Category Archives: Ice

Posts of our ascents!

Fitz Roy: Do. Or Not Do. There Is No Try.

View from the Aguja de l'S

View from Aguja de l’S

Because of the frequent snowfalls during the first half of December, some ice/mixed routes of the massif were in unusually good conditions at the end of December i.e. late for the season. Among them: the Exocet route, a goulotte line to the rear of a chimney drawing a straight line on the south-east face of Cerro Standhardt, and the Ragni route, a long ice, mixed and rime climb going up the north face of Cerro Torre. In the Ragni route the relatively dry austral winter had prevented the formation of rime (icy snow sticking to the ice and to the rocks) which usually makes the climbing more difficult (cleaning/digging work and bad protections). The Exocet and Ragni routes are graded ED and ED+ respectively but this year favourable conditions probably lowered the Ragni route grade to TD+/ED explaining why such a large number of parties attempted and completed the route. Both routes lead to the summit of two of the most impressive peaks of the massif and have become emblematic due to their difficulty, engagement, itinerary and quality and variety of the climbing. However we did not attempt any of these routes… We had first-hand information on the routes available from Paul, Chris and John, three Canadian guys staying like us at “Refugio Chaltén”, we had all the necessary gear and we had it stashed at the Niponino camp that is the starting point for both routes.
The Fitz Roy massif seen from Niponino

The Fitz Roy massif seen from Niponino camp

We talked over it a lot, weighing the pros and cons and made our decision for two main reasons: first we are fond of the principle of linear progression that we have always applied with Stephan. Before attempting an ED route you should have climbed enough TD routes of the same climbing style and even more so in a massif where the engagement is higher due to slow and limited rescue (no rescue in the wall). It was not our case since we had climbed only few TD ice/mixed routes. Second we had other worthwhile objectives (although less major…) which were also in good conditions at that time such as the Chiaro de Luna route on Aguja St-Exupéry and the Afanassief or Franco-Argentinean routes on Cerro Fitz Roy. A third reason that concerned only the Exocet route was that only one party can climb the route at a time because of the risk of ice fall in the chimney, raising the probability of retreat during the approach.
The Franco-Argentian Route on Fitz Roy with some improvised bergschrund traversing

The Franco-Argentinean route on Fitz Roy with our itinerary

When on Thursday morning, after our climbs on El Mocho on Sunday and on Aguja St-Exupéry on Wednesday, we heard that the weather would hold until Monday evening, we did not hesitate too long. We hiked down to Niponino over the chaotic and unstable scree slopes, packed all our equipment and departed for El Chaltén. On the way we ran across several climbers who we asked for information about the routes on Fitz Roy. Before the mid-January “brecha” (the present one), Fitz Roy had only been climbed over the Supercanaleta route by a couple of teams during the New Year “brecha” and by one French team over the Franco-Argentinean route in winter conditions beginning of December.
Once in El Chaltén and after having asked more climbers it turned out that only the long Afanassief route and some other long routes on the Goretta pilar had been climbed successfully during the present “brecha” (long means two bivies in the route). The Franco-Argentinean route had been attempted in the beginning of the “brecha” (on Sunday) but the party had retreated three pitches below the end of the rock climbing part because of large amounts of ice. The long routes were out of question since the time left until the end of the “brecha” was too short (Friday to Monday) and since we did not have the optimal equipment for these long routes. If the second does not intend to jumar it is indeed recommended to have very light backpacks i.e. approach shoes, aluminium crampons and a light two-persons sleeping bag. We thus opted for the Franco-Argentinean route hoping that the ice in the upper pitches had melted enough during the 5 days of good weather which had followed the last attempt. We also knew that at least one other party was attempting or would attempt the route that day or the next day.
The plan was the following: leave El Chaltén on Friday late in the afternoon, hike to the Rio Blanco camp (three hours), bivy there, start at 5 am on Saturday from Rio Blanco to Paso Superior (four hours) in order to benefit from the night refrost on the glacier (there was eventually no refrost), take some rest during the day until the departure at night on Sunday, summit on Sunday and return to El Chaltén on Monday. We did not take any tent with us to be as light as possible.
Sunrise on FItz Roy

Sunrise on FItz Roy

If this works to keep the heat outside as well?

Trying to sleep at Paso Superior. Does this work to keep the heat outside as well?

On Saturday morning we were at Paso Superior where we met two of the three parties that had attempted the route on Friday (and first ones since the party on the previous Sunday). One Austrian party had reached the summit, climbing the last three pitches with crampons and ice axes and being back late on the same day at Paso Superior. The second party, an American one, had turned back halfway up and the third party, also American, was still on the mountain (they had bivied close to the summit). Later that day, Tim and Sam, a Belgian party showed up at Paso Superior also intending to climb the Franco-Argentinean route on Sunday.
The Desmochada, next time...

