My friend and me got started with mountaineering during the 2010 season in the Nordics, with relatively easy hike up mountains. We soon realized this was something that we wanted to pursue further, and as soon as we got back home from the trip, we started to go through our options. Since we both lacked any glacier or actual mountaineering skills, we figured a course would be our best option.
Initially we were planning on going to the Alps, due to relatively close distance from home. However, after discussing the options online, also here on SP and other sites, we chose the destination to be Peru, due to higher mountains and lower costs. I got a lot of suggestions for a company, majority of them referred us to Skyline Adventure School
, and that is who we contacted.
After some exchange of emails we soon realized we had just enrolled for a 6 day mountaineering course, with an additional summit attempt to follow. After asking yet more advice we started training and acquiring required gear, and some 8 months later we found ourselves in Huaraz, Peru...
The climb begins
Since this report is about Yanapaccha, I will skip our acclimatization process, the course itself and focus on the summit attempt itself.
Our day started around 1:30 AM, with almost totally clear skies above us, and with almost a full moon to give our surroundings an eerie, but also beautiful lighting. We ate breakfast (my first encounter with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, by the way!), packed all of our gear into our backpacks, and divided into two teams.
There were 6 of us climbers on the course, and we had two Guides with us. Since we had already been training together for a number of days, we were quite quick to sort things out, and around 2:30 AM we were on the move.
The first part of the climb is an easy pass over a moraine ridge which separated our basecamp and the glacier. This part of the climb was not hard, but still a little bit unnerving for me due to my limited experience and darkness. I led the way, and quickly got to the top of the ridge, and started descending the other side. We traversed to the right, since we knew the bottom of the glacier had a low angle at that end, and would be ideal place to put of crampons and get started with the next part.
During daytime we could climb over the ridge to the other side in about 12 minutes, but during the night it took us some 20 minutes. Perhaps the knowledge that today we would be going all the way also made us a little bit more careful.
On the glacier
Once we got to the foot of the glacier we attached crampons, took out our ice axes, and divided into rope teams & attached ropes. There were 4 of us in each rope, with the Guides climbing last (remember, this was a course, and you could think of this as our final exam).
Our team started off first, and we started navigating the glacier. We had scouted the route more than halfway through, so we knew pretty well where at least visible crevasses were.
Around halfway through we had to pass a number of crevasses, and our rope team leader decided to place some protection along the way; both to give us added security, and also for practice.
The angle of the glacier got steeper and steeper, and after the last crevasses we found ourselves under some rather spooky looking seracs. We had realized this hazard when scouting, but I have to be honest with you: it still was a whole another thing to be actually standing beneath them!
We hurried along, and I had to admit that I could have done a better job conditioning for this trip: I was the slowest, and that's not nice when you're trying to get away from the seracs as fast as possible! Still, I pushed myself as hard as I could to enable the team to move as quickly as possible.
Luckily the part with seracs was not very long, and we got to a safer spot in a few minutes. We were now at the top of the glacier, and took a short break to eat some snacks, get a bit to drink, and catch our breath before the wall. Sun was just starting to rise above the valley in front of us, but were still in the shadow of the Yanapaccha ridge.
At some point during the break our guides started preparing the ropes, and I found myself second on our rope, next to our guide. He gave himself some 30-40 meters of slack on the rope in between us, and instructed me to start climbing after him once the rope got taut. I was pretty much focused on catching my breath, and just nodded my head without really giving it much thought.
Some minutes later I felt a tug on the rope, quickly got on my feet and turned around. The view above me shocked me a little bit: the guide was 30-40 meters above me, and not even halfway through the wall. I was anxious, nervous, thrilled, excited, with some half a dozen other conflicted feelings all at the same time! Still, there was little else for me to do than to start climbing.
The angle of the snow at this point was not very steep, perhaps 45 degrees. But it was getting steeper and steeper, and quite fast I had to start to really use my axe. I had decided to climb with just one axe instead of tools, since I seemed to do better that way, and the wall was not going to be quite vertical anyway.
There was about an inch of hard, frozen snow on top, then mayde a dozen inches of soft snow below, with hard ice beneath. Once the angle of the slope got to around 70 degrees, I found that due to my weight (some 98 kilos + gear) the snow would not carry my weight, so I had to struggle quite a bit. I got up one step, only to find the snow crumbling after my weight, and then having to find purchase for my crampons on the ice.
