Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Back to Patagonia

After a few months at home, the feet get itchy and a new adventure beckons. I've been sorting and packing gear for a few weeks now, not wanting to forget anything.

Back in July, I received an email from some english mates Timmy and Pete. They were super keen for a big adventure so I suggested a trip back to Patagonia in southern Argentina.

I had been to Patagonia 4 times before and Timmy had been twice. This would be Pete's first trip there. After a bit of research, we decided to go to a new area, more remote and wild than the areas we had been to before. I was psyched. A big adventure with good friends. The mountain we decided on is called San Lorenzo (3700m).

Not many people go there. Patagonia is known for its wild weather and storms. We'll see what happens. .....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More than we bargained for – (Cho Oyu (8200m), Tibet. September /October 2008)

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” - Helen Keller

Life seems to have its many twists and turns and in many ways we create these ourselves. Blaming others for our misfortunes or things that don’t turn out as planned seems a pointless exercise. We all have a hand in the creation of our little worlds and it is up to us to extend ourselves beyond these microcosms beyond our own limits and concepts of what is possible.
Climbing mountains is something I choose to do for the challenges and experiences encountered.

For some reason, I had delayed writing this story until now, nearly 12 months after our return from a mountain that took its toll on my mental and physical state. The experience affected me in so many ways that it was difficult to adjust when I returned to everyday life back in Australia. This has often been the case after I have returned from an arduous expedition. Reality doesn’t really seem real anymore and my friends and family back in Adelaide could never really understand the transition required from the mountains back to working life in Adelaide. I just try to get back into the swing of everyday life again, which isn’t always easy after the single-minded intensity of mountain life. I’ve mostly recovered from the effects of the trip to Cho Oyu but the experience will stay with me for many years as I’m sure it will haunt some of my fellow team mates who shared the good times and the tragedies that we endured on the mountain.

There are many missing details to this story, but I have tried to capture the essence of my experience. Everyone’s experience is different and valuable. Each person’s experiences opens their own doors of perception. Memories fade with time and the haze of altitude. This is just my story as I remember it…….

Ever since I began climbing, I had read books about the climbing in the Himalaya and dreamed of climbing there myself one day. There are fourteen mountains over the magical height of 8000m in the world, all of them situated in the Himalayan chain stretching from the Karakorum in Pakistan to Tibet and Nepal.

Nima, my trusty, incredible agent and friend in Nepal let me know that he was organising an expedition to Mt Cho Oyu in Tibet for a company called Field Touring. The trip was being led by a guy called Stu, who I had met previously on an expedition to Ama Dablam in 2005. Ryan Castel, my keen climbing partner on a few previous Himalayan trips didn’t need much convincing to sign up for the trip. We would be sharing base camp and logistics with the Field Touring team. Above base camp, we would be on our own. We planned to climb a different route on the mountain than the rest of the team to make things a bit more interesting, just in case 8200m wasn’t interesting enough.

Due to escalating troubles in Tibet, the Chinese authorities were reluctant to issue permits and although we remained hopeful, it was looking grim. Thankfully one week before departing Australia, we received our permits to climb the mountain.

We all arrived in Kathmandu in early September and prepared to travel overland to Cho Oyu via the Chinese-built friendship highway. Our international team bus weaved its way from the warm Nepalese forests to the arid Tibetan plateau. 6 days of gradual ascent through the ghost towns of Nyalam and Tingri gave us an opportunity to get to know each other and sample the local cuisine and toilets.

A week after leaving Kathmandu, we arrived at advance base camp (ABC). ABC was perched at 5700m on the moraine wall of a massive glacier overlooking the Northeast face of the mountain. A kilometre from the camp across the Nangpa La pass lay the lush green valleys of Nepal, a world away from the dusty cold Tibetan Plains.

