the Germans still managed to pass us. Those long legged, genetically superior alpinists. Or should I say, Andinists. Yes, that is a new word that entered my lexicon in Peru. Apparently, if you climb down there you are not an alpinist but an andinist. Rock on andinistas. They let us know that we were very close to the summit but it was a "son of a bitch" in their broken english cresting the lip of the top as there was a nice little crevasse to gain before the "cumbre". I know they were in their twenties but it seemed like second nature to them.

(the top we never made)

When we returned to the lip where the glacier meets moraine, we took a long break and stared back at the summit which was now clear and unfolding in all her glory to spite us. Someone said a discouraging word and someone made a vulgar gesture in her general direction. Pisco my rear. You haven't heard the last from us. Brian and I had significant difficulty securing our gear and moving down the moraine. We were beat. It was now probably 11 am, ten hours after departure. We had to force ourselves to move down the hill. The sun beat down and it got really hot. We were out of water. i have never remembered such a brutal rock walk in my life. We were wearing double plastic boots and the scree would blow out every four steps and make you lose your footing. I hyperextended my knee at one point.

Dont know if I mentioned the narrow ledge upon which we had to ascend and descend the moraine but if you fall, here is a snapshot of what that could resemble.

(I took this directly from the trail. Sometimes it is beneficial NOT to see what you are climbing in the dark)

As we stumbled down the moraine in the blaring morning sun we passed a large expedition with porters ferrying their loads to the toe of the glacier. Smart idea. I would tuck that away for future use. Had we done that, several hours would have been shaved from our time making the summit a cinch. Hindsight, this is a learning experience.

By 2 pm, we had almost finished the moraine ordeal. I could see the lip of the last big 200 foot hill of scree to top and drop back down to the refugio. There was a group of young people standing and peering down at me. I must have looked a sight. Mustering all the strength and sipping my last bit of water, I began the slip trail up the talus slope in the blistering afternoon sun at 16000 feet. When I finally made the top, the crew looked at me as if I had emerged from that lagoon. Their affect noticeably changed and their previously jovial mood turned more somber as they considered the toll this climb might take upon them, should they decide to continue to following day. I dropped down to the refugio where Brain met me and offered to take my pack. I declined and ambled over to the refugio where he had ordered me the best coca cola I ever had. We took just enough time to pack up and make the final 2 hour push to Cebollopampa and catch a taxi back to Huaraz. It's amazing how refreshed I felt after changing out of the boots, placing my gear upon the burro and walking down the last 3000 feet to the staging area for Pisco. I passed all the places upon which I had deposited bodily fluids several days before and relished the rejuvinated body that allowed me to descend under my own power. Who cares if we didn't summit. I was done with mountaineering for good. When we arrived at Cebollopampa there was a problem. No cab to Huaraz. Three hours is a long cab ride, not to mention hike or hitch. We begged, bartered and pled with a local jewish group to let us tag onto their bus. Their driver relented and we were off to Huaraz. By 9 pm we arrived in the city to the delight of our hotel Gerente, Pascal. He was prepared to send the Alpine Rescue association to fetch us. He said, "Pisco is a 3-4 day climb, you were gone 5 days, what happened?"

Next installment: The Huascaran Experiment. (now live, click title)


Huascaran Sur

(in case you missed the previous installment, click HERE)


Upon our return to Huaraz, a 3 hour cab ride, we quickly showered and took another cab into town to devour some pizza. No one made any mention of more climbing, in fact, I was hoping that Brian had forgotten the entire plan. Had he suggested we catch a plane back home, I would not have protested. As it were, he confided that following our Pisco fiasco, he felt like doing exactly that. We retired to our room and slept like corpses. Breakfast rolled around and the day took on an interesting character.

(downtown Huaraz)

Coincidentally, the Austrian Rescue Expedition was situated in our hotel. They were fresh off their acclimatization climb of Alpamayo. If you are unfamiliar with that peak, it was voted the most beautiful mountain in the world by alpinists several years ago. Here is a copied picture of the peak.

(We did get a glimpse of her from Pisco, but the whiteout didn't allow for photography)

Anyway, these Austrian Hotshots were now ready for a lightning assault on Huascaran Sur. You can imagine my dismay at breakfast as we watched their enthusiasm over the logistics. A fellow was on his way to discuss details and establish burro transport to base camp with porters and the whole nine yards. Pascal, our hotel den mother had arranged this meeting and suggested that we should speak with Martel following his round with the Austrians. Brian got excited. I got depressed. They would leave tomorrow and this guy would want us to join forces. So much for my day of rest. This was it. I simply wasn't ready. Long story short, by the middle of the morning, we had a sit down with Martel, who outlined prices to include a porter, donkies and shuttle to Musho. The price was very good. Martel was a guide himself and came recommended from the hotel. He seemed legitimitate enough but I had to check some things out. Brian was ready to sign on the line.