Sunrise at the Brecha de los Italianos with Aguja Desmochada, next time…

We woke up at 11.30 pm and left Paso Superior at 0.30 am on Sunday followed by the Belgian party. The refrost was only superficial and stepping aside tracks meant breaking through a delightful crust. We traversed the slopes below the bergschrund to the left until we could spot the tracks of the Friday parties. We found two sets of tracks crossing the bergschrund over snow bridges that no longer existed. The bergschrund was 5 to 10 m high (double as high if you would have rappelled in it to climb it) and overhanging. We traversed further to the left and almost as far as Aguja Poincenot we encountered a zone where the bergschrund had partly collapsed. A small berm was overlooked by 4 m of steep ice and 3 m of overhanging snow/ice mixture. Stephan engaged in the dodgy section, digging through the snow/ice upper part, desperately looking for good anchor points for his ice axes and trying to make the mantle less steep until he suddenly fell backwards and landed on the berm 5 m below, luckily without getting hurt. He left his backpack on the berm, took the one “estaca” we had and courageously went back to the fight. Some minutes later he had overcome the bergschrund and was hauling his backpack. I joined him and we made a long traverse to the right on 60 degrees steep snow slopes. We linked up with the tracks of the Friday parties and followed the base of a rockwall, stepping over ice and bad snow. We eventually came up against some rocks and climbed two pitches up to the ridge overlooking the Brecha de los Italianos. We scrambled down to the breach and took a break waiting for the sun to rise. It was 5.30 am. We had a soup and we stashed the sleeping bag, the mattress, the radio, the cooker, some food and two ice axes (out of four).
The last bit of snow on the Silla before the rock climbing

The last bit of snow at the Silla before the rock climbing

The Belgium team is just behind us

The Belgian team is just behind us

With the first sunlight we climbed easy rocks up to la Silla, the snow saddle at the base of the south-east face of Fitz Roy where the Franco-Argentinean route starts. We climbed the first ten pitches (of which some beautiful continuous crack pitches) relatively fast despite many wet sections and our heavy backpacks. The leader carried his mountain boots and his clothes while the second carried his boots and his clothes plus two pairs of crampons, two ice axes, food and water. The 6th grade pitches were sustained but not undergraded as on Aguja Media Luna or El Mocho. On the contrary the 5th grade pitches often included a 6th grade section.
The first 6b pitch, perfect but wet hand crack

The first 6b+ pitch, a perfect but wet hand crack

On the last 3 pitches, the cracks are filled with ice, water on the face and we protect with ice screws, funny!

On the last 3 pitches, the cracks are filled with ice, the slabs are dripping and we protect with ice screws, funny!

From pitch 11, many cracks were filled with ice and water was flowing on top of it. We climbed the two first 5th grade pitches at the expense of some gymnastics, wet clothes, cold hands (we were in the shade by then) and one ice screw! We then had the choice between a 6c pitch on the left that had turned into a waterfall and a 5+ pitch on the right that was sprayed with large amounts of melting ice. Stephan opted for a variant in the middle. He gained some height removing ice from cracks and holds with his ice axe, overcame a difficult dihedral with the back on one side and the feet on the other and eventually topped out on snow slopes marking the end of the difficulties. The Belgian party had caught up and chose the same option.
The crux pitch, cleaning of the ice from the walls

The crux pitch, cleaning the ice off from the walls

after the last pitch, which was as well the crux of the route, covered in ice, we reach the upper slopes

We reach the upper slopes at around 5 pm, the last pitches have taken us a long time

We put on boots and crampons and climbed the last 250 m of 50 degrees steep ice. At 6 pm, almost 18 hours after having left Paso Superior, we were standing on the summit of Fitz Roy, warmed up by the sun still high in the sky but shaken and cooled down by high winds while admiring the Campo de Hielo, a huge, flat glacier covered with snow stretching beyond the Torre massif. We started to abseil stucking the rope only once in the upper slopes.
Louis on the summit of Fitz Roy

Louis on the summit of Fitz Roy

Happy, our last summit in South America

Happy and sad, our last summit in South America

Collateral dammage

Collateral dammage

At 11 pm, around 20 rappels later, we were at the Brecha de los Italianos. We had a five-course supper (1 cracker = 1 course) and tested the concept of one sleeping bag and one matress for two, sitting instead of lying down because of the lack of space. We experienced the feeling of being so tired that we only thought of sleeping but being prevented from it by the cold and the discomfort of the position.

Where to go?

Where to go?

The panoramic view during the rappel

The panoramic view during the abseiling

At 4.30 am, tired of not sleeping, we prepared some tea, ate the last crackers and at 5 am we were abseiling the first out of eight rappels from the breach down to the glacier. The Belgian party had stuck their rope in the last rappel before la Silla so that they had to spend the night up there and to climb the first pitch again in the morning to unstuck their rope. At 8.30 am on Monday we were back at Paso Superior happy, tired and relieved, 32 hours after having left. We ran down in the midday heat to Lago de los Tres, Rio Blanco and Laguna Capri where we had a swim and ate our last rations of bread, “cremoso” cheese and “dulce de membrillo” (quince).
On Tuesday the “brecha” was over and the wind was blowing again through the streets of El Chaltén. Within 2.5 hours, at our hostal, we sold 30 kg of gear (ropes, friends, ice screws, backpack, poles, expresses, tent, clothes) to Argentinean climbers. On Wednesday morning we were leaving our homelike hostal “la Casa de Jesús”, Natalia and the kids with heavy hearts after three and a half weeks in El Chaltén. Soon it would be time to leave South America as well.
It's tough to understand Juana, but entertainment assured

It’s tough to understand Juana, but entertainment assured

We climbed:
Fitz Roy, Franco-Argentinean route, ED-, 650m 6c+ (6a/A1) 55°
More pictures can be found here.

