Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Alpine climbing in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Andy coiling ropes after climbing TocllarajuAndy and I trained for six months before going to Peru to test ourselves in the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. The neighborhood kids mocked us as we did lunges in the street, threw wall balls against my house until the porch light rattled loose, and dry heaved in my front yard. Eventually came the day when it was time to pack the gear and see what we were really made of.

I gathered my 180 pounds of luggage and went to the airport. A half day later I arrived in a country where my vocabulary dropped to about 50 words—none of which could be put together to form a sentence. After a few days of hanging out in Huaraz and a short acclimatization trip into the mountains, I managed to contract something nasty and was out of commission for a week. On my second day of being sick, I set a personal best by reading a 580-page book, cover to cover, without leaving the bathroom. It’s a record I hope to never beat.

Eventually I got to the point where I could leave the safety of the bathroom, but we didn’t dare risk staying in a camp. So, we got in a Taxi at 4:30am, rode a couple hours to the trailhead, climbed (plodded up) Vallunaraju (5896m, 18,660ft), and were back in Huaraz eating chicken in the Brasa Roaja 11 hours after walking out the front door.

Once back in town, Andy got the funk, so I hung out and worked on my very-poor Spanish while he suffered the wrath. Several rolls of toilet paper later, Andy found (relative) health, and we headed back into the hills.

Andy of the business pitch of the West Face Direct, TocllarajuWe made the 5600+ foot approach through the Ishinca Valley and up the moraine to find a less-than-ideal campsite at the base of the glacier. Our sorry excuse for acclimatization wasn’t doing the job, and we felt terrible. Regardless, we were running out of days, so we got up and started to brew when the alarm went off at 2:00am the next morning. We crossed the ’shrund just as the sun was rising and started up the West Face Direct on Tocllaraju (6032m, 19,760ft).

Tied into our single 8.5mm x 70m rope, Andy and I simal-climbed the first half of the face in an hour and a half. When I threw in the first belay with the last of the gear, our progress came to a screeching halt. Altitude hit us like a brick, and we eventually had to start pitching it out. The last belayed pitch went into a crevasse near the summit and climbs up an 80-degree snow (not ice) wall to exit onto the ridge. Andy stepped up and put it to bed—a very impressive effort.

With the acclimatization gained on Tocllaraju, we had one day to rest, one day to pack, and needed to be back into the mountains on the third day to get a shot at our main objective. The author feeling the altitude on the summit of TocllarajuYou guessed it… I got sick. We racked up a total of 14 sick days (full on in-the-bathroom days) between us during the trip. We never got a chance to attempt the route we trained so hard for. Instead, with one day left, we went downtown and sold the vast majority of my gear so I could pay my mortgage when I got home.

What little climbing we did in Peru was excellent. The access to very impressive mountains is extremely easy. And basecamps on grass makes for a pleasant trip (unless you’re sick). I made my mortgage (barely), and am already trying to decide where to go next year. Maybe I’ll go to Alaska and find out if it’s better to spend 14 days in a tent than 14 days in a bathroom.



Blogger Ade Miller said...

Nice post!

14 days in a tent is waay better than two weeks in the bathroom. I've done both - trust me.



4/27/2007 11:19 PM

Blogger j said...

yikes! any theory on what got you sick? i'm headed down july 5 -- would love to hear any thoughts/ advice for climbing, best peaks, etc. i'm thanks!


6/15/2008 1:27 PM


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