Nevado Pisco 18,871
Nevado Pisco 18,871
|Peru Part I: Rise so High in Mud you Lie|
If you only want information on routes and don't care about story, situation, or travel, skip to "Monday, June 6th" under Chapter 3.
Chapter 1: Before
Since before I could walk, my family has spent lots of time in the mountains. As my mode of transport shifted from a backpack to my own two feet, I began to explore further and higher up trails and valleys, and when I was 8 years old, I summited Torreys Peak as my first 14er. As I continued to climb, mountain bike, hike, and otherwise enjoy Colorado's peaks, I found that my favorite thing of all was "peak bagging". When I was 9, I climbed Uncompahgre and Handies Peak. Tabeguache, Quandary, and Snowmass when I was 10. The summer that I was 11 I climbed 14 more 14ers. I was obsessed. During this time, I also stumbled across something online and began to scheme. That something was a peak in Peru called Chopicalqui, one of the highest peaks in the western hemisphere, just shy of 21,000 feet. I realized that it was not outside of the realm of possibility to climb it, and I was quickly taken by the idea. I researched the route closely, analyzed what skills I had and what skills I still needed (primarily snow and glacier related). I then made a plan for how to get those skills.
I started easy the following spring with a couloir on Mt. Sniktau in addition to the Angel of Shavano. The next spring, I really upped my game with the Hourglass Couloir on Grizzly Peak D, and Dragon Tail Couloir in RMNP. These were in training for climbing Mt. Rainier, but then COVID happened and everyones climbing plans, including ours, were messed with. The park service basically reduced the number of climbing permits by 80%, and took permits away from people who already had them... I am sure we were not the only victims. We didn't find out that they revoked our permit until we were already in Washington, about 36 hours before our planned attempt. So when life give you lemons... we climbed Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Black Peak, Colchuck Peak, and Dragontail Peak among others instead. This sequence was when I really gained most of my confidence and competence on snow. On the way home we climbed Teewinot in terrible conditions which was great experience as well.
Over the remainder of the summer we climbed 17 more 14ers including all 3 Wilsons in a day and Capitol, Pyramid, and Maroon in 3 consecutive days. This didn't help with snow climbing, but my comfort on exposed and dangerous terrain expanded tenfold. We also climbed Baxters Pinnacle, Middle Teton, South Teton, and Upper Exum on the Grand in the Tetons. Again, limited snow, but my first simuling experience which is a very important skill for glacier climbing. At this point I only had 5 14ers left so I began looking into the Cents. I made a goal that winter to climb a Centennial Peak every month through the winter starting with January. The goal was in immediate jeopardy, but on the 31st of January, we squeezed in an ascent of Fletcher Mountain. The high on the summit was forecasted at 5 degrees below zero. Thankfully it wasn't windy. We decided on an impromptu ascent of Quandary's west ridge, which I guess is kinda hard, and the snow covered ridge involved loads of low 5th class and mixed climbing in addition to steep snow with exposure, and we were without ice axes, crampons, or a rope. It was a series of bad decisions and a great lesson, I am glad everything worked out safely. February was perhaps just as dangerous for a different reason. The cold was unbelievable. Alaska cold. We climbed Mt. Buckskin via the long south ridge. The air temperature was well below zero all day, but this time the wind was not quite so forgiving. Wind chills of -40 for 8 consecutive hours is a great way to lose fingers or toes. We were lucky. A broken ankle would kill. This was a very good lesson about the power of cold. March, April, and May were all uneventful, climbing Silverheels, Sherman and Dyer, Lackawanna, and Culebra and Red (Oh darn why didn't we grab Vermejo and Purgatoire?). Although we had originally hoped to visit Peru that summer, COVID did not allow, so we rescheduled our Rainier plans from the previous year for that June. In preperation we climbed and skied Boudoir Couloir on Horseshoe Mountain, a nice easy line, then climbed Cathedral Peak A's East Couloir, and Grizzly Couloir on Grizzly Peak. That last one should be an ultra classic, absolutely love it. Lincoln Creek Road was closed for completely no reason (dry, not washed out, no deadfall... lazy rangers?) and added 7 miles each way, so we enjoyed my first 20+ mile day.