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A 3-day ride with Señor Chopicalqui

In the mind of the mountaineer, the beauty of a mountain is certainly not an objective matter. It may depend on the view of the mountain from a particular angle, a particular moment of the day (most often when the first or last sunlight caresses its slopes), a story or adventure that creates a connection with the mountain or sometimes just a picture that has been taken by another mountaineer.
In the case of the Nevado Chopicalqui (6345m), it was a simple picture that awoke our curiosity, even before we knew where the Cordillera Blanca was. To us, the Northwest ridge seemed to be a perfect climb, combining a beautiful mountain with technical difficulties (TD, 2-3 days, source Biggar 1996/ Reedition 2005). However, as usual for such kind of climbs, information is scarce and the only reliable source documenting a successfull (but an epic 7 days) climb dated from 2002, which represents ages in terms of glacier changes, rockfalls, bergschrunds… that meant that we opted for adventure and the total unknown.

Our route on the NW ridge of Chopicalqui, picture by Lucho Lopez Oropeza, a Peruvian Mountain Guide

Chopicalqui lies in the Yungay Province, which is sadly known for the huge earthquake and alluvium that killed 22’000 people in the city of Yungay 40 years ago. As good “gringos” we got ruled out at the bus stop in Yungay and paid for an expensive taxi drive up to the basecamp. Already in the taxi, our visit the night before to Louis favourite restaurant “La Brasa Roja” proved to be fatal to my stomach which rebelled against the short walk to the basecamp at 4300m. Once arrived, my stomach refused to contain any food or tea during two days, delaying our departure to the ridge. During that time, the camp was abandoned. We were the only team near Chopicalqui, only cows and donkeys fighting with us over the campground (one of them litteraly attacked Louis backpack and made our pasta and milk powder bags explode).

Finally, on day 3, I felt strong enough to shoulder the lighter mountaineering backpack, while we left our trekking backpacks hidden in the rocks surrounding the basecamp. During the night, we walked up the grassy slopes in the direction of the NW ridge, overcame some delicate and slippery slabs and reached the glacier at dawn.

Louis in Muchacho-Style in a delicate section of the approach

Fortunately, while I was vegetating in the tent the day before, Louis had hiked up the opposite moraine to look for a way between the crevasses up to the foot of the ridge. He took the lead and navigated us safely between crevasses and seracs sometimes as large as buildings.

A short mixed section allows us a relatively easy way through the seracs

But the last meters to the ridge were barred by a huge bergschrund that turned out to be the crux of the day. We solved it by a no-foot climb with only our ice axes in almost loose snow.

Stephan climbs the glacier towards the ridge

During the last 3 weeks, everybody had told us that the moon was about to change and consequently the weather. So far, we had proven to be very lucky, but on this trip our luck faded out. As accurate as a watch, everyday the sky would cloud over around midday and it would start snowing gently for some hours. During the night, the sky would clear up again, yielding a cloudless morning sky and taking our worries partly away but not the new snow.
For the first night, we managed to set up our camp at the foot of the ridge at about 5500m, on a snowy shoulder big enough for our tent. It was midday and it began to snow. We holed up in our tent for the rest of the day. We were quite down, barely speaking to each other. The snow exerted its weight not only on our tent but also on our spirits. The next day was going to be a big day. Would there be a way up? Where would it be? In addition, we could procure only one fuel canister in Huaraz, which in my opinion was going to be enough to melt snow and prepare food for one evening, maybe two. Since we had no idea how many days this route would require, the perspective of eating snow to hydrate ourselves further increased the tension. That evening, we finally melted an amount of snow equivalent to 4L of water with our jetboil (cooker). After that, we shook the fuel canister to estimate its content: 1/3 of gas left…

First night, and very happy to be able to cook in the tent, outside it is snowing…

Our camp 1, just next to the crevasse.

The night finally was calm but freezing cold. As we awoke, our sleeping bags were soaked from the condensation and the interior of the tent was all covered with a layer of frost. We packed our camp before dawn and soon faced the first difficulties. A huge bergschrund barred the access to the headwall.

Louis passing a scary bergschrund

Through some ice stalactites and a debris section, the bergschrund appeared possible to climb. Louis led this scary pitch, placing his ice axes with care, finding only few solid holds. Reaching the ridge, he was out of gear and I took over the lead. On top of us, a huge snow mushroom forbid any passage. As far as we knew from the old descriptions, this obstacle should be avoided on the right side. However I was more attracted by the left side, that was hidden to us but already in the sun… it was gambling. If I were wrong, we would have to repeat a delicate traverse and downclimb or abseil. The top ridge was already in the sun and the snow already softening… I went for the sun.
I traversed under a huge band of overhanging ice to reach a rocky and very airy ledge. The ice was solid and so was the protection. After 20m of traverse, I reached a steep but easy snow field and I looked up. A way between seracs opened up to me and I got a big smile, won! We simul-climbed to the shoulder and also Louis was smiling when he joined me shouting: “I thought you were either a genius or a total idiot!”

Louis reaching the shoulder at the beginning of the ridge

What followed was an airy climb on a razor-blade snow ridge, an abyss of vertical 1000m on the left and 500m on the right. Often the snow was loose, allowing only few solid placements. Both of us were fully concentrated, placing delicately every foot and ice axe.

