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Saturday, August 3

Dispatches From Peru: Ishinca Valley and Vallunaraju

Que tal amigos!! (what's up friends)

There is much to share since the last update! I'm going to try my best for brevity with this post because a: we're going to be back in the states in a day and b: I'm writing this whilst sitting on the side of a street in Lima looking rather homeless (it's quite amusing the looks one gets huddling on a sidewalk wrapped in technical gear and surrounded by 300 pounds of luggage).

Our trek back into the Ishinca valley was rather pleasant due in part to the fact that it boasts stunning scenery and also because we had three Burros (donkeys) hauling a large majority of our gear in. At the conclusion of our four hour hike in to base camp we began wondering what our next move was going to be. As was the case several times before, we thought we had an itinerary fleshed out, yet it was once again dashed. The weather was not cooperating as we would have liked, and neither were Jenna's lungs. As a result we decided that Nick and I would climb Nevado Urus while Justin stayed back with Jenna and hopefully gave her some time for her to heal up. 
Base camp in the Ishinca Valley. Tocllaraju is gracing the background of this image.

Our attempt at Urus started at 4:40 in the morning - about the time that my stomach said uh-uh. The beginning part of the climb was very steep and a large portion of my concentration went to keeping my dinner not on the ground in front of me. My stomach eventually cleared up allowing me to enjoy the grandeur around me. We busted onto snow slopes about two thirds of the way up and sailed from there to the summit cone. And by sailed I mean took ten steps then stopped to suck air. At 18,000 feet, Urus is shorter than it's nearby peers but is still by far the largest peak we have ever attempted, and by the time we pushed through the last rock band for the summit, it certainly felt like it.

From below the summit of Urus
A mild headache, one upset stomach and 4 hours later Nick and I were officially the highest we have ever been and on the summit of Urus. We spun around 360 degrees on the tiny summit cone and basked in the majesty around us. We spared little time as we descended (making full use of the glissade where it was possible - glissading is basically a controlled slide on your butt down a snow slope) as we were eager to check on the status of our sick friend. A knee breaking pace down brought us to base camp in a hurry where we found Jenna not much better of than when we departed. After much deliberation we decided that Justin would attempt Urus solo the next day while Nick, Jenna, and I rested.

Beautiful horses we encountered on the way up to the Refugio on Ishinca
After Justin's successful bid at Urus we all discussed our options as a team over a hot meal. With Jenna's lungs not getting any better, the conclusion was drawn that her and Justin would go out the next day with a burro and nick and I would stay another two days and attempt either Ishinca or Tocllaraju. The latter was not coming out of the clouds for us so we settled for the former. As the better looking half of the team departed Ishinca valley for Huaraz, Nick and I headed up in elevation to a refugio (refuge/hut) to get closer to Ishinca mountain. The refugio itself was very nice, yet it was lonely as it was just the two of us staying there. Where was our other half when ya need 'em  to play some cards! We passed the time until eventually it was our shot to bring down Ishinca. The route we chose came at the recommendation of a few Italians we met at base camp a few days before - that being a direct line up the face of the mountain rather than the walk up the Northwest ridge. This climb started much like the last, with an unhappy stomach. Except Nick's was in the same boat. We blamed the powdered soy milk we put in our oatmeal and continued the slog up the moraine to the steep snow that was awaiting us.

Once at the snow/glacier line we stopped, threw on crampons, drew our ice axes brandishing them like swords (ok, perhaps that was a bit dramatic), and roped up. Nick led the first few pitches of steep snow, placing snow pickets where necessary. I led The next couple and after plenty of huffing and puffing (going up this 60 degree snow is tough work!) we found ourselves sitting on yet another summit in the Cordillera Blanca. Around us the giants Tocllaraju and Ranrapalca dominated the skyline. We spent some time on the summit taking pictures and made quick work of the descent (I was in a hurry... I felt another one of those dreaded altitude headaches coming on). We only saw two people the entire day and they were a few scientists working for the American Climber Science program taking readings on the glacier. If you have some time you should check it out, seems like a really cool idea, you can learn more about it here: http://climberscience.wordpress.com/

Nick following up one of the steep snow slopes on the flank of Ishinca
Once back at the refugio we ate lunch, packed and headed for base camp, where we ate once again (our appetites were insatiable!) and crashed for the night. In the morning we loaded up our absurdly large packs and busted our humps back to Pashpa. Before we knew it we were bouncing in a van headed for Huaraz.
The next few days were spent in town and at several rock climbing areas around the Huaraz area. It was during this time that the four of us decided that we would make one final attempt at another mountain - Vallunaraju - and hopefully Jenna would be healthy enough to participate. The route was an audacious one up the North ridge and is seldom traveled. The night before rolled around and the decision was made that Jenna would stay in town, her lungs had not gotten significantly better which was an incredible bummer. The three of us packed up, gorged on some burritos and hit the sack early, our planned 2am wake-up was going to come quick.
A hitchhike out of Antacocha after a day of rock climbing.