After a few days of adjusting to the altitude at ABC, Ryan and I set of on a reconnaissance mission to have a look at our intended route on the mountain, the South West face. We watched it for a few hours through the obscuring clouds and hoped the conditions on the face would be conducive to a safe and fast ascent once we were acclimatised. The face looked steep intimidating and foreboding. A great adventure in the making.

We planned to acclimatise to the high altitude on the mountain’s normal route. 5 hours from ABC across the moraine of the glacier and up a few hundred metre scree hill lay camp 1 at 6400m. We pitched our small tent in a small hollow below the snow ridge, hoping to find some protection from the typical strong winds found at that altitude. After an initial load carry to camp 1 we headed up again to spend 3 nights at camp 1 and hopefully one night at camp 2.

On arrival at camp one, we witnessed the devastation on other expedition’s tents from the previous day’s storms. Tent poles were snapped, tents were ripped to shreds and some tents and all their contents had simply blown off the mountain. For some people on the mountain, this spelt the end of their expedition. The first night at a new altitude always hurts. Headaches and lethargy were the order of the day. Time at camp was spent reading, listening to music, cooking and reinforcing the guy lines on the tent. Killing time is an amazing skill to have on expeditions. As the body gradually adjusts to the altitude, the strength returns and the urge to venture upward is renewed.

After 3 nights at camp one, Ryan and I gathered the minimum of equipment and headed up the mountain with the intention of staying a night at camp 2 (7100m). The weather showed signs of changing for the worse. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too bad! The route to camp 2 followed a steep ridge followed by 2 steep ice cliffs. The hard blue ice through the ice cliffs made the lungs burn and calves ache with every effort. Camp 2 was a desolate wind swept little plateau littered with tents from the many other expeditions on the mountain. Our tiny single skin tent was a battle to pitch in the wind storm that had been brewing. With freezing hands and faces we crawled into the tent and tried to warm up despite the wind blown spindrift that filled the tent. With thumping headaches and 50 - 60 knot winds hammering the tent all night, there was not much sleep to be had. When morning arrived, we collapsed the tent and gratefully headed down the mountain and back to base camp; our acclimatisation complete. Ryan declared it his worst night ever in the mountains.

Now all we needed was a 4 day weather window for a summit attempt. With the large amount of snow and bad weather that had pummelled the mountain, we decided against the SW face in favour of the NW face route.

After about 4 days rest and preparation in advanced base camp, we headed up the mountain hopefully for the last time, but uncertain what the next few days would bring. Climbing at high altitude requires constant attention to one’s own health and the conditions on the mountain. Ryan and I had never been this high and were stepping into unknown territory. This was why we came to climb this mountain.

Camp 3 was perched on a steep incline above some rocky cliffs at 7500m. No one stays here long. The human body is continually dying at this altitude and time up here is borrowed time. We only had a few hours at this camp to brew up and prepare for the summit attempt. All movements were laboured at this altitude, even lacing up our boots took minutes. We slept fitfully for a few hours in all our clothes, sharing a single sleeping bag to save weight.

At 2 am, Ryan and I left camp 3 for our summit bid. I carried a camera, 2 litres of water, some energy gels and an ice axe. Ryan and I chose not to use supplementary oxygen on the climb so we wore only the clothes on our backs. Other climbers and Sherpa’s from other expeditions that were using oxygen romped past us on the initial slope above camp 3. We were forced to wait for about an hour at the base of the crux rock band. The cold crept into my feet and fingers, threat of frostbite very real. I planned to go home with all my fingers and toes, even if it meant not going to the summit. As long as I could feel and move my fingers and toes, they would be OK. Finally through the rock band I kept moving and stayed warm, moving by the light of my head lamp and desperately waiting for the sun to rise add some warmth to the -30 degree dawn hours.

5 steps, 10 breaths 5 steps 10 breaths was the rhythm I followed for most of the day. I was wrapped up in my own little world of determination and perseverance. The bitter dawn wind was freezing my eyes, the damage only noticeable a few hours later when the vision from one eye turned blurry.