Stephan on the airy ridge

To avoid a collapsed section of the ridge, we had to improvise

Chopicalqui Norte (6021m) and Chopicalqui (6354m)

It took us 3h to reach the summit of Chopicalqui Norte and we were relieved to find a square meter of almost flat ground. It was 11am, the sky began to cloud over again and we decided to install our second camp 100m after the bottom of the abseil at around 6000m.
As soon as we planted our tent, it began to snow. But that time, we were in higher spirits, our moods boosted by our route finding and the fact that the airy ridge was behind us. But difficulties still remained ahead of us and a retreat from that point would be very difficult. Another miracle made us cheer up. After preparing the Japanese noodles and melting snow, the fuel canister seemed only to be half empty!

Our tracks on easy terrain

Our second camp at 6000m

We woke up with a clear sky above our ice cave, but with a very strong wind. At dawn, we were again facing the first crux: a pitch with a bergschrund bridged with loose snow, mixed terrain, vertical ice and a delicate mantel onto loose snow. We were feeling the effect of altitude more and more, each movement made more difficult. Steep snow fields followed and alternated with airy traverses on top of seracs. The knee-deep snow of the last days was slowing us down considerably, making us breath hard at every step, the wind rushing in our wide-open mouths.

First crux of the third day: a treacherous bergschrund, solid rock, steep ice and a mantel onto loose snow

Louis on a delicate mantel onto loose snow

Us climbing the crux on the third day, photographed from Pisco by Lucho Lopez Oropeza, a Peruvian Mountain Guide

Louis organising his gear on the mushroom

Last 100m before the summit

At 8.30am, we finally reached the summit. A moment of deep emotion after 3 days of hardship. Our glory lasted for only a few minutes, the strong wind urging us to climb down.

Stephan in a whirlwind of ice crystals, making him blind for seconds

No one had been climbing the normal route for days and the old track was covered by 50cm of fresh snow. We downclimbed a runnel, abseiled once on Abalakov, jumped over some crevasses, sometimes wading hip-deep accumulations of snow.

Even the descent from the summit requires a lot of attention

The top mushroom with a happy andinist

On the lower part of the glacier, a few small flags indicated the way. We were all too happy to step on the moraine since head-size snow balls were sticking to our crampons, making us walk on unstable high heels.

A long and arduous descent on a heating glacier

We had a break in the sun, unpacking the tent, the sleeping bags and the mattresses to dry, prepared a soup with our still half-full fuel canister! After an hour of rest, we walked down to the basecamp. Cheered up by our success, the 2h hike felt effortless.

The moraine path down to the basecamp

Flower of the Andes

A bad surprise awaited us at the camp, though. Our trekking backpacks with gear and food were not in their hideout any more. How could that be? No other team had been on the mountain. Since we had sighted only cows and donkeys in the first two days, our first guess was that a local, either a farmer or an “arriero” had been checking out the camp. We settled down for another night, cooked without running out of gas and raised our ears to the slightest noise for the case that the theft would return.

The next day, we walked down to the road 106 hoping to be given a lift, only to find out that all the traffic was in the direction opposite to Yungay. The Pisco basecamp was about an hour by foot away and turned out to be a much busier place. There, we found a taxi driving us to the National Parc checkpoint. We told the story of the theft before taking a “collectivo” back to Yungay and to Huaraz.

Chopicalqui in Quechua means “fits in the center”. We will try to take it at face value, remembering in first place our 3 days on that magnificent mountain and putting the unfortunate loss of our backpacks aside.

Roasted cuys for cruel non-vegetarians…

More photos can be seen here.

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“Penitentes de la Muerte”

For once easy navigating in the “penitentes” field

Getting information about routes and conditions is a continual challenge. Since routes on the high peaks of Cordillera Blanca are principally ice climbs, their practicability can change from season to season and sometimes from week to week (snow bridges over crevasses or bergschrunds, serac avalanches, …). In Huaraz no websites like camptocamp.org, ohm-chamonix.com, bergtour.ch provide up-to-date news and mountain hut wardens cannot be joined by phone (there are a few “refugios” spread over the mountain range).
Andy, the contact of Marius and hobby moutaineer gave us some good tips based on his experience and knowledge of the region. Additionally, we consulted two guides working for agencies and from whom we rented gear (tent or “estacas”). They could give us good advice on classic and popular routes that they are climbing regularly with clients.

Food preparation for 6 days

We also discussed with people met on the mountain (Peruvian guides (who you easily recognize by their green Mammut jackets, their small body heights and their alarm clocks set on 1 am) or other mountaineers (two Swiss girls, hurried New-Yorkers because they have only 2 weeks holiday, altitude sick Australians, a stomach sick Argentinian, an experienced Catalan, a British paraglider, French trekkers, a Japanese just having experienced whiteout, … (note the majority of Europeans)).
We also asked Zarela for advice, the owner of the hotel “Casa de Zarela” who hosts many climbers staying in Huaraz and the youth SAC expedition team who were very active in the Paron valley from mid-July to mid-August (thanks in particular to David Hefti for his explanations). Finally, we regularly stopped by the “Casa de guias” (like in Zermatt!) hoping for a guide to be there.
Last week, the long-haired, young guide on duty at “Casa de guias” was particularly helpful and enthusiast. From him (and Zarela too) we heard that the NE ridge of Ranrapalca (D+, 700 m) (6162 m) had been attempted three weeks earlier and that he recommended the direct route in the SW face of Tocllaraju (D, 600 m) (6025 m). That decided us and the next day we took a taxi to Pashpa, hired an “arriero” and one “mula” (40 soles + 20 soles per day) and hiked up to campamiento Ishinca at 4360 m. On day 2, on our own (meaning carrying heavy backpacks), we set the camp on the glacier below the pass between Nev. Ranrapalca and Nev. Ishinca at 5300 m.