After breakfast, we split up and went into town. I headed for the Casa De Guias, an umbrella company for the overseeing of guides. With such little English spoken, communications are limited but I was able to find out that this guy was not certified but had led trips up Huascaran before. Brian was off to check with other companies and compare prices. We both visited a guide company and got a comparable quote. By this time it was relatively certain we were dragging our rear ends up Huascaran. I begged for another day's rest but Brian the Slave driver would have no part of it. I told him that we would compromise. If he was going to drag me up this mountain on one day's rest, we would get two porters instead of one and that was that. At $30 per day, it was very reasonable. That would lower the top a bit for us and make things easier on these old bones. He relented. Further discussions with Martel indicated that these "porters" were aspiring guides that would enjoy accompanying us to the summit to have that under their belt. The deal was secure, we were leaving in the morning.

(hospital in Huaraz. I was definitely planning to avoid visiting this outfit)

Some of you may have heard the story about the earthquake of 1970. The skinny is this; Apparently a 7.7 magnitude quake shook loose snow and rock from, you guessed it, Huascaran. The ensuing slide buried the city of Yuangay and Huaraz, killing over 50,000 people. That's right, 50,000 people. Here is a link to some info about it. Earthquake in Huaraz All over the city are reminders of this terrible event. The before and after pictures are sobering to say the least. And to think, we were headed up to the mountain. Some lack of humility, I would say. A real challenge, Brian might assert.

(Huaraz today)

We loaded our mountain of gear along with that of the Austrians and away we charged to Musho. We made the trip in about 2.5 hours and landed squarely at Musho where much jockeying for donkeys was orchestrated as we shuffled through bags and sorted supplies. The little children of the town found us quite a curiosity and asked for pens. I only had a tangerine and split it in half and offered it to a 3-4 year old little girl. What she did next was characteristic of the charm of the Peruvian culture. She sat down and began dividing the half of a tangerine to distribute amongst her little friends. Brian and I were astonished. We were certain that would not occur in the United States. Amazing to say the least.

As we embarked on the journey to Huascaran base camp, we followed our lead porter Willie as he bushwhacked off trail. I had some misgivings about this but Willie assured us it would cut time. I had a thought about retracing our steps but suppressed it due to my general fatigue. Don't get me wrong, I was feeling better than I had all trip. Yes, another day's rest would have been great, but now it was a sunny day and I was marching up the big mountain. Three hours or so found us in Huascaran base camp, a green pasture field full of steer. I did witness one of the most beautiful sunsets ever and here is video of the event.

A rather unusual night ensued. A group of young Peruvian 19-22 year olds pulled into our spot and established a party of sorts. As the evening progressed, their noise level increased. They were drunk and stumbling all over camp. I put in ear plugs and tried to return to sleep. A few hours later, Brian awakened me to indicate they were playing with our glacier gear. That's right. The crew was shuffling around with our ice axes, shovel and pickets. This simply would not stand. We both had thoughts of what they might intend to do with the ice axes. As we sat there in the 2 am morning the footsteps obviously were nearing our tent. Any number of thoughts ran through our minds and I removed the earplugs and unzipped the fly. Standing before me were two Peruvian teenagers, a boy and girl. As I shone my light into their faces the girl begins with her diatribe. "Excuse me, my friend is very, how you say, drunk. Yes, she is very, very (giggle)drunk!" I stare at her with my light directly into her face and sweep the boyfriend to assess his motive. She continues. "My friend is very drunk. She is very drunk!" Okay, I think, what is the point of this, are we supposed to perform a Heimlich, provide company, what is the point here." As the girl pauses, I interject, since she seems to have some grasp of English. "What do you want?" I exclaim, obviously decrying my lack of sleep and patience. After another brief pause she offers the pitch. "Do you have any marijuana?" She asks. "Or alcohol"

Well, that is exactly what they needed alright but I was done with this. After an emphatic NO, Hell No, we are trying to sleep, they were sufficiently run off for the night. Next morning, they were still in bed as we packed, loudly, for moraine camp. This particular day was a nice climb but we were now joined by Carlos, porter number 2. If Willie's English weren't bad enough, Carlos spoke none. Great. Martel was batting a thousand. English speaking "guide" porters. Apparently, Carlos is the mayor of his city. Not that you would know this from him. He hiked straight up to base camp, grabbed loads and proceeded to the Refugio without missing a beat. On top of that, this 3-4 hour climb for me and Brian was repeated by those two to double carry gear.

(Brian at Moraine camp on Huascaran)

As we set up camp, they dropped back down the valley. From moraine camp, we were next to the Refugio. It is a beautiful spot.

(Brian soaks up the sunset at Huascaran Refugio)

As we busied ourselves with the normal camp tasks, a routine becoming far too familiar on this trip, a group of climbers adjacent to us from Chile outlined their summit plan for the evening. At 8 pm they would embark for the Escodudo Route, or Shield. That is a very technical ice climb to the summit.

(I outlined the ice wall. Our route followed the bottom and circled around the shield through a section called the candaletta or garganta. Garganta means throat.)

