From my climbing journal (with some editing) from the summer of 1971, one year after the great earthquake and its devastation.
Yesterday Laurie Skreslet, Larry Derby, Nyle K. Walton, Thomas Samway and I rode in a jeep, which Tom arranged for us, to Mancos, and then up to Musho.
Today we hired three burros to carry our gear up to 4200 m, which is as far as they go. The climb up took almost all day. We camped at the foot of the some glacier polished rocks. A local high school boy from Caras, whom Tom knows, accompanied the arriero and remained with us during the night.
After arriving at our campsite, all of us except Nyle climbed up the moraine above the camp to the edge of the glacier about 1300 feet higher. Here we left our loads of food and equipment and then headed down before dark, except for Larry who slept high with the gear.
The five of us and the boy, Tom's "porter", carried the remaining gear up to Larry at the edge of the glacier by 11 AM. We made this our base camp. Nearby a large cairn complete with a bust of Lenin had been left by the Russians last year.
Because it was still early we decided to take a load to our next camp on the glacier. Nyle stayed down to put up the tent and keep an eye on the equipment, while the high schooler returned to Musho. Larry and Laurie on one rope and Tom and I on the other climbed up perhaps 2000 ft and across the glacier toward the south and stopped at the site of a previous group's camp, probably that of the Seventh Day Adventists. We found some food they had left, including some good German dark bread, and left our gear there, and Tom and I returned to our base camp immediately, while Larry and Laurie climbed a few hundred feet higher before returning.
Not starting early meant it was another scorching hike across the glacier. Larry and Laurie, who wanted to climb the western spur together, still wanted to make camp by the ice block and continued on and camped there while Nyle Tom and I slept there in the Northface tent.
Nyle is a graduate student in Geography who is writing a dissertation on the Callejon de Huaylas. Tom is a Catholic priest form Rochester, NY, who works in Caras.
Today Nyle, Tom, and I started before the sun was on the glacier and climbed up to Larry and Laurie's cache, where they had camped. After crossing a really huge crevasse on a solid but narrow snow bridge, we climbed up to the left perhaps two hundred feet to where Larry and Laurie were camped and still remained.
Our route bypassed the main part of the icefall on the south. The part we climbed was just south of a prominent rock cliff below the base of the western spur. This was the steepest part of the climb so far and we had already reached the realm of unconsolidated snow and I consequently was awarded the privilege of leading. Except for one 100-foot section our route was not so steep as to require belaying. Gradually the slope leveled off somewhat and we cached our gear behind a chunk of ice, obviously a piece of avalanche debris, at roughly 19,000 ft. and then headed down.
Today we planned to move the rest of our gear up to the level of our cache above the icefall and then set up camp there. We started a little later than yesterday and with loads about as heavy. A little beyond Larry and Laurie's (L&L) earlier cache, Nyle became discouraged and lost his desire to climb any farther. I took the tent and the first aid kit, basically the community gear that we would need that he was carrying. Nyle then returned by himself to Musho. Tom and I climbed up to L&L's camp where found those two still puttering around. Our tracks from yesterday had been mostly filled up by blowing snow and the climb back up again seemed as hard or harder than yesterday's.
When we reached the high cache, we dropped our gear, and after an unsuccessful attempt on my part to shovel away a tent platform at the base of an ice wall, we pitched out tent just downhill from the small chunk of ice where we had left our gear earlier. L&L put their tent about 100 feet directly and steeply uphill from us.
The platform we dug in the snow was a little narrow and our job of putting up the tent was not the best so that we spent the night feeling a little less secure than the previous night. In the morning we packed up taking very little food with us from the cache, just an already opened can of corned beef and about six packages of soup mix. We climbed over a slight rise, and descended into a hollow at the top of the main portion of the icefall. We crossed two avalanche paths and started climbing gradually up toward the Garganta. There was soft snow to slow us down, but not more than knee deep, although we had feared it might be deeper.
About 10:30 AM we reached the site of what must have been the Adventist's high camp at the edge of a hollow in which we pitched our tent, as the wind was quite strong. We spent the rest of the day resting or sleeping, while the wind blew the snow all around outside.
It was a windy night and the tent seemed more insecure than ever, but we did get some sleep and set out without bothering to try to cook anything to eat. At first we headed up toward the crest of the pass between the two peaks, but then we headed right and I selected for our route, a steep but direct snow gully between two ice walls. This turned out to be a poor choice because it turned out to be steeper that it appeared and consisted of hard blue ice. Instead we climbed down 50 feet and circled around to the right and headed up a deeper gentler and more prominent snow gully.
This route was more successful and it was interesting to see how the way unfolded. We came to a big crevasse above which we could see unbroken snow, which would offer few problems. In search of a way across we were forced farther and farther to the left around the end of the crevasse. Passing this, we jumped two or three other smaller crevasses and began a long traverse on steeply sloping snow beneath another ice wall. Turning a corner we were past the ice wall and could climb straight up and found the slope becoming more gradual. Soon we were able to climb together and began making steady uphill progress. We were now several hundred feet above the Garganta.
From here we simply plodded on. Tom was quite weak and slow and threw up at one point. He had not had the extensive conditioning Larry, Laurie, and I had just had hiking in the Cordillera Negra, climbing Huamashraju, and making attempts on Nevado Cashan and Nevado Huantsan. He showed great determination. Looking up we could see Larry high on the ridge to our right, silhouetted against the sky. As we climbed the slope became less and less steep but for the same reason we could never see the summit. By 2:00 PM we were higher than the north peak and about this time we met Larry and Laurie coming down from the summit. They had successfully climbed the west spur, its second ascent.
We reached the summit, which was flat and very windy about 3:30 PM. A few of the larger peaks rose above the clouds. I was eager to head back down while there would be light to get us back to the tent, but Tom said,"Just wait two minutes and take pictures as I say mass for the victims of the earthquake last year." I felt overwhelmed and obliged.
Descending we went farther east than we did coming up. At one point the snow beneath me suddenly began to slip; a 100 x 100 ft slab started down the slope and began to fracture as it slid. Tom was not on it and consequently I felt a huge uphill tug on the rope and instinctively I began to run uphill, not being able to think what else to do. It was like running up a down escalator, but absolutely terrifying. The thought "Is it another earthquake?" replaced every other notion. Of course I could not keep up and fell over, but about then the snow stopped sliding.
We picked ourselves up and headed diagonally down the slope and soon found our tracks from the morning. The sun was still shining when we reached the big crevasse, but it was getting quite dark and cold when we finally reached the tent.
Some time in the morning, about 5:30 or 6:00 one end of the tent fell over on us, after flapping all night in the wind. We soon got up, packed up, and left our 19,400 ft camp for the gentler climate below. Soon we were back at the foot of the western spur where we stopped to pick up some things from the cache and ate a can of peaches. Larry and Laurie arrived from their camp, but Tom and I headed down first. At a steep place in the icefall section we took a different descent route and both fell, sliding about 50 feet. Fortunately neither of us was hurt, just sore from bruises. We lost three fuel bottles from the pack, but that was the only loss. As we were pulling ourselves together again, L&L hiked down the mountain passing us. The rest of the trip back was mercifully uneventful. We had fulfilled our dream of climbing a really major South American peak.