Pasta with vegetable and soya meat

Sunset on the glacier camp of Ranrapalca

Our camp in front of Ranrapalca with our route on the NE ridge

At 2 am on day 3, leaving the tent, the sky was partly cloudy. We walked up to the pass encountering the first “penitentes” sections that we will qualify as medium (up to 1 m high). We climbed easy rocks and walked up the NE slopes in the direction of the ridge crossing new “penitentes” sections (medium and large (up to 2 m high)). At night, the “penitentes” are frozen and only the tips or the thinner ones are likely to break. The lowest point between two “penitentes” does not collapse when you step on it and you can hold on to them when climbing between two. Walking through “penitentes” feels like running an inclined 100 m hurdles, but with a hurdle every meter. At 3.30 am, we got on the ridge over a steep snow slope. We followed the craggy NE ridge over not so steep but exposed rock, snow and icy sections (that reminded us the Täschhorn-Dom traverse) until we hit against the final step before the top plateau. We climbed it left of the edge, first over pleasant mixed terrain (good rock and good ice), then over snow and icy slopes. On the top plateau, another craggy ridge alterning rock and (sometimes loose) snow sections still separated us from the summit. We stood on the summit at 8.30 am, enveloped by thin clouds as during most of the climb. We unclimbed the top ridge and abseiled twice in the direction of the NE slopes, releasing loose rocks and nearly blocking the rope. The next couple of hours were particularly stressful, finding our way in unknown terrain, through medium to high “penitentes” softened by the sunlight and thus collapsing at the first contact. Our track zigzagged through crevasses and seracs, the snow cover softening in an alarming way. After numerous unclimbs, indirections and one abseil down a serac, we could link up with the morning track. At 1.30 pm, after 11.5 hours of climbing and fighting against “penitentes”, we slipped into our sleeping bags for a regular nap.

Louis in the mixed section in deep fog

Louis on the summit ridge on Ranra

Louis downclimbing Ranrapalca

Stephan rappels down the mixed section on Ranrapalca

Not easy to navigate between the crevasses and soft bridges on Ranrapalca

Day 4 was our day of rest according to the plan, meaning: dismantling the camp, walking down 950 m elevation to campamiento Ishinca, packing food left at the “refugio” and hiking up 650 m elevation to the high camp of Tocllaraju at 5000 m. At the camp, we met three Peruvians listening to music and accompanying one Italian filming for some RAI documentary.

Mini mountains of moss, even with trees!

Tocllaraju, our route on the second summit

Stephan in front of Ranrapalca at the Toclla high camp

On day 5, at 2 am, we left together with our “tent neighbours”, our routes separating at 5400 m. The wind was strong and we could never get warm in spite of 4 clothing layers and repeated efforts to enhance blood circulation in our fingers and toes. We simulclimbed without rest, reaching the top ridge at sunrise, the sky perfectly blue and the wind as strong as ever. At 6.40 am we stood slanted on the summit, at 6.42 am we were preparing the first abseil, passing the Peruvian-Italian team in the top slopes of the W ridge. Since I knew the way down and since the wind was not getting weaker, we made no break until the camp, unpacking untouched food and drinks at 8.30 am for a late breakfast.

Having left too early, we almost reached the summit of Tocllaraju at sunrise

Trying to connect to Couleur 3

Our “arriero” on the local soccer field. The day before Peru held Argentina at bay 1-1.

Some more pictures can be found here.

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Exploring the Paron Valley

Choosing which summit to climb is not an easy task and in our case it requires in average 2 days to prepare our minds, packs and stomachs. Since Marius had to leave back to Chili, this time Louis and I were on our own. Heavily loaded with food and gear for 5 days we set off for Artesonraju (6025 m), one of the unconsciously most famous summits in the world (it inspired the logo of the Paramount Pictures Studio).

Artesonraju rising

Being tired of the long “collectivo” travels, where people are rather considered as sardines than 1m82 tall Swiss mountaineers with over large backpacks we decided to attempt two summits in one stretch. The Piramide del Garcilaso lies next to Arteson and offered interesting enough lines so our choice was obvious.

The laguna Paron and the Piramide del Garcilaso

After the usual bargaining with the taxi driver, he accepted to drive us for a reasonable price (80 soles ~ 40$) to the turquoise Laguna Paron, the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca. Following the lake shore the path slowly started to climb decently on a abrupt moraine. The landscape is offered to us in a dramatic manner, soon Arteson appeared in front of us and the Paron glacier. For once we were happy to set our camp on dry and not frozen ground, with the embarrassing snow melting.

The hike up to the camp next to the glacier Paron

The night was clear, and as honest Peruvian climbers in Peru we got up at 1h only to discover that our Swiss friend with his guide were already within the technical section of Arteson. We hurried up across the Paron Glacier, slalomed around the crevasses at the foot of Arteson to be finally confronted with the 700m high South-East face. Darkness let us believe that the summit was not too far, but the weak light of the other team’s headlamps taught us differently. The snow conditions were good, soon the sun was highlighting the whole face of the mountain and our fingers finally awoke from the cold. The “estacas“, a belay device often used in the Andes proved to be very usefull to make quick progression. Ice appeared only on the last pitches, that slowed us down since we had to stop simul-climbing.

