A Little History
Although aged 43, I’m new to climbing and I was new to backpacking last year. In 2008, my girlfriend, Jackie, wanted to get me into climbing, so she figured that she should see if I could handle backpacking first. We went to Kennedy Lake in Emigrant Wilderness for our first trip together, which was just a one night outing. That trip went well...oh and before that Jackie had me go up Half Dome, which was fine except for the boots that gave me blisters.
Since these trips were OK, nice even, we figured we should do Whitney. Of course, there were no permits available for the normal walk up from the Portal. We decided to go in via Shepherd Pass and do Whitney from the Guitar Lake side and back out the same way. This was a good trip (8 days), had a lot of logistics (for me), and required carrying a decent load (which I will reduce in the future!).
With Whitney done, we figured that I should do Shasta next. Oh, by the way, Jackie had done all this stuff about ten years ago and she did Denali too. Though she always used guides, she has gained a fair amount of experience. Anyway, after I bought a bunch of winter gear we did Shasta in July this year. We tried to do it earlier but messed up on our scheduling and didn’t go past Helen Lake on that trip. At least there was still some snow up there this year with June being so cool.
I forgot to tell you that we had already planned, prior to climbing Shasta, to go to Peru to climb Pisco and Huascaran. Luckily, Shasta was easy...although it was late season and the snow was really packed down. We, of course, did the easy Avalanche Gulch route.
Our plan for Peru was to do the Santa Cruz Trek, Pisco, and then Huascaran. The Santa Cruz Trek was four days and three nights. Pisco we did in three days and we spent four and a half days on Huascaran. I might do separate TRs on the trek and Pisco.
We set out to do the normal Garganta route, which has been back open again. We used a guide service that I found a link to on SummitPost. The guides seemed very good to me, but I’m new. Jackie didn’t mention the guides being any less competent than high-end U.S. guides.
We took a cab from Huaraz to Musho. We left our porter and the arriero (mule driver) to deal with the gear and started our hike in. It was hot and we went very slow, which was fine. We had no gear to carry! It was about four or five hours to base camp. We met a group of Austrians that were going up and we followed them and their guide up to camp.
These are the Austrians and their guide at lunch on the trek to Huascaran base camp.
This is the route to the ridge on the way to base camp.
Ridge to base camp
We felt good at base camp but we were about to carry our first loads on our Peru trip as the donkeys can’t go past base camp. We didn’t, however, have to carry full loads. Our guide and the porter carried the shared gear and food plus their own gear. There is a little bit of climbing right above base camp and our guide put a rope up for us that had some knots tied in it to hold on to. The guide, Blas, carried up Jackie’s pack for her, but didn’t ask if I needed help, haha. This little pitch took some effort but was not too bad.
Huascaran Base Camp.
Our gear arrives at base camp.
The next section to the Refugio (a nice hut with showers, flush toilets and food!) was not too bad but did require some scrambling as it’s almost all granite slabs and boulders. It’s important to be careful with the water coming down in this section as the granite is super slick when wet. Apparently people have died crossing this section after they slipped and fell. We did this section in our hiking boots and we carried our double boots on our packs. At the Refugio we changed to our double boots and left the hiking boots there along with some clothes and a bit of food. Our guide, Blas, knew all the people at the Refugio which made things easy.
We arrive at Huascaran Refugio on the way to camp one.
After a break and a rearrangement of gear we headed up to camp one. We had thought that Jackie might not want to go past camp one, so she was trying to memorize the “route” on the way up to the snow. There is not really a route. There are some cairns to look for but it’s not really easy. Blas made a real effort to show her what to look for. The guy who runs the guiding service said that there was a trail to the snow. There is no trail, it’s all granite slab and boulders/rocks. It probably seems like a trail to him. If there was a storm or fog, Jackie would be lost on this section by herself.
When we made it to the snow (ice) Blas stored a chicken for us high up where the wild dogs could not get at it. The ice was a bit steep right at the start and then it became more gradual. It was not an easy slope though and we were carrying some weight. Jackie moved well here at first and then became slower and slower. After about an hour and a half or two hours we were getting close to camp one and our porter, Cerrillo, came down to carry Jackie’s pack. She was very happy and her pace almost doubled with no weight to carry.
Camp one is a cool place with great views. I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures. I was concentrating on getting maximum rest for the push of the next day and a half, so I got in the tent as soon as we got it set up. I just laid there in my bag when I was not eating or drinking. All the pictures from this camp are from the tent.
Camp 1 from my sleeping bag
A note on sleeping bags, ratings, and temperatures: we brought GoLite 0 degree venture bags with us. I was very comfortable at this camp and I only slept in light wool leggings, a medium weight wool zip top with a light shirt underneath, and medium weight wool socks. Jackie was cold and had to put on her down jacket during the night in order to get some sleep. I don’t know how cold it got...but I don’t think it was 0 F. Maybe it was around 15 or 20 F. Our tent was a North Face VE 25 and it was very warm, although very heavy. We slept on Z lites with ProLite 4s over them. I also had no problem at camp 2 although I shared the tent with the guide and the porter which kept it warmer.