Now understand that we were two camps away from thinking about any summit and these guys were going for it that night. Pretty ambitious. As we settled in on this my birthday, June 28, another group came rolling into our spot. Guess who? You got it, the moveable feast of Peruvian party animals from the night before. I literally felt my blood pressure rise. Not only that, but they put their tents almost right on top of us. My day was not getting any better. As I sat there, my blood boiling, Brian returned from filtering water and stopped dead in his tracks. "You're ******* me, right?" "This can't be for real!" I assured him that it was. He got madder than I did. If evil stares were money, they would have been a rich little cadre of teenagers. I think they picked up on our vibe. When Willie returned I spoke with him and indicated that he needed to have a talk with that crew, that we wouldn't tolerate this any more. Willie is about their age so I could sense his reluctance to have a confrontation so I just grabbed him and asked him to interpret. Moving into the center of their circle, Willie began, very nicely to make our case. I could tell it wasn't being received respectfully so I interjected. "There won't be any more of this partying, alcohol or marijuana around us tonight, DO YOU UNDERSTAND" Willie didn't need to translate my intent on this one. I was angry, they had ruined a night of sleep and put me in a defecit. Just to reiterate, I pointed at the two that came to our tent the night before. "No one is coming to our tent tonight, understand?" They definitely understood. I made a motion of laying my head down and made sure every one of them nodded their understanding. I'm sure they didn't appreciate a Gringo coming down on them but we didn't have any more problems out of that crew. I think they were out of drugs anyway.

(breakfast with Mr. Muir at 15,500 feet) Brian and I looked forward to carrying his face to the summit. We were honored to have him as a representative of the Muir faction on our trip.

The Chileans did leave around 9 pm and I silently said a prayer for them. I looked at that wall and considered all the things that can go wrong in such situations. I'm sure they were experienced. We settled in for the night. Next morning the sun rose cold and all the water from the glacier had frozen so we had to wait to get some flowing for our next move up to camp 3, on the glacier. By 9 or 10 am we were moving up the boulder field between moraine camp and camp 3. The boulder field isn't like the moraine field on Pisco. These are full sized boulders with no marked trail whatsoever, like most things in Peru. Occasionally you can see a rock cairn here or there to indicate general direction but very little indicators of a foot path exist, the prevalent thinking seems to be, "pick your own way, they're all terrible."

And as is were, I was left behind huffing and puffing jumping up onto huge boulders, second guessing each step, wondering if I should have descended or gone around. Brian was 60 yards above and Willie and Carlos were racing each other up the hill. Below is a video of the scrambling to give you an idea of what that was like. (sorry for the low quality, I had the wrong setting button switched while filming on this one)

The Fall.

While jumping and climbing and trying to make good decisions on the boulder crawl, I came to a spot that was a dead end of sorts. Above me was the slickest rock you could ever imagine. Below me was a rock slide of 30 feet which then dropped off and made a 15 foot fall onto other rock. My only decision was to retreat and track another path. How to do that, however, was my predicament. Either move would involve a bit of a hop onto unsecure footing. The smooth rock is always dangerous and there was plenty of ice from the night before lurking in all the shadows. As it were, I made the wrong choice and my double plastic boot blew out from under me. At this point, I was careening down the sliding rock of Peru. You know how harrowing that can feel to be out of control with no means to stop and the notion of a terminal fall below is always on your mind. Although the slide probably lasted fewer than 6 seconds, it seemed an eternity as my hip and elbows and knees all banged down the rock. My only option was to somehow steer for the crack between two prominent boulders. I managed to use the trekking poles to steer myself and wedge them sufficiently into the cracks. That arrested the fall. I did not lay there long, moving quickly to jam my fist and foot into every nitch they could find. I was banged up and bleeding but no serious damage occured. My pants and shirt were ripped and I bled through the shirt but other than that and a big thigh bruise, all was well. Now, how to get off this thing.

Since I had essentially lost all the elevation gained, it was not too difficult to move laterally across the bottom of the sliding rock and onto a more textured one, thus avoiding the chasm below slick rock. Soon I was back on my way up to the foot of the glacier. I was concerned that I might have broken the camera but my body seemed to absorb the brunt of the impact. I will say that for a moment, when sliding down with nothing to grab at 16000 feet, I had some helpless thoughts. In retrospect, I would take three dozen falls like that, though, to avoid having a stomach illness on this trip. You can beat up the outside of my body but stuff thats in your stomach or head, like a sinus thing, are debilitating.

(my bruise from the Fall resembled the state of Texas)

In a few hours, the glacier came into sight and I donned crampons, whipped out the ice axe and placed my feet on more positive surfaces, ice! Ironic, huh. Those crampons are amazing. They grip most all the time and you need them on a windswept snow slope. There was no concern of crevasses here, as evidenced by the footracks. Within an hour, I saw the heads of our porters and Brian. I was within sight of camp 3 and we had it to ourselves, for a while. As the video below illustrates, we weren't alone for long. The guided American team along with the Spaniards encircled us. That seems to be a pattern in the Andes.

visit website below for remaineder of story with pictures and video


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