Stephan climbing one of the last pitches of Artesonraju

Louis on the icy last pitches

Our summit was just topping out of the clouds, at moments, clearing the view over a boundless sea of clouds and other mountain tops, which was even more breathtaking since we were exhausted from the climb.

Steep repel on the ice

The huge “rimaya” is passed more easily downwards

The 700m of abseils seemed eternal to us but finally we reached our camp without incidents. We decided to spend the night at the same place and only to hike to the Piramide high camp the next day.

Our route on the Artesonraju

Wide spaces again, on the way to our next camp

The cactus in flower

The initial plan was to climb the Piramide from its South face, since the technical climbs from the North-West face seemed to us rather dry and unfriendly. Though, arrived at the new campsite we soon discovered impacts on the snow fields of the “canaletta” on the South face that would have been our route, which were due to a serac hidden in the cloudy upper part of the mountain. We changed our plans and our choice finally fell on the West ridge, however the conditions of which were not very clear. Nevertheless we decided to see on spot and settled for the night. Sleep came at once, only to be awaken by hard winds that threatened to tear apart our tent. A departure at 1am seemed impossible, we changed the alarm to 3am, but the wind kept on blowing as strong as ever. 5am passed, 6am finally the wind gave in. Torn between the decision wether to leave or to stay, we hurried with the preparation and left the camp. The sky was still cloudy and the summit invisible. Suddenly it started snowing, our motivation fell below zero and we returned the 100m to our camp and the warmth of our sleeping bags. At 8am the sky cleared up again, and we were back on the track. Come what may, at least we’re going to have a try!

Inconsistent snow section above a first bergschrund

Soon enough we reached the pass and observed the ridge: An inconsistent sequence of big snow mushrooms, dry rock shoulders, narrow edges,… impossible. The sole way up for us seemed to be a “canaletta” that wriggled upwards between overhanging seracs, over several Bergschrunds, only to reach the West ridge halfway up to the summit. The climb was steep, in average 70° with vertical sections when we were about to change from channel to the other. Soon we too were climbing in the clouds, hardly seeing each other and tired we finally reached the ridge.

Looking for a way over the bergschrund on the Piramide del Garcilaso

It was 2pm, 4 hours of light left, 300m to the summit, the only distinguishing feature was Louis in front of me… we gave up and started the abseils. Unlike the classical routes we had to equip the belays ourselves, using estacas which we left or Abalakovs.

Putting in place the Abalakov to descend the Piramide

Just before dawn we reached our camp, preparing our food and falling asleep instantly.

Our route on the Piramide, Stephan lost in the “penitentes”

We were happy that we gave it a try, even though we did not reach the summit.

On the way down to the Laguna Paron, loaded as usual

One problem remained. Laguna Paron was a tourist place and in the high season a lot of taxis drive up tourists for short walks along the lake shore. However September is not any more high season in the Cordillera and visits to Paron become more rare. Arriving at the parking lot at 11am, we pulled a long face, not a single car! In other words 15km of walk only to have a single bar on our cell phones… Desperately we prepared a tea, ate our last piece of chocolate and got ready only to find a taxi with three clients coming our way. YEEESSSS!

Happy to find a little place in the trunk of the only car that drove the 15km to civilisation

Over the now few climbs on high peaks around Huaraz, each one implying between 3 and 6 days of autonomy, we have learnt how to plan meals which represent a compromise between what:

– is available in the shops of Huaraz
– is light to carry
– is easy to cook in one pan
– is vegetarian
– makes us walk or in other words what is energetic and balanced from a nutritional point of view.

After a few attempts and continuous improvements, we are proud to present a series of dishes (in growing order of weight so that we eat them in chronological order) that we eat for supper and that contribute in a non-negligible way to the motivation of the day:

– pasta with precooked tomato/mushroom sauce and boiled soja and onions with parmeggiano
– mashed potatos with chopped and boiled vegetables (carrots, turnip, lettuce, cilantro)
– Quinoa with with dry mushrooms, dry seitan, milk (powder), parmeggiano
– chinese noodles with boiled peas, onions and carrots

and almonds/nuts/dried fruit chocolate for dessert.

When we are back to town however, we take great care to recover the kg’s lost on the mountain. The diet is not quite the same: tropical salad (advocado, cauliflower, brocoli, palm spruces), fresh fruit juices (mango, orange, pineapple, papaya, banana), grilled chicken, hamburger a la frances (with bacon and mushrooms), chaufa (fried rice and vegetables), tallarines (fried pasta and more), apple pies, alfajores (pastry with dulce de lecce), empenadas (pastry with egg, spinach and sausage), cuban rice (with fried bananas), …
but this is another post.

Vegetable soup

Mashed potatoes with vegetable

Some more picture can be found here.