Then the time came to climb Rainier. Kautz glacier was incredible but a little hard for me, with some 60+ degree glacier ice.
We sadly had to abandon the true summit and stop at the crater rim due to high wind and complete white out conditions. I'll have to go back for the last few feet to the summit, but this was an absolutely great experience, and just what I needed to get my skill level where it needed to be for Peru. Later that summer we climbed many more peaks including Jagged and Wham Ridge on Vestal, increasing my competence simuling. We also finished the 14ers with Little Bear, North Maroon, then Pikes as my last 3. That fall we booked plane tickets to Lima for the last week of May, and began practicing all sorts of crevasse rescue and ascending techniques at the Local Earth Treks (Movement now I guess?) Climbing Gym. Then just as the best of ski season was coming to a close and we were about to start climbing some peaks for acclimation, disaster. Well, actually two of them.
Disaster One: Russia invades Ukraine. So this sucks the most for the Ukrainians obviously, but what else does it do? Fuel prices go through the roof. Fertilizer prices follow. Farmers around the world can't afford to continue work. In Peru, riots, strikes, and huge conflicts between farmers and government. What can we do about it? Hope it gets better. Someone famous said "hope isn't a plan," but it can't be helped. We will just wait and see. Disaster Two: Dad has a ski wreck on Strawberry Field at Snowmass Ski area. 9 weeks before we fly. Messsed up knee. Torn meniscus. Needs surgery. By the time he gets in to Panorama Orthopedics, it is 6 weeks until we fly, not nearly enough time. Because of work commitments on the back end, we cant push back more than a week. Thankfully Latam had moved our flights on us so we got a full refund, then rebooked for a week later. So 7 weeks it is. We'll try to make it work.
The surgery went well, and after 3 weeks we began our acclimation and fitness training with an ascent of Square Top Mountain. We Bivied on top of Guanella Pass to sleep high for acclimation. His knee hurt a lot. The next weekend we bivied below Dead Dog Couloir which we intended to climb, but were worried about avalanche, so we did Kelso Ridge instead. Oh, and I was on day 3 of COVID at the time, and I must say, COVID sucks at 14k feet. I had never felt so weak. The next weekend was a freak spring storm, and Mt. Evans was the epicenter of the storm with 40+ inches of fresh snow. So what do we aim to climb? Gray Wolf. Duh. Obvious choice. I love chest deep powder wallowing for 9 miles. Then, for our last weekend in the States, Memorial Day Weekend, we should have been packing, should have spent time with Mom, but instead we went to Aspen, cause why the heck not? The first day we climbed Thunder Pyramid (damn hard but great snow climb) then traversed to Lightning Pyramid (Stupid hard traverse, 5th class on shit rock). On day two we climbed Buckskin BM and UN 13,039, both easy enough but the latter more challenging.
Shockingly, Dad's knee was stronger by the day, and handled all the climbing well. After Aspen, we returned home, packed the last of our bags, and on the afternoon of Friday June 3rd, the adventure began.
Chapter 2: Getting to Hauraz
Friday, June 3rd, 2022
We arrived nice and early at Denver International Airport (DEN), knowing we had to get over 250 lbs of stuff checked. An important detail is that with our sudden flight change, business class was somehow cheaper that economy for the way down. That means we each get two 70 lb checked bags for free, an absolute blessing.
Everything went very smoothly and we got to the gate with over an hour to spare. Out flight left on time, and we were soon on our way. As we approached Mexico City, they announced there was a change of plans and there was no runway space so we circled for half an hour, annoying but tolerable. We were not at all worried on time because of a 4.5 hour layover. We deplane and start walking into the airport. It quickly becomes apparent that we have to clear Mexican immigration and customs. That sucks. Like why the heck is that? We are just connecting through, not leaving the airport. I might not have minded but the line for immigration took about an hour, then customs took 20 minutes, then they made us go back through security (thankfully one for only connecting people so it was a shorter line) which took another 15 minutes, so with transitions it was two full hours before we were at hour gate. Obviously we had way to long of a layover (not by choice) so it wasn't a problem, but just make sure to plan time for these shenanigans if you connect trough MEX to travel anywhere. Then after waiting 2 hours for boarding, everyone finally queued up to start about 20 minutes before planned departure (11:55 pm). The Aeromexico personnel said "Un minuto por favor." Hmmm. One minute please.
