On my second attempt on Huascaran Sur (6768m) I finally reached the summit of this giant, the highest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca and the entire Peru.
Preparations in Huaraz
After the first and unsuccessful attempt to reach the summit of Huascaran merely a week ago (due to bad weather), I spent some few days in Huaraz to see if I could find a new partner and a replacement for Rob. This would however prove quite difficult at such short notice. Since it would be suicidal to climb Huascaran alone because of all the crevasses, I decided to hire a local guide who could join the rope. I went to Galaxia Expeditions, and they put me in immediate contact with the guide Hector. The price for a guide on Huascaran is more expensive than other mountains in the area, and the fixed rate is currently 130 USD per day, against the normal 90 USD for lower mountains. I didn't want a porter, but as the guide usually will require a porter, we compromised on a solution that we took a porter for the first two days up to Camp I (USD 30 per day). But from Camp I to Camp II (and back down the mountain) we agreed that the guide had to carry his own equipment including tent, food and stove. I however would carry my own tent, food and stove from Base Camp up to Camp II and back again.
I also asked Galaxia to arrange a taxi from Huaraz to Musho (180 Soles), but only one way because I knew from the last time that it was easy to get a cheaper taxi in Musho when we were heading back to Huaraz (100 Soles). Apart from that I saw no need for Galaxia to provide any further services. Mules I could, for example, fix myself locally in Musho at a much cheaper price than Galaxia would charge. Entrance ticket to Huascaran National Park (65 Soles) I didn't need, since my last ticket was still valid (1 month).
(1 Soles = 0.37 USD)
Places and elevations:
Musho - 3000 m (trailhead)
Base Camp - 4200 m (the Refuge is a better place to stay if one are acclimatised)
Refuge - 4675 m
Camp I - 5300 m
Camp II - 5900 m
Huascaran Sur - 6768 m
The taxi picked me up as agreed at 7am in Edward's Inn (Huaraz) and drove me over to Galaxia's office. Here we picked up Hector (guide), Carloz (porter) and all their gear. We arrived Musho (3000m) after 1-2 hours in the taxi, and here we easily got two mules with a driver (80 Soles). While the mules were loaded up, we set off in advance and arrived at Base Camp (4200m) after 2.5 hours in a fairly rapid pace. Here we had to wait for the mules, because it's impossible to get any higher than Base Camp for the mules. Therefore, everything must be carried from Base Camp. I was prepared to carry all my equipment, but Carloz offered to carry my plastic boots up to the Refuge, which I gladly accepted, since my backpack was big and heavy enough already. The route from Base Camp (4200m) to the Refuge (4675m) goes mostly over slabs and involves some easy scrambling. I arrived at the Refuge as the first one after one hour or so. I chose to stay in the comfortable Refuge (12 USD), while Hector and Carloz pitched their tent in a suitable area outside. It turned out that I were the only guest at the Refuge this evening, in fact I was very pleased to have the whole dorm to myself (no snoring).
I woke up at 7-8 in the morning and ate a simple breakfast (bread and cheese). Outside the hut Hector and Carloz were already starting to pack. Carloz came in and wondered if he could carry something for me, so I handed over a couple of kilos of food that he could bring up to Camp I for me. While Carloz set off in advance, Hector and myself spent a few extra minutes in the nice weather before we came after. The first leg from the Refuge (4675m) to Camp I (5300m) goes mainly over slabs, some scrambling here and there but easy under dry conditions. The second leg crosses a relatively flat glacier without any crevasses, so only crampons are necessary here. I noticed early on that I tackled the altitude a lot better now than last time. Thus we arrived at Camp I in a reasonably short time (2.5 hours). Carloz had already pitched the tent for Hector, and he was now very eager to get back to Huaraz. We therefore took a quick farewell. I pitched my own tent, and it did not last long before the wind picked up and the snowing started. The whole night through it was snowing and storming outside our tents, and I were not exactly optimistic about the prospects for a summit.