Movement created warmth and the summit loomed closer as the sun rose in the sky. As Ryan and I leapfrogged upward, we passed other climbers descending. Most of these climbers were in guided groups and using supplementary oxygen to climb the mountain. By using oxygen, these climbers were able to climb faster and stay warmer, a luxury we didn’t afford ourselves. Ryan and I wanted to experience 8000m in all its rawness to gauge how our bodies would react at that altitude. Cho Oyu was intended as a stepping stone for bigger peaks in the future.

Upon reaching the summit plateau, the summit was still a long way off. We would know when we reached the summit because we would be able to see the other Himalayan giants, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. After an hour, the unobscured view of Everest and Lhotse came into view. It was midday on the 2nd October. I was on the summit. Emotion welled up inside me. It had been a long, hard road to get to here and it all seemed worth it. I looked behind me to see where Ryan was and there was no sign of him. Looking back on summit day, there were whole parts of the day that are missing from my memory. Last time I checked, he was right behind me. Eventually he arrived and we exchanged a wearied summit hug. We had climbed together on all our Himalayan trips and the friendship had grown into a loyal and solid partnership. It was great to share the success with a great friend.

After the obligatory photos and Snickers, we headed down, well aware that we were far from safety and the descent would require the utmost care. The 2 litres of water in my jacket had frozen solid so I was getting a bit thirsty. On the descent around 230pm we came across a jovial Canadian from our team called Guy L. He was moving too slowly to make the summit that day and descend safely, so we let him know that the summit was at least 4 hours away at the pace he was moving. He continued upward confident and enjoying this amazing day in the mountains. Something didn’t seem quite right, but no one seems to think to clearly at that altitude so we continued downward toward the tents and safety. Little did we know that was the last time we would see Guy L and experience his big smile.

After a few abseils through the rock bands, I reached the final slope leading to camp 3. For the last few hours I had been bursting for a piss but felt the urge to keep moving downward. Finally a few hundred metres from camp and on a low angle slope, I couldn’t wait any longer. 3 layers of clothing made the task extremely difficult. I didn’t succeed but the layers of fleece and polyester wicked away the fluid. I was beyond caring at this point.

After reaching the tent I ate and melted snow for water. The 2 litres I had carried with me had frozen solid inside my jacket in the cold dawn hours leaving me dehydrated and thirsty. I made the decision to wait for Ryan and then continue down to camp 2 as soon as possible. Staying up high only succeeds in destroying the body further. Ryan was exhausted and wanted to stay at camp 3 that night so I headed down to camp 2 and moved into a tent with Guy and Kit, feasting on Beef jerky and feeling contented after a long and demanding day.

Meanwhile, at camp 3, Justin poked his head into our tent, his face covered in feathers.

“I’ve just had a shit of a day”.

Ryan awoke from his slumber in astonishment. Justin had managed to drop his figure 8 descending device somewhere on the descent and made a mistake on the final abseil. What ensued was a 400metre slide past camp 3 into a massive snow bowl. Lucky to be alive with feathers leaving from his torn down suit, Justin made his way back to camp 3 and crawled into Ryan’s tent.

Stu radioed in at 8pm to let everyone know that Guy L was with him and they were due in camp 3 about 9pm. It was great to hear they were both safe so the radios were switched off.

We were awoken at 8am the next morning by Stu unzipping the tent. He was almost unrecognisable. His face wearied by cold and fatigue, icicles a few inches long clung to his beard and his eyes carried that distant stare.
“Guy is dead, he slipped on the descent”

We dragged Stu into the tent and he collapsed. He had been out all night, coaxing and doing everything he could to get Guy L down safely. He had slipped a few metres from safety. There was nothing anyone could do.