Saturday, June 4th
Quite some time later, 53 minutes to be precise, nothing had happened. Never underestimate the power of the Mexican Minute. Finally they began checking vaccination cards and negative COVID tests (needed to get into Peru at the time), then boarding passes. We finally got through the mess, and began walking onto the jetway, when the line just stopped. for another 20 minutes. Still don't know why. After eventually finding our seats and getting settled we had to wait for everyone else to board, then the pilot said something about no runway space. Mexico City needs more runways. We finally took off at about 1:30 am, an hour and a half behind schedule. Thankfully the wind was with us, and we landed at 6 am, only an hour behind schedule. But we though there was a time difference between Mexico City and Lima. There is not. So we thought it was 7. And our bus leaves at 10. And immigration had an hour and 45 minute line. Then customs was slow, but not as bad. I don't know what they disallow because we had everything you're not supposed to (meat, cheese, lots of food for backpacking). They let us through without any trouble. We caught a taxi and arrived at the Plaza Norte bus terminal at 8:15, very proud to have made it by 9:15. We got our bags checked with Cruz del Sur, then went through security and reached the waiting area 15 minutes before our bus left. Then we looked up at the giant clock.
8:45. No way. There isn't a time zone change. In our time stress we had skipped breakfast at the airport. We had checked our food duffel with Cruz del Sur. And then we sat there for an hour. We finally loaded the bus. It is supposedly a 7 hour ride to Huaraz. Traffic had other ideas. It took 2 hours to get out of Lima's sprawl of 20 million people. Then another 2 on the pan-american highway to reach Patavilca, the town where the bus turns off onto the Via Huaraz. Then over only 70 miles the road climbs 13 thousand feet to Conococha Pass At first the road is nice pavement. The views are very interesting with sugar cane, bananas, and other tropical agriculture following the creek, but the surrounding mountains are desolate and rocky, reminiscent of the Mojave Desert. There is one section where an Aji Panca plantation has Aji Panca peppers spread across the entire mountain side to dry in the sun. It stains the hills red. Higher up, the road begins to switchback through agriculture of primarily corn, eucalyptus, and dairy. Then the road becomes narrow and unpaved as it switchbacks higher. This is absolutely terrifying because the road is muddy and slick, and there were 3 buses stuck that required passing very precariously on off-camber mud with no guardrail. Most dangerous part of the trip. For context, there are many carcasses of vehicles that have fallen into the canyon below, and memorial crosses line sections of the road.
We finally reached the pass near dark. Then from there it is another hour and a half to Huaraz. Thankfully our hotel had sent a driver to pick us up. He had had to wait for 2 hours since the bus was so late between traffic and Lima and slow driving on the pass. We loaded our things into the car. Then it didn't start. Thankfully Huaraz is built on a hill so we were able to push the car, pop the clutch and get going. Welcome to Huaraz. After about 15 minutes we pulled to a stop on front of a cast iron gate. A cheerful sign hung denoting the place as Olaza's B&B, our hotel. We dragged our belongings inside. We were the only people there, so had our choice of the 9 rooms. For whatever reason we ended up with #6. We dropped our bags, then ran across the street to a restaurant called Las Vegas for some quite good traditional Peruvian arroz con pollo. Chicken and rice. The food was good but the service was slow. Or maybe we were just impatient... it had been 36 hours since our previous meal. We then returned to Olaza's, and fell fast asleep.
Chapter 3: To Walk Above
Sunday, June 5th
We woke up at 6:30 to the sound of barking dogs and an agitated rooster. The hotel breakfast is amazing fresh bakery buns, a type that is tradition to Huaraz specifically, fresh scrambled eggs, and the best orange juice you will ever have. They also have banana bread and fruit although I think those cost a couple soles (less than a dollar). Olaza's is an amazing spot, with a beautiful garden in the courtyard, fantastic service, comfortable beds, neat photos on all the walls, good food, and best of all, it is run by Tito Olaza, who speaks some English (very important as both my dad and I are completely incompetent when it comes to Spanish) and was super helpful in arranging anything we needed.
