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 mission..........to 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 http://www.thealpinist.blogspot.com/).
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.