We were all in shock, but needed to regroup and descend the mountain. I escorted Ben and Kit down to camp 1 and filled my pack with everything I could carry. The autopilot kicked in and I continued toward base camp. It soon got dark and I tried to remember the way in the maze of moraine and ice. Somewhere along the way, I encountered another down suit clad climber sitting on a rock. He fell in behind me happy to have someone to follow back to base camp. It turned out he was originally from Adelaide but now living in Seattle. Small world!
Eventually, we made it back to base camp and safety. Exhaustion overwhelmed me as I entered the cook tent and was welcomed by Ratna with a big plate of fried rice and soup. I slept the sleep of the dead that night fully clothed.

Ryan and some of our team were still on the mountain so I took charge at base camp trying to coordinate who was where and trying to work out what was happening. Ryan was making his way down with Justin, who had sustained some serious frostbite to his toes. I had known Ryan long enough to know that he was well up to the task of getting Justin down safely and told him so over the radio. Sometimes you just need to hear that someone has confidence in you. With his hands full trying to get Justin down the mountain, Ryan came across a Slovenian guide called Miha Valic. Miha was in a bad state, slowly dying of pulmonary oedema, but trying to descend under his own steam. Ryan called me to ask for advice on how to treat Miha. Drugs, water and immediate descent were administered. Now Ryan had 2 casualties on his hands.
Something happened to Miha on the abseil down the 1st ice cliff that left Miha tumbling down the slope still attached to the rope. Ryan down-climbed the ice cliff and started CPR in a bid to revive Miha. The reality of giving CPR at 7000m is extremely harsh. It is hard enough to breathe by oneself, let alone try to save someone else. Unfortunately, all efforts were unsuccessful so I searched base camp for Miha’s team mates to break the news. It was a heart-wrenching job to have to do. It was almost unbelievable that a seemingly super-fit and strong guide who had summitted the previous day had now perished.

Ryan and Justin eventually made it back to base camp the next day, exhausted and physically wasted. The whole experience had been traumatic for Ryan. We spent a lot of time talking about the events over the next few days. The experiences will no doubt stay with Ryan for a lifetime. The entire experience brought the whole team together. It was privilege to be a part of such a close knit bunch of guys. No one went to the mountain thinking that it was an endeavour without risk. Losing someone is never part of the plan and I hope it never happens again but inevitably accidents do happen in the mountains.

People have asked me
“Will you go back to the mountains after what happened?

I will always go back to the mountains as long as I am able to. Inevitably events beyond my control will happen. The risks are great, but then so are the rewards. Everyone knows the risks and accepts them to a certain degree. We feel more alive for these experiences and the choices we make.

We chose to travel to the mountain and climb and endure what the mountain handed us. I am stronger for the experience and achieved what I set out to do on the mountain. Why we climb the big mountains is not always clear but sometimes it is better to not ask the question. Sometimes the mountains seem to call me or maybe it’s just where I feel most at peace.

Thanks to all the team Ryan, Stu, Ben, Italo, Guy L, Guy H, Lyngve, Tsering, Ratna, Justin, Kit, John, Eric, Moma and Antonin who made the trip a success with lasting friendships.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hatun Machay- sunny rock climbing

With a a few days to kill and the mountain weather decidely average (read completely crap), Simon and I decided to head to Peru´s most famous rock climbing area, Hatun Machay. Located in the Cordillera Negra about 1.5 hours south of Huaraz at about 4300m altitude,, there are currently about 120 bolted routes and potential for thousands more. There is a bus to and from the area and a great refugio run by really friendly Argentines and some cute resident dogs (that resembled tiny sheep- not quite sure how that happened). Only a fraction of the climbing has been touched. Hatun Machay is an amazing rock forest worth visiting just to walk in the forest and explore.

After a big day of climbing, we headed to the refugio for dinner and a relaxing night by the fire with pizza and beers. The next day we were joined by our new skiier friends for a fun filled day of climbing and heckling. The skiers, Marja, Giulia, Laura and Black raised money for a street kid charity by climbing skiing from a few cool Peruvian summits (pretty cool stuff) . The news was that Zarela, our wonderful host in Huaraz was cooking a peruvian feast that night so we caught the bus back to Huaraz after climbing for a great evening.