Both today and the day before we had met several groups on their way back down the mountain, and all reported a lot of snow higher up and that they all failed to reach the top because of this tough conditions. Also, our chances of reaching the summit now seemed to fade away.
I was quite surprised to wake up to a bright blue sky after the stormy night. My mood changed dramatically, and I got a new hope that Huascaran now finally would open its doors. The route between Camp I and Camp II via the Garganta Icefall, is in normal years the crux of Huascaran. Some years this route can be extremely dangerous (falling seracs). It can also be difficult, and even impossible if the big crevasse in the Canaleta open up in its full width. But now in 2011 the conditions were surprisingly good in the Garganta Icefall. One must still cross a number of questionable snow bridges and it's important to keep a fast pace past an area where large chunks of ice (up to several tonnes) fall directly down on the route. But otherwise no problems. Because of the snowfall last night, someone had to put a new track on the glacier but fortunately we got good help from a big Austrian expedition with 3 clients, 2 guides and 5 porters/cooks. Me and Hector left wisely behind them. We arrived at Camp II (5900m) after 2.5 hours. With the currently good weather conditions, Camp II was hardly recognizable from the 3 days I spent there with Rob last week, when it was a fairly bad storm up there.
Hector got some (false) information from the Austrian group that they planned to start for the summit at midnight. I persuaded Hector that we started somewhat later, around 2 am because I was afraid of cold toes if the night became too long. Knowing that a relatively large group would pave the way for us, I fell instantly into a good sleep in Camp II, although it was freezing cold inside my tent.
We headed off a bit later than promised (2:20am), and when we passed the tents of the Austrian expedition we were very surprised to see that they were just about to wake up. I quickly understood that the situation was now completely reversed. This meant that we had to find the way and break the trail the entire night through. We could not expect any support from the moon either, as it was less than half and gave minimal of brightness. Neither did it promise very good that Hector's batteries in his headlamp were about to die out after an hour or so, and he could not find the spare batteries in his jacket. But we still managed to navigate over the scary crevasses before we reached the saddle between Huascaran Norte and Sur. We missed, however, the easier approach above the saddle and instead climbed directly up a steep and fairly long slope of snow and ice (50 degrees) without running belays. It seemed, fortunately not so scary in darkness because then one cannot see the abyss. We continued through a labyrinth of seracs, and used some running belays (snow pickets and ice screws) here and there. The normal route traverses usually far right and ain't more than a walk, but this easy route was impossible this year because of a crevasse higher up. Therefore, the steep direct route up the seracs, was the only possibility this year. There were several passages of 50 and 60 degrees over and through the seracs but never more than one rope lenght between each platform. We had 4 ice screws and 4 snow pickets, so we could climb for extended periods on running belays. But all this work took quite a long time, sometimes we struggled in deep snow, tested out some snow-bridges, while other times we were on hard ice which required a high focus and a slower pace. At about 6400m the technical challenges came to an end, and all that was left was a long, gentle slope that almost never ended. Fortunately it was not sustained walking in deep snow as we first feared. The snow had been blown away on some parts of the route, which meant a lot easier walking for some periods. But Hector's efforts in front was still impressive. He had to lie down on his knees a couple of times to vomit, but he still continued unabated to the top. I followed mostly in his footsteps, a lot less laborious, but I also became utterly exhausted. At one occasion I was feeling nauseous and on the verge of puking but it lasted only a few minutes. The Austrians with their guides who started 1-2 hours after us, were catching up on us, but they had a very easy job now that the route and tracks were trodden and the snow bridges already had been thoroughly tested by us. I was understandably a bit angry on them. Here they came to Peru in a full-service expedition with a big team of porters, cooks and guides on the mountain. They were virtually carried to the top. In addition, they had sent the two of us in front to make the tracks.