The next morning arrived and we found a taxi waiting outside for us. This was one of the closest mountains to Huaraz but the taxi ride still took two hours due to the absolute horrid state of the road. There was a section where we were in first gear for almost an hour! At most times this road appeared (and felt) more akin to a dried river bed than an actual road. Regardless, our taxi driver faithfully got us to the trail and asked what time we would be back to the road so he could meet us there. It was here that the greatest mistake of the trip was made. We unwittingly told him to meet us at 4pm (it was 5am right now, that was plenty of time right?) Oh how we were wrong, oh so wrong.

We left the road and were immediately barraged with a very steep trail that was unrelenting for the greater part of the morning. This part was slow going and intermittently broken up by bathroom stops for Nick and Justin (their bowels were untimely stricken with a certain something that made matters even more interesting - as to what that something was, I'll leave it to the readers imagination : ). Our "trail" to get around to the North ridge was more or less non existent so we made our own and traversed across the rocky mountainside to a notch which required snow and ice gear to surmount. This was followed by a small descent and another traverse across a large talus field. We grossly underestimated how long the journey up to this point would take; altitude simply exacerbated things and made the going even slower. The crux of the climb was now before us, we roped up and once again equipped ourselves with snow and ice gear and began climbing a very steep snow/ice ramp that is used to gain the ridge. We congregate at the base of the steepest section and Justin prepares to fearlessly lead it. As I belay, Nick expertly manages the rope and in a jiffy Justin is calling off belay and belaying Nick and I up the pitch. It was a remarkable climb, incredibly varied (think steep snow, fun ice, and a little bit of rock thrown in there) and over altogether too quickly.

Nick on one of the lower steep snow pitches of the ramp.
From the top of the ramp we picked our way up the ridge carefully avoiding the visible crevasses as best we could. The time was getting late and we were still over an hour from the summit! More steep snow culminated in a small rock wall that was bordered by a sketchy crevasse on one side a a several hundred foot cliff on the other side. Luckily we brought a very small rack of rock protection that we used to aid ourselves through the awkward positions. This short stint burned up a lot of time. At this point it was already past the time we were supposed to meet our taxi driver...oops! One final push put us on the summit of Vallunaraju, the views were nothing short of incredible. We hit it almost perfectly to see the horizon on fire from the setting sun. It was hard to leave this place but the hour was late and we had pressing matters to attend to, namely getting off this mountain alive! Right at the summit we had to do an interesting maneuver which included jumping over a VERY deep crevasse which had a width between three and four feet (don't worry, we were safe about it). We high tailed it down the mountain the whole time wondering if we were going to have a ride. As the sun set, a beautiful blue aura filled the sky and Huaraz could be seen brightly twinkling away below us. It was about this time that Justin was able to send an email from his phone to Jenna to let her know we were still alive and on our way down.
Justy on the summit, preparing to jump the newly opened crevasse!

As we drew to the end of the glacier the path became less discernible, with apparent boot prints scattering in almost every direction. We were rapildly fatiguing and now had no clue where we were supposed to exit the glacier and pick up our trail through the moraine. After more precious time was spent searching Justin found a few cairns below - we were on track again! After resuming the knee-bashing descent we quickly grew suspicious of our trail, it seemed to be taking us away fro the general direction we were supposed to be heading. We stuck with it however because it beat the hell out of the alternative, which was picking our way through the moraine without a clue....in the dark. After what seemed like many spirit crushing hours of descending and traversing away from our endpoint I reached a certain point of desperation and decided to head straight downhill - the road had to be down there somewhere! Sure enough, I came across it not too long after I left the trail. I went ahead on the road (which turned out to be a long, long way) to get our stashed water and see of there was going to be a taxi waiting for us.

Nick leading us down Vallunaraju in the setting sun.
When I got to the refugio where we were supposed to meet our driver I didn't see his car. I met back up with Nick and Justin and shared the news. Together we went back to the refugio and tried to see of we could talk to someone, but alas, it was locked. We sat down in the lot dejected from being on our feet for 17 hours straight (it was now well after 10pm) and not having a ride back to our beds. It was just then that a Peruvian fellow came out of his tent and made small talk with us (all of our Spanish talk was small, incidentally that's what happens when you suck at speaking another language). We told him we missed our taxi and he quickly replied that no, this van right here was waiting for us! He went over to the refugio -apparently the driver was sleeping in there - to fetch him. Our driver didn't look too pleased (it was a different guy than the morning before) but loaded our sorry asses up anyway. He was more than happy when he got double the pay out of us once we were back in town. The only thing that separated us from our beds was that miserable road. The jostling was even worse than before; I was bounced so hard that my entire body left the seat at least 5 times. We got back to Huaraz though, that's all that mattered. Jenna wasn't a happy camper, and for good reason. The proprietor of the place we were staying stayed up and tried contacting us as well. Apparently our original taxi driver was concerned for us and was in contact with both her and Jenna.

While the climb itself was absolutely incredible, our gross underestimate of how long it would take was a huge mistake, one that caused people to worry needlessly for our safety. For that I apologize.

Well, that more or less brings us full circle! So much for brevity eh? Thank you everyone for your support! It was a hell of a trip, one that none of us will ever forget I'm sure. Now that's it's over I'm already anxiously awaiting the next adventure :)

Stay tuned to the blog for a video Nick is currently working on, it's sure to blow my boring blog posts out of the water! Thanks again!

Much love,
The Team

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking all of us with you on this incredible journey via the blog. :)