After breakfast we went for a walk down to the Plaza de Armas Huaraz. Along the way we bought some baked goods at one of many bakeries. Although good, all of the treats were less sweet than expected, which was fine, but just different than I am used to. We then returned to the hotel to meet with Edgar at 10 am. Edgar was recommended to us by Max Lurie, someone I have never met, but who works as a guide in RMNP and had guided a friend up Dreamweaver on Meeker. Max had climbed in Peru with Edgar, and recommended him as a starting point while looking for a guide. We all sat down in the little cafeteria of the hotel, and began talking through conditions, objectives, comfort levels, acclimation needs, and schedule. Edgar told that the weather this year is the worst he has ever seen and the wet season cycle is still going strong with huge amounts of fresh snow in the peaks daily. That's why we couldn't see any mountains from Huaraz. Also, no one has yet summited any peak over 18,500 because conditions are so bad. He had personally climbed Yanapaqcha and Huarapasca successfully this season, but everything else was "closed."
Armed with that unfortunate news, we formulated a plan to climb in the Quebrada Llanganuco. Dad and I would attempt Nevado Pisco (not yet "open" but supposedly easy), then meet Edgar to climb the lower but much more technical Nevado Yanapaqcha. After this planning we needed to get either white fuel or jetboil fuel, both supposedly easy to find. Most outdoor shops carry the latter, but it was always painfully expensive and Edgar insisted we use our Dragonfly MSR with white fuel. The three of us set off to find it. Edgar led us to The Market, a bustling set of streets and alleys lined with stalls and small businesses. He stopped next to a place with gas grills, clearly the place to stop, but he instead entered a neighboring shop that was selling masks, toys, gift bags, and all sorts of random items. Here is where you find white fuel. What? We never would have found that on our own. Anyway, we bought some fresh fresas and arandanos (strawberries and blueberries) for the next morning. We then spent the remainder of the day hastily packing our packs for a 4 day backpacking trip with technical mountaineering gear. Heavy loads. We paused the packing for some helado (ice cream), then finished packing before going to dinner at a place near the Plaza de Armas. I don't remember the name of the place but I was happy with my grilled chicken and potatoes. We hit the pillows early, knowing we had a 5 'o' clock bus in the morning.
Monday, June 6th
We got up nice and early and ate a breakfast that had been set out for us at 4:30 am. Olaza's doesn't cease to amaze. We dragged our backpacks to the door and prepared for the bus ride. It did not arrive at 5, so we waited patiently for a little while. At 5:30 we got a little concerned and were about to order a private taxi when the bus finally pulled up. I guess it takes a long time to drive to all the different people's hotels rather than just having a station. The company was called Esperanza Travel and Edgar organized for them to pick us up. The drive follows the main road descending along the Rio Santa to Yungay at 8,500 feet, or perhaps I should say Nueva Yungay, as the old one is under 200 foot deep rock after the 1970 mudslide that killed almost all 20k residents of the town. There, we turned and began the long climb up to the trailhead. The bus stopped at a small cafe for breakfast, but we were low on soles and had already eaten our berries plus bread and orange juice at the hotel. The next stop was the Parque National Huascaran hut, where we had to buy passes. We had forgotten about that...
If I remember correctly it was 30 s/. for a day (per person), 60 for 3, and 150 for a month. It is important to buy enough time, because they do check some vehicles on the way out and at trailheads. But remember that mention of low on soles? We had exactly 120, so we bought 3 days each. It is certainly best to just get a month-long pass. They give you a little slip of paper with a timestamp and duration and it is by far the best way to go, but we didn't have that option. By buying the park pass we no longer had money to get a ride back to Huaraz. We'd cross that bridge when we came to it.
The bus pulled over at Laguna 65 (aka Chinancocha) at a stand of majestic Quenual trees and huge lupin bushes right on the lake shore with mind blowing views of the 10,200 foot tall (really) north face of Huascaran Norte.
We then continued to the switchback at 12,800 above Cebollapampa where all the other tourist got off for the hike to Laguna 69. We also got off but after passing the hut where park passes are checked and going through another nice quenual stand we took a left onto the faint trail through the meadow labeled as "Pisco Refugio."
