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.....

1 comment:

  1. You totally amaze me Rob, a man of many talents... a beautiful read!