Our time in Peru is coming to an end, but the adventures and memories of a great trip and fantastic people we´ve met along the way will stay with us.

Hasta luego amigos

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Good intentions- Bad weather

Alpine climbing is a game really. Trying to climb a muntain in the best style with the minimum of equipment and impact on the mountain. The degree of suffering involed varies according the length of the route, cold and difficulty of the climbing.

The unspoken alpine climbing manifesto reads:

If you are not hungry, you are carrying too much food

If you are warm, you have too many clothes

If you are not frightened, you have too much gear

If you got up your climb, it was too easy anyway

(from victor saunders article in Patagonia book)

Sitting in the comfortable couches of Cafe Andino in Huaraz, Simon and I contemplated our next mission. We had already had some good success and we both felt it was time to step it up a notch. An american guy called Nate suggested Taulliraju, a majestic mountain towering at the head of the Santa Cruz valley. The mountain had a reputation for tough climbing and is imposing from all sides. There was instant agreement from both of us. Nothing like a new mission to get psyched on. We had a bus booked to Lima on the 9th so if all went well, we had time to walk in and climb the mountain.

The following day we made the trek up the Santa Cruz valley to a beautiful meadow beneath the mountain and set up base camp (4250m). A day of resting and sorting gear for the 4 day mission enabled us to check out the possible lines to climb on the mountain. We decided on a new route, direct up the SW face. It looked tough and challenging, just what we were after... There is nothing like the feeling of committment and exposure of a hard committing route to satisfy the thirst for adventure.

The next morning it started raining in base camp about 5am and snowing up higher on the mountain. It kept raining all day. I read a 400 page novel in my tent. The mountain was shrouded in cloud and being coated in snow. Our time was running out and we hoped for better weather the next day.

Luck was not on our side. We awoke to more rain and snow and realised that there was no hope of climbing the mountain in the time we had left. After flagging down a passing arriero on his way back to Cashapampa about noon, we made it back to Huaraz around 730pm after a trying day of weather and people trying to rip us off at every turn. After a hot shower and some dinner we hit one of the local bars for a few beers. We were safe and well, fit and acclimatised and although not succeeding on our last objective, the trip has been a successful one with great routes and summits along the way. We´ve had a ton of fun and met some great people along the way.

With not much time left for another trip to the mountains, Simon and I are planning to go rocklimbing for a few days before heading back to Lima and Australia.

Upon reaching Huaraz, we received some unfortunate sobering news that three young Belgian climbers had been killed on the West face of Tocclaraju on the 2nd August. One of the seracs (ice cliffs) apparently collapsed above them and they fell to the bottom of the face. We had first met two of them, Ann and Coen, at Alpamayo BC after they had climbed Alpamayo and later that week, had dinner with them. They were happy,young and full of energy and life and loved what they were doing. Simon and I had climbed the same route a week earlier. Objective dangers dont discriminate.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Adventures in the Ishinca Valley

Sometimes life throws a few extra challenges at you when you least expect it. At these times, it comes down to your mind´s capacity to deal with the added challenges. If the mind is willing, the body will follow.

About a week ago Simon and I headed into the Ishinca Valley in the Cordillera Blanca with the main goal of climbing the direct west face of Nevado Tocclaraju (6032 m), a beautiful line up an imposing mountain. With the collectivos on strike (a regular occurence in Peru), we took a taxi from Huaraz to a little place called Pashpa, where we arranged for an arriero (mule driver) and 2 burros to take our gear to base camp (4300m) in the beautiful Ishinca valley.

After about 3 hours walking, we arrived in Base Camp and camped next to a Scottish-British duo, Lester and Ben who we had met previously in the Santa Cruz valley. A couple of easy going lads who were good company and knew how to have a good laugh.

Two classic Alaskan guys were also camped nearby. They hadnt had much luck with the weather or the altitude, but were still in good spirits and good guys to hang out with.