The trail then starts climbing up viciously steep and loose switchbacks. At 13,400 the trail reaches a large bench and there is an opportunity to filter water (there is water at cebollapampa but is is full of cow poop so best to wait until here). From here the trail mellows out as it curves west and climbs towards a quenual stand. It steepens again to push up the next headwall. At this point we were really struggling with our packs and realized that in the future we would need to pack more efficiently. We dragged ourselves slowly up the once again very steep trail at a snail's pace. The trail follows an ancient morainal ridge here, before traversing north through some trees then climbing more rocky terrain to the next bench. Somewhere in these rocks we looked down at the altimeter on the phone. It read 14,446. Higher than Mt. Elbert. Higher than I had ever stood. From here on out, I would walk above my previous altitude record with each step.
Chapter 4: Rise so High, in Mud you Lie
Once reaching the bench at 14,550, there is a nice spot for a rest, before the trail angles northwest and climbs up a third and final headwall. It is the smallest and easiest of the 3 steps in the valley, but also the highest altitude and with the rockiest and loosest trail. After suffering up this, we finally reached the bench at 15,200 that we would call home for the next two nights. The trail gradually descends about 50 feet to the creek, where there is a junction, left to base camp, right to the Refugio. We went right and complained loudly as the trail climbs 150 feet up steep switchbacks to reach the Refugio Peru Pisco. Normally you are encouraged to camp down in the meadow, but since it was still closed for the season we could camp right at the refugio where there is running water at an outdoor faucet and outdoor tables for cooking. Despite having seen one party hiking out (got lost in the rock glacier, did not reach summit), there was absolutely no one in the valley, we were entirely alone, on a mountain not yet climbed this year.
Although I wasn't too affected by the altitude, 15,300 is damn high for our first night in the Cordillera and our third night in Peru, so if I stood up quickly I definitely got a head rush. We set up camp and filtered water, then hiked 400 feet up the good trail to the top of the moraine. We located the chain and climbed down it, making sure we knew where the route was for the morning. The chain is fixed at the north edge of the moraine at 15,700, and allows a downclimb to the rock glacier. It looks ten times worse than it is, and it isn't great.
We then returned to camp, ate dinner, and went to bed.
Tuesday, June 7th
We started hiking at 3:05 (felt like 2:05 from the time zone difference) and did our best to pace ourselves because we knew the elevation would drain us later. We made it down the chain uneventfully, then continued on our way.
The rock glacier is way bigger than it looks. From the moraine at the top of the chain the night before I thought it was 200 meters across and the spirals of rock on it were 30 feet tall. In reality, it is a half mile wide and the rock mounds are 150 feet tall. The scale is unbelievable. At first, there is a good trail. Then you get into the middle where the glacier is moving so no trail endures. Here, huge mounds of rock make intricate patterns as they loop back and forth. Although you want to end up due northwest of your starting point, you need to go north, then west. In the dark it is impossible to navigate, like being in a rowboat on a moonless night in a sea with 150 foot waves. Go up, see nothing but the sky, back down, see nothing but the dark, hungry waves.
We actually went in a small circle because of how confusing the terrain is. Thankfully, we eventually made it across the worst of it and picked up a small trail that slowly grew stronger until it reached the side of the rock glacier. From here, the trail becomes hard to follow again as it climbs 200 feet up loose rock and sand to reach a small hogback above Laguna Matacocha at 15,800 feet. It took us an hour and 45 minutes to reach here, an hour and 20 of which were crossing the rock glacier. Uggh. We drank some water, and tried to eat a nibble of food. It did not settle well, and after another ten minutes of walking, I felt likely to vomit. I can't say if it was the altitude or just trying to eat in the middle of the night, but whatever it was, it knocked my pace to about a 3rd of what I can usually do. By the time we reached 16,000 we had decided the goal for the day was just to reach the edge of the glacier because of how bad I felt. Thankfully the trail is really good here, although it follows a lateral moraine and the exposure was occasionally exciting. At 16,500, we decided I was beginning to bonk, so despite feeling horrendously nauseous, I tried to choke down some scratch chews and water. They made me feel worse.
