Tag Archives: Peru

So Long, and Thanks for All the Rock

Already as a child I had to learn a truth about life, that everything has an end. It is always very sad for me to finish a bag of “Basler Leckerli”, my favourite biscuits, but on the other side it is nice to finish a work day in order to follow my leisure time activities.

Together with Louis we had the chance to spend half a year living our dream, travelling a new continent and seeing it from the sky, climbing fantastic routes and standing on high summits, discovering hidden places and sleeping under a new sky full of stars. We visited colourful Peru, with bustling markets, chaotic cities, high mountains, excessive glaciers and perfect though cold waves. We toured through extreme Chile, with perfect cracks in the dryest desert in the world and with overgrown cracks in the jungle version of Yosemite in Cochamo. And finally we fell in love with diversified Argentina, from the tradclimbing paradise Arenales to the extreme walls and weather conditions of Patagonia.

At this point we want to thank our readers for their interest, their contributions and their patience. I hope that you enjoyed our trip as much as we did and that you forgot the horizontal world the time of reading about our adventures. Our trip has come to an end, but an end is at the same time the beginning of something new… Let us see what it will be for us!

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

The Wallis, Switzerland

The Wallis, Switzerland

The ones interested in our activities and that of our friends can follow this blog: http://peaupow.wordpress.com/

So Long, and Thanks for All the Rock!



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Limestone Dreams

After two weeks of rather intense surfing, our fingers began to scribble lacking the contact with rougher surfaces. Before leaving for Chile, we headed first to Lima to organize ourselves, have some social activity and meet local climbers at the basecamp climbing gym.

Louis in the climbing gym in Lima

Stephan climbing in Lima

That is where we got convinced to spend some more time in Peru to visit a magic climbing spot called Yuracmayo, only (!) four hours west of Lima by bus.

The Yuracmayo climbing spot

The next day we headed to the Yerbateros bus station, to get a ride to San Mateo, a small village on the “carretera central”, big enough to have five ironmongers (none of them had any screw link (maillon rapide)), three hairdressers (only one was willing to give us our monthly shave which was, let say, not as soft as the one advertised by Gillette) and one fruit juice shop (selling fruit juice only in the morning, so that we did not get any).
Since the weather was anything else than a dry climbing weather, we decided to spend a night in a hostal in San Mateo (we were glad that there was one) and to drive the next day to Yuracmayo with the brother-in-law of a woman met at the town hall.
We awoke to a clear blue sky, packed our stuff and waited for our driver to show up. The academic quarter of an hour passed and there was still no driver in sight. Finally after half an hour we hired a taxi driver, who drove us on a bumpy route to the remote village of Yuracmayo. A thin layer of snow was covering the grounds next to the road, announcing cold and wet nights.

The hoverdam of Yuracmayo. Climbing is at the very end of the dam

The driver dropped us only 50m from the ground and the cliffs. We agreed that he would pick us up three days later.
Perfect rock awaited us, mostly overhanging, rarely touched limestone, bolted during the Peruvian Northface Rocktrip in 2008/2009.
A river was flowing by our campsite, it seemed to be the perfect spot. However (we learnt later that there was an iron mine higher up in the mountain) the water turned red before midday. We were pretty worried about our health, so we decided not to drink it and wait for it to clear up again. It started raining in the afternoon and the water was still red. We collected the water that was dropping from the walls and the tent which took us a good part of the afternoon and went to bed thirsty that night. Luckily it was the weekend and nobody was working in the mine so that the water was clear the next morning and remained clear during the following days.

We spent our time climbing, sleeping, eating,… it felt like holidays to us though after the exhausting climbs in the Cordillera Blanca.

Louis in “Pinchitos”

Louis in “Pinche Metiche”

No rest in “Pinche Metiche”

Unbelievable structures in a overhang

We climbed during the morning and rested in the afternoon since every day it started raining at 2pm… anyway we were tired because of the altitude (4300m) and the demanding routes.

Rain in the afternoon, as expected

The final jug, saved!

Saving power for the overhang

While waiting for the driver to arrive on our last day, we were imagining what would happen to his tires if he would not show up until we finally spotted him in the distance, relieved.

Pastel colored slopes of Yuracmayo

Snow geese that targeted our tent in vain, when flying in large groups through the valley

Red flowers

The local flora

Our wondergas finally empty, after Chopicalqui and Yuracmayo, lasting for 6 days including snow melting

Some more pictures can be found here.