Sunset from Camp 1 on Huascaran. I stuck the camera outside the tent for this. lol.
The main experience I had at camp one was that I had a lot of trouble sleeping. I also didn’t eat very much. Oh, I forgot to mention that at base camp I started having diarrhea. Luckily, Jackie had packed some medicine for this, which worked well. That night we talked to Blas about getting Jackie back down to the Refugio. He agreed that it would be good to send someone up for her. He made a call and arranged for this.
The next morning we got up at 5 AM and packed. The guide left the other two man tent there, which Jackie used while she waited for the guy to come up from the Refugio. He must have left at 5 or 5:30 because he got to camp one as we were climbing up through the relatively short vertical section just above camp one. This nice person carried Jackie’s pack down for her as well. We of course paid him for his trouble.
It was could that morning moving towards camp two. I used Black Diamond Polartec gloves inside of some Marmot Nylon Shells. The Marmot gloves came with liners but they are very light. I also brought a pair of Valandre down mitts, but I never used them. Anyway, my fingers were cold to start. Blas suggested moving my fingers whenever I could and this worked fairly well. I didn’t feel like digging out my mitts. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures on this section. I had my camera packed in an inside chest pocket...in my bibs or in my vest, I’m not sure. I didn’t want to fumble with it when we were ice climbing. In retrospect I should have left it out with the lens cap off for the entire move to camp two. I need to look into getting a more secure strapping system for this.
The scenery was really cool with many crevasses, seracs, and an avalanche field of fallen ice chunks. Some of these were as big as small cars. Anyway, so the ice climbing was hard with some weight on my back and we wanted to move fast to avoid hazards. The guide and the porter were very strong as they had full packs (and no lightweight gear) and they still had to wait for me more often than I had to wait for them. Sheesh, I need to get in better shape! This was my first time ice climbing. Oh, and that morning the guide asked me to let the porter use my ice tool since he didn’t have an ice axe! It’s not really serious ice climbing as the pitches are short and we didn’t have to put in screws, but there were sections of vertical ice with crevasses below and or to the side. So I climbed with my ice axe and just used my left had as support on the ice.
Gear note: I brought Grivel G12 crampons, which were great in general but I have a feeling that I would have liked to have had more serious ice climbing crampons for the hard sections as the front points on the G12s didn’t feel as secure as I would have liked.
We made the move to camp two in three hours, which is not bad I guess. It was very difficult for my current level of fitness. One of the most serious efforts I’ve ever made.... “when you think you might puke you’re usually going hard,” I like to say. I used to say “if you push until you puke, you’re going hard,” but I’m getting soft.
We were approaching the col between the North and South peaks and we came up a relatively gradual slope. It topped out at a flat area next to an ice wall right below the col. I figured we were going up onto the col, but Blas started talking to Cerrillo about where to put the tent. Ah, we were there! We got the tent up and I got right in there and started unpacking. Then I got in my bag and took a nap for an hour. After that I felt much better. I went out and took pictures and had a look around. I didn’t stay out long though and wanted to keep up my practice of resting and eating/drinking. I didn’t feel up to eating much solid food so I was limited to soup, crackers, and tea.
Camp 2 on Huascaran
That night I didn’t really sleep at all before our scheduled departure time of 12 AM. This lack of sleep was very wearing. I think I needed more days at ~14,000 feet to acclimatize. I’ve read in other TRs that some have had more camps before the col, which sounds good. I also got a headache that night, but it was very minor. Blas got a cell call late that night that let us know of a potentially bad forecast of wind and possible snow. We new it was windy up on the col as it was quite windy at our protected camp. Blas thought the conditions were unsafe and I was feeling tired from not sleeping and not eating much. This seemed to be a bad combination for trying to go to the summit. We quickly decided not to go.
Melting snow at camp two
I got some sleep after we reached our decision but not a lot. In the morning we packed quickly and we were back at the Refugio in about 2 hours. My headache was gone before we even got to the ice climbing section and I generally felt very good on the way down. Blas picked up the chicken for us when we got off the snow/ice. When we got to the Refugio I still had trouble eating but was able to get down a couple of plates of food. We picked up Jackie, who was now rested, and headed down to base camp.
Huascaran South Peak from Camp 2
At base camp I felt much better and ate a lot of food. I was bummed to not get to the top but I felt that we made a good decision. We learned at base camp that one of the Austrians went for the top with their guide but they were unable to find the route in the clouds. So even if we had gone up we may have not been able to find the top anyway. The Austrians also arrived back at base camp very late, maybe 8 PM. They may have been moving through the dangerous areas late in the day, which would not be good. They may have had some altitude issues and needed to come down, I don’t know. They all seemed totally wasted at camp two and I was surprised to learn that any of them went for the top at all.
The North Peak of Huascaran from Camp 2
Apparently the weather is much better in July than in August. We are thinking of going back next year and I’m just trying to decide what else to climb. I’m planning on taking an ice climbing course this winter and hope to do some ice climbing with others after that. Up next for me is a rock climbing class and then Jackie and I are going to Desolation Wilderness to scramble up a couple of peaks. In the spring I hope to do Shasta via Casaval ridge. Anyone want to go with me?