The next day, Simon and I packed for the mountain and headed up to high camp. The weather didnt look promising. The weather had been unseasonally bad in the Cordillera Blanca this year with lots of snow. After it started snowing halfway to high camp (5000m), we changed plans slightly and decided to make a carry of gear to the snowline and hope the weather was better the next day.

Luck was on our side and the next 2 days yielded better weather for our push to high camp and the summit the following day. On the day we climbed to high camp, the Alaskans, Andrew and Thorsten made a valiant attempt at climbing the normal route on Tocclaraju from base camp in a day. They left at 8am in the morning. Thorsten turned back halfway but Andrew pushed on late in the day and made it to the summit and back safely(over 1700m of altitude gain and descent in a day).

We had the mountain all to ourselves. Bad weather in previous days had made other parties descend to BC. After leaving camp at 1am on a cold and windy morning, we made it to the bergshrund (where the glacier meets the mountain) in a few hours. Then it was onto the west face proper. Simon negotiated the tricky overhanging bergshrund to get onto the face. Then it was relatively cruisy climbing for a few pitches on steep 60 degree neve (frozen snow), before the ice got harder and steeper (about 75 degrees). The morning was cold and the feet were cold, but moving kept us warmer so upward we climbed. This was Simon´s and mine second climb together after Alpamayo and all the communication and transitions were as smooth as clockwork

After about 9 pitches (60m ropelengths),we topped out on the face onto the south ridge. A few hundred metres of knee deep sugar snow slogging later and we were on top of Tocclaraju. 5 or 6 steps at a time in this soft snow was abuot all we could manage before needing to rest for a few breaths. We were on top by 930 in the morning, faster then expected.

After the obligatory photos and summit contemplations, we headed down the normal route (North west ridge) and back to high camp. The weather changed every few minutes from glaring sunshine to swirling clouds and snow flurries. A few times on the descent, there was a complete whiteout and we were forced to follow old tracks and our instincts back to safety.

After a brief rest at high camp we packed and made ur way back to BC by 3pm, tired and happy. We had scored a good weather window and got the summit when many other teams had been thwarted. Sometimes its nice to have bit of luck.

Lester and Ben had made it up a neighboring mountain called Ranrapalca the previous day and were psyched at their first big peruvian peak. A leisurely rest day in BC followed in rather shitty weather. Pancakes for breakfast folllowed by fishcakes for lunch and cards and boardgames in the refugio killed most of the day.

Simon and I made the decision the next moring to head back to Huaraz that day so I organised some donkeys and waited for them to arrive. After a breakfast of tinned peaches, I wasnt feeling too well and had a spew. No idea exactly what caused it but the thought of the 3 hour walk out wasnt particularly appealing.

After a bit of a mix up with the donkeys, we were on our way out by about midday. I just pointed the head in the right direction and the body followed for the next few hours. On the hour-long ride back to Huaraz in the taxi, I was freeing cold with my whole body shivering. The shivering and fever contnued for the next few hours until i fell into a fitful sleep.

Some Cipro and a few days R & R in Huaraz might be just what I need...........

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Alpamayo- most beautiful mountain in the world?

Nevado Alpamayo (5900m) has often been called the most beautiful mountain in the world. It comes pretty close in my opinion and Ive wanted to climb it ever since I saw a photo of it many years ago. The time to climb was upon us.

After a frantic day of shopping, packing and changing plane tickets home (for Jono), Simon, Jono and I made our way from Huaraz to Caraz and then Cashapampa in crowded minivans called collectivos. Collectivos are the preferred method of travel for budget travellers in Peru and are often rammed full with locals and gringos heading somewhere. They leave when they are full and pick up more passengers along the way. All part of the adventure.

At the trailhead in Cashapampa, I arranged for an arriero (mule driver) and burros (donkeys) to transport our equipment 2 days up valley to Alpamayo basecamp (4300m). At $10 a day for the arriero and $5 for each mule, its a cheap way to avoid carrying a heavy pack.