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Hotel Hatun Machay

Afternoon clouds in Hatun Machay and evaporation after the rain

Louis climbing in the “Panza Roja” sector

Donkeys looking for some green stuff to eat

The last 10 days were busy climbing in Hatun Machay, a place that works like a magnet for climbers who have touched its scratchy and sculpted rock once or experienced the friendly and entertaining evenings at the refuge with Sol, Chappa and Paris.

Party mood in the refuge with home made pizza

Evening glow over the stone forest

After 4 days of climbing we resolved to take a two days break in Huaraz to regenerate our forearms muscles and our finger skin.

Louis climbing in the “Muralla” sector

Stephan in front of one of the many caves – a natural pan Güllich

Louis in a well sculpted route in the “Rasta Quechua” sector

One could think that our live in a climbing paradise would come down to climbing, eating, sleeping and taping Stephan’s transfixed finger. But it does not. We discovered the hallucinogen effects of the San Pedro cactus beverage and carried the delirious subject over 1 km across rocky highlands, Stephan practiced his Argentinian accent, we learnt the cards game Truco, how to prepare chapatis and more survival tricks that Bear Grylls would not deny.

Exploring the new sector “Avatar total”

That’s not San Pedro but another cactus flower

A hut of the local farmers

Stephan climbing “Hatun Machay Viber” (7a+) in the sector “Muralla”

Cactus flower

Waiting for a lift to Huaraz

More pictures can be found here.

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The new and expensive cultural center of Huaraz: half of the money to construct it, half of the money in the pockets of officials.

Here we want to talk about our second home Huaraz (our first home being our frosted and freezing tent), the small but swarming city at the foot of Cordillera Blanca that smells like roasted chicken after nightfall. It hosted us one third of the time before and after each climb and played well its role of oasis of bakery, sleep in beds, food with vitamins, repair shops, wireless internet, hot shower, human contact and more…

Debris flow hazard map of Huaraz. Computed with RAMMS?

The urban crevasse… dangerous road work in Huaraz

Huaraz is the touristic center of Cordillera Blanca but not only. The region is rich thanks to mining and the authorities do their best to spend the public money in the loudest possible way. All officials drive brand new Toyota pick-up trucks and at the time of our stay (summer 2012), they were renewing all road surfaces almost simultaneously.

Cultural activities in Huaraz. Razor blades are fixed to the legs of the animals to accelerate the outcome.

As every day, a streetband (Guggenmusik like) from a neighbouring village celebrates a local holiday…

…Virgen de Chavin, Virgen del Carmen, Virgen de Candelaria, playing the same songs and drinking lots of beers.

Huaraz is an outpost of modernity and urban life. In the lateral valleys at the foothill of Cordillera Blanca, people live in small villages and are almost self-sustaining. They speak quechua, women wear the traditional Andean costume and carry babies or wood or food in a coloured piece of cloth thrown over the shoulders. Mules are the every day means of transport. In addition to providing for their needs they grow flowers (for export) and eucalyptus trees and farm sheep and cows.

The craftsgirl who forged our “estacas” (also the only reliable one).

Our hauling bag custom-made by Yuraq Janka.

Repair shop in the hotel room. Plugging holes with lama slime.

The streets of Huaraz are built according to a square pattern. The “collectivo” terminals, on opposite sides mark the limit of the city center. The “Plaza de Armas” (there is one in each Peruvian city) is flanked by bank branches and the decorative tourism police station. Following the Avenida Mariscal Luzusriaga lined with archways that shelter hawkers of all kinds, you end up in the market quarter with its food stores, slaughterhouses and canteens. On the way, you have passed by the Casa de Guias and the Parque Ginebra with its shops and restaurants, the only very hideout of gringos eager for inflated prices.

The cost of laundry goes with the weight…of dirt?

Having a shave done is an experience.

Playing billiard in a room with 20 pool tables, 100 teenage guys and 0 girl.

The city center is full of restaurants or stands selling food. They can be categorized as follows: “pollerias” for roasted chicken, french fries and salad, open in the evening, “cebicherias”, for raw fish salads and other fish specialities, open only at noon, “chifas” for Chinese food, “pasticerias” for empanadas, hamburgers and pastry, traditional restaurants proposing all the same menus: soup and salad with either lomo saltado (beef) or picante de cuy (guinea pig) or chicharrones de pollo (chicken) or trucha frita (truit) and vegetarian restaurants (we found three in the whole city).

Lost: three guinea pigs going by the name of Nifnif, Nafnaf, Noufnouf. Last seen near the market.

Fantastic cakes!


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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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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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