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Camel Trophy Cochamo

Three years ago, very little time after Marius had left Europe for Valdivia, he had sent me a mail with pictures of high granit cliffs rising above lush forests. In his mail Marius was praising the climbing in Cochamó valley, a place with a name sounding like an North-American indian tribe and only a few hours away from his new hometown by car, and hoping that we could explore it together one day.

ehh... it's green

ehh… it’s green

“So much untouched rock, it’s so inspiring!” that was what a British guy met in Huaraz and intending to open new routes in Cochamó had once told us. During our trip, Cochamó was often a subject to discussion with other climbers : with Egon in Tuzgle; he had brought 80 spits with bolts from Switzerland to set a new route there, with Adrien and Gaël in Arenales; they were determined to avoid rainy Cochamó as much as windy Chalten.

Thus when we crossed the Chilean border and the rain drops started hitting the bus window, we were well informed about Cochamó: about its spectacular, multi-pitch routes, crack climbing routes that won it the comparison with Yosemite but also about its world record precipitation rate (it rains 20 days per month in average). We were aware that we would have to be patient in order to climb and to enjoy climbing in Cochamó. In Valdivia it was raining heavily every day. But even when Marius told us that the weather in Cochamo was always worse than in Valdivia and that no good weather window was in sight we did not discourage and enjoyed the life in Valdivia. At the university the semester was coming to an end and Marius was giving the last exams to his students. Since he was keen to accompany us to Cochamó we were not in a hurry. Five days after our arrival in Valdivia, a three days good weather window was forecasted. We bought plastic boots, printed topos and loaded up Marius Kangoo: we were ready.

Cloudy Cochamó valley

Cloudy Cochamó valley

An "alerce" tree that could be older than several thousand years

An “alerce” tree that could be older than several thousand years

The Anfiteatro bivy all for us

The Anfiteatro bivy all for us

We entered a new world as we hiked up the 20 km long valley to “Refugio Cochamó” through rain forest. The trail spanned over countless mud puddles, followed deep mossy trenches, crossed rivers over fords, slippery tree trunks or tyroleans. Even though the sun was shining we were walking in half-light, the canopy hung like a thick curtain above our heads.

We took a break at “Refugio Cochamó”, a charming wooden house on a small hill overlooking the “La Junta” camping grounds, and in the afternoon we hiked up another three hours to the “Selknam” camp at the foot of the Anfiteatro. The steep trail had been cut with machetes through dense bamboo woods, zigzagging between cliffs, waterfalls and centenary “alerces” (similar to redwood trees). The camp was set up around a massive boulder overhanging on one side and it had been newly fitted out with chairs, tables, fireplace and toilets by the “Club Andino” of Puerto Montt. On the next day and second day of good weather, we scrambled an hour and a half up an adventurous river bed and a steep gully to the start of the route. At 10am we were climbing the first pitch, at 8pm we were standing on the summit of the “Espejo”, at 1am we finished rappelling a neighbouring route and at 3am we were cooking risotto at the “Selknam” camp. We had a long day in the route “Cinco Estrellas” (also rated five stars in the topo…) for many reasons: many mossy and wet cracks when not completely clogged with earth and shrubs, difficult route finding (very few belays in place, minimalist topo), unprotectable slabs, sustained difficulties not reflected by the grading, unknown rappelling line at night (one stuck rope, two missed belays) …

Louis and Marius in the first and last crack that was without vegetation... but still wet

Louis and Marius in the first and last crack that was without vegetation… but still wet

Louis in the clouds trying to find the original route

Louis in the clouds trying to find the original route

Not really a comfortable belay for 3

Not really a comfortable belay for 3

Louis climbing a crack stuffed with vegetables

Louis climbing a crack stuffed with vegetables

Rappelling into the night, not really a pleasure

Rappelling into the night, not really a pleasure

On the third day and last day of good weather we slept late, walked down to the “Refugio Cochamó”, swam in the emerald green river, met the occupants of “La Junta” and watched dark grey clouds drawing close and gathering above the valley. The next morning it was raining. We were running out of food and white gas and Marius had to return to Valdivia. We left part of our equipment at “La Junta” expecting a two days good weather window later that week (the staff of the “Refugio” has a satellite internet connection and provides a daily weather forecast to climbers).

We walked down in pouring rain and high wind, the gusts dumping additional water from the trees foliage. We opted for different strategies with respect to clothing: Marius put on tights plus bathing suit as bottom and gore-tex jacket plus shirt as top whereas Stephan and I only wore underwear as bottom, not to forget the two vital bamboo sticks. As a result Stephan and I were emptying our plastic boots every half an hour. For the three of us the water retained by the backpack belt passed through the gore-tex barrier and slowly soaked in upwards. Worse, the repeated friction of the boots upper edges with our calves left bleeding wounds that have been imperishable reminders of that day up to now.