After 2 days of walking up the Santa Cruz valley, arrived in base camp and set about gleaning any information we could about the conditions on the mountain. The current route in condition was the French Direct, a steep 60 -70 degree ice route leading all the way to the summit. We were in the tent early. The next few days were going to be long and hard. We also had a schedule because Jono had to be on the bus to Huaraz at 10pm in 3 days to get back to work on time in california. Given the chance to climb Alpamayo with us, he rang his boss and changed his flights home. He had been in the mountains for about 3 weeks and was much better acclimatised than me or Simon.

After a 6am start and 6 hours of uphill struggle we arrived at high camp (5500m), a 1200m altitude gain. We had 12 hours to hydrate and try to adjust to the altitude a bit before trying to climb the mountain. It was particularly sobering when an avalanche scoured our route at about 5 pm after the sun had been warming the summit cornices all afternoon. At least the route would be clear of any fresh snow.!

Neither Simon or I felt particularly good for most of the night, but our new friend had a plane to catch, so at about 130 am with the bare essentials (1 litre of water, chocolate, energy gels and a warm jacket) we headed toward the mountain on a rather brisk cold morning. A Snickers bar, a cup of Coca tea and some Ibuprofen was all I could manage for breakfast.

2 guided parties were ahead of us on the route so it was lucky that we were wearing helmets as lumps of ice continually showered us from above. It was extremely cold waiting at the belay even with all our clothes on. Climbing was a welcome antidote to shivering. My water bottle was a frozen block when I arrived at the summit. The cold combined with being under acclimatised made it even more fun for Simon and me. A bit of suffering never hurt anyone. Its good for the soul.

Simon led the first 3 pitches with Jono and I climbing together on second. The next 3 pitches (rope lengths) were mine on perfect ice. Fun but tiring at nearly 6000m. After a bit of coaxing, Jono took over the lead for the final 3 pitches to the perfect summit. 9 pitches of calf burning , lung busting fun lead to a beautiful sun drenched summit. It was 10am. Plenty of time to abseil the route and return to high camp for some well earned rest. Jono had to keep going to base camp and beyond back to Huaraz for his flight the next evening. The abseil anchors were mainly V-thread anchors (cord threaded into holes in the ice)- stronger than you think!

Simon (more depleted than ever before) and I lay in the tent that afternoon watching more parties arrrive at high camp. Alpamayo is one of the most popular mountains in the range. We were psyched have climbed the route.

After descending to BC the next day and then to Cashapampa and Caraz with a radical collectivo driver(Simon felt like he should be hanging out the window with a gun), we made it to Huaraz by about 4pm despite our first collectivo breaking down on the way to Huaraz. 2 happy dirty climbers back in Huaraz for a shower, good food and some thick air. Another cool adventure.....

Quote of the week - adventures in a developing country

Simon: I think we need to do some laundry soon.

Rob: Why? We´ve only been here a week.

Simon: I keep shitting myself

Monday, July 13, 2009

Going up can hurt

High altitude does strange things to the body and mind. For someone new to altitude, it can be a horrible experience (dont let that put you off though!) . The process of gradually pushing the body higher and higher to force the body to adapt to higher altitudes can be painful. Headaches, nausea, vomiting can all be symptoms when you push it. Anxiety about what is happenning and how long these syptoms will last is common for people new to high altitude.

A few days ago, Simon, Jono (an easy going Californinian we met at the hostel) caught a taxi to the Llaca valley to attempt a peak called Vallunaraju (5680m). After a night in the run down, half collapsed refugio(4300m), Jono and I headed up the mountain at 345am. Simon had woken up (actually he hadnt slept at all) with a pulse of 130 bpm and screaming headache. He wisely decided not to join us. I didnt´t have high expectations for myself as I wasnt aclimatised much at all really. Jono was already acclimatised after a few weeks in the range andwas looking to climb one last peak before heading home.