We had a fantastic sunrise and could see a large number of beautiful peaks in the central part of the mighty Cordillera Blanca, one of the most famous in the world and most photographed. Unfortunately, my camera was in my backpack, and our non-stop approach to be in constant movement towards the top, meant that the camera remained in the backpack until we reached the top at 9:10am after nearly 7 hours on the move. Then it was simply too late to take pictures of the spectacular sunrise (very annoying in retrospect). But it was still a great feeling to stand on the roof of Peru. I had almost given up the hope because of the unreliable weather this season. I gambled on this particular day (July 21) and really, it turned out to be a very good choice. A cloudless sky and hardly any wind at all, that has indeed not been the normal weather this season.
On the way back down we met the Austrians with guides. Their pace had dropped dramatically, and one of them seemed severely exhausted. We continued down after some short talks, and eventually arrived the technical sections. We left a couple of snow pickets and abseiled the two most exposed pitches. Otherwise, we hurried past the large overhanging seracs that had now begun to melt in the sun. Almost down in the saddle, we now saw the steep climb we had taken in the dark hours of the night. This part we wisely avoided with a traverse to the right, which had a much easier descent. Then we continued across the enormous saddle. Hector almost went through one of the big crevasses but he got safely over to solid ground with a couple of big leaps. The black holes on the surface caused me to choose a different but untested snow bridge over the 50-meter deep crevasse. A few thrilling seconds, but Hector had a good foothold and a tight rope on the other side, thus we were more prepared now. Then we crossed another couple of huge crevasses before we safely arrived back at Camp II. It was already fairly late in the day (1pm), so we decided to spend another night in Camp II and continue down the objectively dangerous slopes to Camp I when it was a bit safer conditions, which meant early in the morning.
We were a bit annoyed to still be in Camp II, because at 6 am it was a strong wind outside. It was cold and unpleasant to get out of the tents and pack down the camp. Fortunately, we were going down and not to the summit today. We descended the objectively dangerous route between Camp II and Camp I without any incidents in about an hour. Then we continued down at a rapid pace towards the Refuge. Here we could relax a while in the sun and dry our tents and other equipment. We knew that we had plenty of time to reach down to Base Camp on time, given that the mules would arrive there at noon. We bought a couple of beers and enjoyed the refreshment in the sun, while we slowly repacked our equipment and backpacks.
Well down in Base Camp we discovered that this place almost had been transformed into a small village, because of a large Japanese expedition staying there. Our mule and mule driver had arrived as agreed, and it was a big relief to continue the descent to Musho without 25 kg on our backs. We had time for more beers in Musho, while we waited for the mule to arrive with our backpacks. Then we got a taxi back to Huaraz. After a hot shower at Edward's Inn, I joined Rob for a better dinner at Cafe Andino. Later in the evening I met Hector in a pub, where he had invited me on local brandy (Pisco Sour). A nice ending on a successful expedition to yet another demanding mountain and country highpoint. Perhaps I should start to choose the easier peaks and much less time-consuming country highpoints, such as Benelux and the Baltic states. No thanks, I have no urge to bag them now, because for me it is the majestic mountains and adventures that entice, rather than some theoretical coordinates in a pancake country like the Netherlands.
Basically, I had rather big plans to conquer both Huascaran Norte (6655m) and Sur (6768m), as well as the beautiful Artesonraju (from the logo of Paramont Pictures). But the 3-4 weeks stay in Huaraz has in many ways just been about Huascaran Sur only. Initially, I wasted a couple of precious days in Huaraz just waiting for Rob to arrive back from the summit of Chopicalqui. Then we wasted a week on an unsuccessful attempt on Huascaran. Then I spent another 4-5 days of rest and organizing in Huaraz before the second attempt on Huascaran. Now I only got 4 days left before I have to return to Lima, thus there will be no more time for another big peak in the Cordillera Blanca. Quite unfortunate, but at least the main objective (Huascaran Sur) was a success. Now I look forward to some wonderful weeks in Bolivia, with several 6000 meter peaks on my to-do list, including Sajama which at 6542 meters above sea level, is the country highpoint of Bolivia.
Huascaran at EveryTrail