The red rad team

The red rad team

Louis in an upgraded muchacho style

Louis in a downgraded “muchacho” style

The small rivers have become wild

The small rivers have become wild

We spent two days in the touristic but cosy and lovely Puerto Varas on the Llanquihue lake side forgetting about weather issues in cafés and cake shops. The weather forecast indeed changed in the meantime, shortening the good weather window to one single day. The day before it, we took a bus to Cochamó village, hired a jeep to drive us to the end of the road 12 km away and hiked up to “La Junta” in stormy weather, speeding up in despair. It kept raining the whole night and on the good weather day the rock faces were all wet, draining the last days precipitations. We joined four beardy, long-haired American guys from Oregon (their precipitation rates compete with the ones of Cochamó)  to “Pared Seca”, the only sport and always dry climbing sector (the route bottoms are wet though). In the evening rain returned and on the next morning we escaped that liquid hell, wet from top to bottom, shivering from cold, putting one muddy foot in front of the other and thinking with envy of our next destination: Piedra Parada in the desert.

Rain: day-to-day business in Cochamó

Rain: day-to-day business in Cochamó

“Pared seca”: Moe learning to fly

A Cochamó indigenous, the "tabano" fly. This one has been anaesthetised for the picture

A Cochamó indigenous, the “tabano” fly. This one has been anaesthetised for the picture

A bunch of wet climbers on a truck, back to civilization

A bunch of wet climbers on a truck, back to civilization

We climbed: Cerro Espejo/Anfiteatro (1700m), “Cinco estrellas”, 450m, 6b+

More pictures 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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“Hatun Machay” la roca loca

sector “erotico”

Since the weather forecast in altitude for the next four days was uncertain, we changed our plans and headed for the climbing area “Hatun Machay”. It is 1.5 hours “collectivo” plus 30 min taxi away from Huaraz, in the direction of the Conococha pass. At an altitude of around 4200 m, the grassy highlands are covered by volcanic rocks with original shapes and colours and heights ranging between 0 and 60 m. But they become even more interesting to the climber when he approaches them. At their foot, he discovers a multitude structures: knobs, holes, cracks, flakes, small columns, bumps with the size of his fingers… Until now around 200 routes are equipped  (in majority one-pitch, well-bolted routes) and the potential is huge. Some topos are available here but are far from being complete. Better ask the hut warden (see below).

view from the “Refugio”

The “Refugio” is a stone building with a dormitory on the first floor and a living room/kitchen/pizza oven!!! on the ground floor. Outside the building, a stone fence delineates the camping ground. The hut is managed by an agency in Huaraz and the hut wardens succeed to each other, recruited among the “gringos” in passing. At the time of our stay, Stefan a (german-english speaking) young Austrian emigrated to Canada and wearing leather shorts most of the time was in charge and Denise an (french-spanish speaking) older french lady was about to take over. By now you can add sign-speaking to both of them…

Marius in the second pitch of “Rasta Quechua”

as many holds as holes

The area is also populated by flocks of sheeps and cows and their respective sheperds and sheperd dogs. The animals sleep in some stone fence (like the campers but without tents) whereas the men sleep in some stone hut built in the sotne fence. And the orders of the warden hut are clear: do not sell beer to the sheperds…

vegi spaghetti

Mariana

ready for take-off

fasten your seatbelt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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From Limas’s fog to Chancos’s swimming pool

Lima is the starting point to the Cordillera Blanca. During the winter (our summer) the city is wrapped in fog most of the time (like Aargau). At eight in the morning only the drugstores and casinos with slot machines are opened. Fresh orange juice is served at every corner and the snack advocado-salt-bread turns out to be as addictive as paprika crisps. Marius meets me in the evening and we eat the typical “ceviche” that is a crude fish salad with some famous “pisco sour” that tastes very much like caipirinha (but maybe I’m wrong and no this blog is not only about food:-)

poor but coloured Lima suburb west of the city center

The next day we take a coach to Huaraz. It’s 200 km bird’s eye, 400 km by road, 8 eight hours or 3 hollywood movies in a row. The coast north of Lima is at times a steep sand hillslope dropping into the ocean with the road perched at mid-height. The road then leaves the coast and follows a valley up to the Conochocha pass at 4050 m. Every village dries its corn on the ground making it an orange-yellow paved square. From the pass reachnig out to grassy highlands you spot the first high, white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

downtown Huaraz with the Huascaran massif in the background

first snow in sight

In Huaraz, we meet Andy, the “contact” of Marius, biking/trekking guide and mountaineer, who briefes us about the city, accomodation, acclimation, transport, … He gives us a hint about Chancos, a small village with a climbing crag and thermal baths which we visit the next day. “Collectivos” are a cheaper alternative to taxis and as efficient if you are lucky. They are small buses or cars serving a particular route and leaving once they are full. To Chancos we took two “collectivos” and discovered the modest but steep but easy crag with eight less than ten meters high routes of a very sculpted kind of limestone. After experiencing every route and being only watched by some cows we headed to the village. The air was warm and we had no envy to dive into hot water but instead we stopped at the swimming pool at the entrance of the village, full of happy and playing and relaxing people.

steep but not too hard

Chancos’ climbing crag

Chancos’ swimming pool with view. Non-transparent water ideal to play the “homme noir” game.

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