The climbing was not technically very difficult, and I don't think the angle ever got to more than maybe 75 degrees for a short while. But still the pure length of the climb really took the juices out of me! Around half way through both my calves were burning up and cramping, and I had to struggle to keep myself and the team moving. I slipped a few times, but our guide had placed some running belays and was able to hold my weight quite easily.
After around two thirds of the way the slope started getting easier and I managed to get some rest between steps, since my two rope buddies below me now on the harder part. Still it took quite a bit of effort to climb higher and higher. I remember feeling really exhausted and wondering what the hell Iwas doing on that mountain, when I saw that the sunrise had reached the ridge, and I knew that after just a few more meters of climbing I would be basking in the light, getting warm, drinking and recovering. That was all the motivation I needed, and soon enough I found myself on the ridge, next to our guide, panting with a huge grin on my face.
The wall was by far the hardest climbing I had ever done. Still the view was more than enough to make up for it. The sun was shining on the other side of the mountain, above the Amazon, and I was just amazed of how beautiful the view was.
Traversing the ridge
After everyone got to the ridge, we took a quick break since everyone was feeling more or less exhausted after the wall. We took some photos, and switched the order of the teams; it was now time for the other team to lead the way.
We started traversing the ridge on the shadow side of it towards the summit.
The climbing here was not very hard. At it's steepest the angle was perhaps 45 degrees, usually easier. So technically it was not very challenging and physically it was mostly very easy stuff.
Still the exposed slopes underneath us was enough to keep us on our toes, as well as the seracs and cornices we had to pass under. From time to time we would pop up into the sunlight, and the views were more than enough to keep us smiling and moving swiftly.
We had traversed the ridge for perhaps an hour when we finally got to the bottom of the summit ridge. There was a small crevasse where it started, but with snow on top, and climbing over it was not hard.
The final section was around 40 degrees, but due to the long climb before us it still felt rather taxing, coupled with the altitude. Still the knowledge that there were only a few more meters to the summit made everyone push a little bit harder, and all 8 of us got to the summit safe and sound.
The views were magnificent, the feeling was great, and for (as for a few others) this was my first real mountain, my first proper summit.
The time was 8:29 when I got to the top, so it had taken a total of 6 hours to get to the summit from our camp.
People hugged each other, took a bunch of pictures, and just sat there enjoying the views, the accomplishment and the atmosphere for a while. But we all knew that our work was only half way done, so quite soon we were making preparations to climb down.
It was our team's turn to lead the way again, and we started back tracking our steps back to the wall. It traverse was quite fast this way around, although I made one error on the way which cost us a few minutes; I let some slack into the rope between myself and the guide, which managed to find a crevasse hidden from my view and get tangled inside. I clipped into a picket, the guide untied himself and I pulled the rope through and passed it back to him. Not a major setback, but something that I think I will remember to avoid from now on...
Once we got to the top of the wall we had to figure out a way down. We had two 60 meter ropes, but the wall was 100 meters, so there was no way to get down in one rappel.
The guides prepared one anchor at the top of the wall (two pickets, I think), and myself and two of my friend waited there while our guide took our rope and abseiled down the full lenght of it. It took him about half an hour to build a strong anchor down there, since all 8 of us would have to rely on that anchor.
I was the last of our team to rappel down, which was easy enough considering my background in rock climbing, and clipped into the anchor some 40 meter above the top of the glacier. The anchor consisted of one deadman picket and one additional picket. One after another all 8 of us finally were clipped in, and we could free the rope from above, and continue down.
The second rappel went almost without a hitch as well (one of us did visit the bergschrund briefly, but without injury). I took the lead at that point, and since we had spent a long time getting down the wall, it was close to noon.
Since it was getting hot I decided speed was the safest thing, and led our way down the glacier as fast as we could move. I chose not to place any pickets, instead we managed the risks by keeping the ropes tight and axes ready incase someone fell through a snow bridge.
We were going down so fast I cant recall much of it, and quite quickly we got the bottom of the glacier. The day was getting hot enough so that the snow had already started balling up beneath our crampons quite much, so I was happy that we had been fast.
After passing over the moraine ridge we were all safely back in camp, sometime around noon. I was so happy and exhausted that I cant remember looking at the time. Still, we were quite happy with our climb, and everyone vouched this would not be our last!
A few thank you's are in order, for making our trip a success:
Ted & Jenn @ Skyline Adventure School
- it was a pleasure sorting out the trip details etc. with you guys!
Michel Quito & Natcho Espinosa Andrade - our terrific Guides
Sam, Dan, Matt & Jenn - it was a joy to take the course with you guys
- for helping us sort out our gear