Onward we climbed until we stumbled upon the high camp and the path onto the glacier. We stashed our approach shoes under some rocks and strapped crampons onto our boots. I still felt OK at 5000m so onward we went. All the training I had done must have paid off. cool!

6 hours after starting from base camp, we stood on the top with incredible views of the cordillera blanca in every direction. This was my first time back in the mountains since the trip to Tibet in September 2008 and it felt great to be back. A strange feeling to describe, but nothing else really matters up there. The pressures of work and life fade away into insignificance and the focus becomes getting down safely.

Carefullly we retraced our steps back down the corniced summit ridge and back down the mountain to the refugio and eventuallly the taxi back to Huaraz. We even manged to score a free lunch off a visiting tour group while we waitied for the taxi. Simon was thankfully feeling better by the time we returned and still psyched for the next Alpamayo. Jono has extended his ticket home by a week to join us. Should be a fun mission................

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Huaraz, Peru, the game begins

Finally after more than 24 hours flying and 8 hours in a comfy bus, Simon and I arrived have arrived in Huaraz in the beautiful Cordillera Blanca range of Peru.
We staying in an amazing hostel with an incredible view of the mountains. Already we have concluded that there is too little time to try all the peaks we want to. At least we´ll sleep well on the plane home. To be honest home is a relative term. Simon and I are both considering buying real estate here in Huaraz. It is awesome here.
Simon is suffering from a badcase of HAFE (read his blog for more details
Good reliable psyched partners are hard to find. Its great to have Simon as a partner on this trip. Same sense of humor, same psyche, strong climber, funny as hell. Criteria satisfied.
The plan is to warm up and acclimatise on a few treks and easier peaks before getting amongst the bigger more serious stuff.
stay tuned.....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Peru- Motivation and training

Climbing trip to the Cordillera Blanca mountains of Peru July 2009
For years, I had seen photos and read stories about climbing in the mountains of Peru. The Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru contains some of the most beautiful 5000m and 6000m mountains in the world. I had to go. 

I had the guidebook. All i needed was a psyched reliable partner. I had met Simon Young in Tasmania in January 09 while climbing the Totem pole. One phone call was all it took. 
"Simon, Rob here. wanna go to Peru in July. ? 
"Yep , Sounds awesome- how much will it cost?" 

One thing about mountaineering is that no matter how fit you are, you always wish you were fitter. 6 solid months of training later and I feel fitter, stronger and better prepared than ever. 

"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail".
I can deal with defeat on a mountain due to weather, conditions or extreme danger, but the the excuse of not being fit enough doesn't cut it for me. Maybe thats harsh, but that's just me. 

All the effort that goes into planning, working and training for a trip is useless if you are not physically and mentally prepared for the trip. For the past 6 months I've been primarily training Crossfit along with cycling to work, running, yoga and rock climbing. 
Crossfit has been a training revelation for me. The improvements in fitness and strength have been amazing. I'm excited to see how the fitness transfers to the mountains. 

It's been more than 8 months since I returned from the Himalayas. I'm ready and psyched to get back in action. 

I'll be on the jet plane at 6am tomorrow bound for Sydney-> Santiago-> Lima. then onto the mountain town of Huaraz and onward to the mountains. ....... Cant wait. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The beginning- boredom

So here it is. I was at home one night with alot to do but not doing much. Maybe I was bored. Various friends have started a blog and updated it on their travels or thoughts about every day life. Cant be that hard can it?

I usually document my travels and climbs with photos but i guess they only tell half the story. People often ask about my travels and adventures so i guess this is good way to share them.

Boredom can be a wonderful thing. It can give you real time to think. I have to admit that i have rarely been bored in my whole life. I always seem to have something to do or somewhere to go or someone to see. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be time to just be. I guess I'm lucky that I found things I'm passionate about.
The last few months have been fairly hectic. Good times, great times, amazing times and crushingly devastating times. Thats life i guess. Life moves on.

Keep it real and look ahead.

Be inspired. There is a massive big world out there to explore. Do it in your own way.

bon chance