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Alpamayo

Alpamayo is not a 6000 m peak or almost not or not anymore but it belongs to the most famous mountains of the Cordillera Blanca thank to its regularly half-circle shaped south-west face streaked with snow “canaletas”, a 2700 m bigger brother of the rocky but geometrically similar Swiss Piz Radönt. Climbing Alpamayo was a long-term idea/project/dream of Marius and we had to undertake it with him. Alpamayo is quite remote from the Huaraz valley and its ascent normally requires 6 days: 3 days of approach, 1 day to the summit and 2 days returning. Indeed 6 days went by until we were back in Huaraz.

too much colors

too much colors

Our arriero and his animals

Our arriero and his animals

On day 1, we had a 3 hours drive to Cashapampa at 3000 m, changing of “collectivo” in Caraz. Cashapampa is one rural village on the plateau dominating the main valley and is at the entrance of the Santa Cruz valley and at the start of the eponymous trek. We hired an “arriero” and two “mulas”. The local people are well organized: (1) they leave only one “arriero” at the time at the start of the trek (minimize the offer) and they have agreed on prices so that bargaining is difficult for the visitor. Once the duty “arriero” is hired, he is replaced by the next one.

Flora of the Santa Cruz Valley

Flora of the Santa Cruz Valley

When there is water, there is vegetation

When there is water, there is vegetation

Louis contemplating during a rest

Louis contemplating during a rest

5* Vegetable Soup at our first camp

5* Vegetable Soup at our first camp

On the same day, we walked with light backpacks and our three new companions until Llamacorral at 3800 m following the narrow and steep-sided valley coming across lonely cows and horses. We firmly intended to have a swim in the river next to the camp but the shade took hold of the place at the same time like we did and since at these latitudes it is as warm in the sun as it is cold in the shade we put the refreshment off until later. We cooked a fine soup from a pack of vegetable and cilantro bought at the Huaraz market the day before. As it is the rule, we provided our “arriero” with food and shelter.

On day 2, we woke up as our “arriero” was running and waving and shouting on steep slopes far up above the camp rounding up the “mulas”. We counted three lakes, one howling horse and one debris-flow devastated river bed until we arrived at the base camp at 4300 m at midday.

Remainings of the riverbed

Remainings of the riverbed

Wide plains and scattered animals

Wide plains and scattered animals

At the base camp we ate the “paltas” offered by Andy the day of our departure, took leave of our “arriero”, slipped into our skin-tight hoses and left for the moraine camp at 4500 m (note that camps have always the same names: base, moraine, high, … which is not related to the effect of air rarefaction on the moutaineer brains).

Muchacho Style, the new standard

Muchacho Style, the new standard

The moraine camp at 5000m

The moraine camp at 5000m

On day 3, we took foothold on the glacier and climbed up to the pass marking the border between the Alpamayo south ridge and the Quitaraju north-east ridge. On the way up, we met two Swiss girls “sin guias”, famous among the hut wardens and “arrieros” of the valley for their intrepidity and probably their exoticity. The rest of the day passed melting snow, teaching Marius how to play “pomme” and listening to snow falling on the tent…

Last steep steps to the high camp

Our high camp at 5500m in front of the Alpamayo

On day 4, we woke up at 1 am, had breakfast in the tent with the hot water kept in thermos bottles next to our heads and went back to bed till 3 am because of the bad weather. At 3 am we left our warm sleeping bags and made our way down the pass and up to the bergschrund. Our legs were sinking in the new snow up to the knees and the visibility was so poor that we turned back.

The French Direct to Alpamayo

The rest of the day, we slept, melted snow, learnt how to play “skat” with Marius and damned the zips of our rental tent. Around 1 pm, four guys showed up along with the sun and set up camp at the foot of the pass.

Spending the day playing cards

Spending the day playing cards

On day 5, we woke up at 0 am, wind booming in the night but stars shining. We knew that Peruan guides leave at 1 am, regardless of the climb and we wanted to be in front of the two other teams to avoid the risk of ice splinters falling from teams above us. New snow had settled down in the afternoon of day 4 and we reached the bergschrund without difficulty, surmounted it twice!! because of its contorted form and entered the straight, 60 degrees steep, 400 m long “canaleta” that the “French direct” route follows.

Real number of pitches: 3; Felt number of pitches 10

Real number of pitches: 3; Felt number of pitches 10

Stephan led, securing the first three snow pitches with “estacas”and the last four ice pitches with ice screws. The cold was going right through all our layers: fleece, down and gore-tex whereas the wind was giving no break to our hooded faces. Of the four guys who turned out to be a Swiss client, a Peruan guide, a cook and a carrier, only the two first ones started the climb half an hour after us and caught us up in the last third of the route when daylight was progressively pouring down the top slopes.

Being passed by a peruvian guide and missed by a falling ice axe :-S

Being passed by a peruvian guide and missed by a falling ice axe :-S

Our "canaletta"

Our “canaletta”

Last pitch directly to the summit

Last pitch directly to the summit

The team on the summit!

The team on the summit!

At 9 am we were on the summit, enjoying thousand meters of void below us and frozen cereal bars in our mouths. At dusk we were at the base camp falling asleep in a dreamless night.

During the abseils

During the abseils

Nice Abalakov

Nice Abalakov

Passing the rimaye

Passing the rimaya

Our little friend Llermo helps us with the packing

Our little friend Llermo helps us with the packing

On day 6, we walked the 25 km distance and the 1300 m negative height difference carrying backpacks too heavy to make it an enjoyable experience. But the bath in the river a few hundred meters above Cashapampa and the eucalyptus flagrances in the afternoon heat relieved momentarily the sore backs and the tired legs.

The reward at the end of our long march, counter reset

The reward at the end of our long march, counter reset

Our next destination, the beautiful Artesonraju!

Our next destination, the beautiful Artesonraju!

For more photos, visit this … to be continued…

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El Toclla

El Tocllaraju – the “trap mountain” was our next project. Initially we wanted to start relaxed taking a taxi at 9 a.m. to the start of the hike. Unluckily when leaving our baggage in the hotel’s deposit we found the Louis’ mountaineering boots had disappeared  from there in the last night. So we spent all  morning with the local “tourists” police making papers, Louis rented some boots and finally took the taxi at 2 p.m. . The sympathetic driver stopped at nice restaurant so that we could feed ourselfs for the 3 -5 hours trek in the taxi and at 3 p.m. we were walking. Since we had refused to take mules, backpacks were heavy and we were tired (from sitting all morning with the police officers). But we had wonderful light in the afternoon.

When the sun went done and we were not even near to the official first camp (campamento Ishinca) I told Louis that I would not like to walk anymore and we agreed to walk a little more the next day, fresher and with lighter backpacks. So we camped literally on the trail, where we only disturbed one mule with his herder (at 7 a.m. approx) and arrived at campamento Ishinca at 10 a.m. the next day.

Here we learned that a group of three frenchmen together with two guides would climb the same mountain the next day and that they woud leave around 12 p.m. to the high camp. So we relaxed ourselves, had some very good cafe con leche, ate, studied Spanish, checked the GPS and started shortly after the French – Peruvian team towards the high-camp. When arriving there (at approx 5000 m), weather was not really good, but our neighbors were already installed.

We did the same, Louis made a successful test of his gore-tex cloth whilst I was cooking from inside the tent. We went to bed early and prayed for better weather. At around midnight we heard the first noises from our neighbors and looked out of the tent. Star-clear sky ! We were happy but decided to let the other group one hour advance and started walking around 2.15 a.m. . We followed the track of the other group, crossing some peculiar snow bridges. At an altitude of approx 5500m we arrived at the first technical part where we had to cross the rimaya and climb approx 60 m at maximum 60 degrees angle. Louis led the part without problems. But temperature was very low and Louis wished to have his own boots. I was fighting more with the thin air but arriving at the sun was magic in all the cases.

Then we saw already near the Frensh-Peruvian group climbing the last technical part towards the summit.

Louis led again without problems and I had to fight  with the last air.

But arriving at the ridge I was very happy to notice that we were less than 100m from the SUMMIT !

After the obligatory photo session and and the obligatory shared summit-Snickers (not a sponsor of our expedition), we started the descent.

At the technical section we had to wait a little bit until the Peruvian guides were happy with their belay.

The rimaya, perhaps the most difficult step of the route

Then we had to cross the “beautiful” snow bridge again.

The rest of the way down was uncomplicated. Packing all the stuff at the high camp was a pity and also weather changed. So the way down to campamento Ishinca was through snow storm again. But, like a miracle, precipitation stopped when we started to make the tent and and Mr Tocllaraju appeared though the clouds.

After a good 12 hours sleep, we were strong enough for the hike home with some wonderful views of Mr Tocllaraju.

El Tocllaraju the next morning

 

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“Mission Lunatica” and Vallunaraju peak

After the Chancos day trip, we plan a three day acclimation stay at Llaca at 4470 m. Llaca is 1.5 hours away from Huaraz by car on an adventurous road (in particular for the cars). Andy arranges the transport through a taxi driver friend of his. The taxi driver shows up on time the next morning, but after 100 m and a detour via a garage mechanic friend of his, he admits that his damper is broken. He entrusts us to another taxi driver friend of his and here we are on the road.

unlucky driver at the repair shop

from Llaca viewing down to Huaraz

Llaca comes down to a hut hosting exclusively Peruan mountain guides in training a few days per month. The rest of the time, it is occupied only by an old hut warden and occasionally by a National Park guard (since the whole Cordillera Blanca is a National Park). Around the hut you encounter granit boulders, the “laguna”, a glacial lake offering a stuning view on some surrounding peaks and curious (to me) vegetation.

around the Llaca hut

blue flowers?!

We spend two days climbing on single- as well as multi-pitches sport climbing routes bolted by Peruvian mountain guides with Italian bolts (the construction of the hut was supported by some Christian Italian organization). Locally the granit polished by the glaciers is smoother than what I have ever seen in the Alps. The second day we climb the five pitches “Mission Lunatica” route bordering huge half-moon shaped roofs.

third pitch of “Mission Lunatica”

Marius and Louis in front of the Laguna. The hut warden came along to show us the departure of the route.

In the afternoon of the second day, we pack our gear and walk to the Vallunaraju base camp 2-3 hours away from Llaca. The camp is deserted (the previous day around around 15 people had sleptover). Tent and cooking places are leveled off and protected from wind by stone walls, a stream flows in the middle of the camp and the camp is well delineated by toilet tissues …

crux to the base camp

five “soles” camp site

kitchen in real cut stone with Chilean cook

The night is cold (but we do not feel it:-) and we have breakfast in the tent. At 4 am we leave the camp and my head lamp runs out of battery… Some plates lead to the glacier. Once on the glacier, there is a good track which we follow, watching out for every minute of the sunrise and passing by impressing ice formations. At 8 am we are on the summit of Vallanaraju (5670 m) cutting a Snickers in two equal pieces with a pocket knife. At 12 am we are above Llaca and we can see three cars parked in front of the hut. It means that we are not going to walk down to Huaraz.

seracs at dawn

top mille-feuilles

top ridge

top ridge

sitting in the sun

“penitentes pequenos”

 

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