The sky began to grow light.
The remainder of the route to the glacier consists of class 2+ slabs that were wet, slippery, and required an annoying amount of focus. After hours of walking, we finally reached the edge of the glacier at 16,750. I flopped onto a large flat spot and lay face down on the sandy grit for several minutes just waiting to vomit. I could not help but hear a quote from the book series Red Rising.
"Rise so high, in mud you lie," –Karnus au Bellona (Golden Son, Pierce Brown)
Mmmh, I could go for a nice warm couch and a book...
I eventually stood up, put on my crampons and harness, unholstered a tool, and tied into the rope. I carefully crunched across a couple steps of sand, then kicked into the glacier. I began walking slowly up the 40 degree tongue, using the rest step as fully as I know how. After crossing several crevasses on very solid bridges (advantage of early season and weird weather), the angle relents to about 25 degrees, comfortable walking.
Somehow as I trudged up the glacier beneath the rising sun, surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty, my body figured itself out, and my nausea cleared up at about 17,000 feet. I suddenly felt shockingly fine considering the elevation. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, we picked up our pace and pushed on to the Huandoy-Pisco Col at 17,400. This section of glacier is perhaps the most broken I have been on to this day, with at least 10 major crevasses in a short distance. The snow bridges were absolutely bomber and most of the crevasses were sealed up with fresh snow from the wet season type weather pattern of the previous few weeks. To gain the saddle there are two large bergschrunds. The first is much larger but was well sealed and had a bomb-proof bridge. the second was much smaller but a little dicier. It wasn't a problem to cross, but we made sure to keep any excess slack out of the rope as each of us crossed. The fresh snow to this point was about 3 inches deep, but once we hit the ridge it was more variable, ranging from 1 to 8 inches, usually around 6. From the ridge, the view to the north to Aguja, Caraz, Artesonraju, and also Alpamayo in the distance is out of this world, one of my favorite views of the trip, and really anywhere in the world.
As we took a closer look at the remaining route, we grew concerned. There was obviously no track to follow since no one had been up there, and the fresh snow would have covered any regardless. But more concerningly, the supposedly "PD" rated ridge was a broken jumble of crevasses, rock spires, and seracs.
So lets talk about "Peu Difficile". Wikipedia will tell you this "Routes may be longer and at high altitude, with snow and ice slopes up to 45 degrees. Glaciers are more complex, scrambling is harder, climbing may require some belaying, descent may involve rappelling. More objective hazards." Snow and ice up to 45 degrees. We'll come back to that.
The first major gendarme was easily passed on the north side with a couple sections of 40-45 degree snow with several snow bridges over large crevasses, terrain we are very comfortable on, but already at the limit of PD. "Maybe its the crux."
The second gendarme was a different beast. The route was again on the north side. It started with a traverse across easy terrain with evidence of fresh serac collapse. Move quickly. Then a very, very exposed pitch of 50+ degree climbing. This was particularly spooky because the snow was not conformative to ice axe or crampon use, with a few inches of slippery floof on top of hardpack. We did not belay it or even put in protection, but perhaps should have. Oh wait, the snow was way to hard for a picket but not at all ice worthy of a screw. So unprotected it is.
The pitch deposits you on a dead end ledge with dramatic views of Pisco's upper north face. PD is really pushing it now.
And it gets worse. MUCH worse. Another 30 feet of 45 degree climbing lead to a gash in the mountain, a crevasse 30 feet wide and too deep to see the bottom. Yes, really. Across the huge gap, there is a 120 foot wall of 60 degree snow. Which might be fine. If it wasn't above an endlessly deep hole in the Earth. Well, that aside, there is also the matter of getting to this wall. A single snow bridge makes the crossing. It was out of a comic or a movie. 2 feet wide. 30 feet long. And you could see under it because it was only 8 inches thick in places. There is no way for it to support its own weight, let alone ours. Dad put me on belay and I lead the section. Even getting to the bridge required stepping across two bergschrunds. Then I walked across the thing. And it held. It was the scariest part of the whole trip. Then, I lead The Wall. Like the lower pitch, it was very slick and did not take protection of any kind. And my belay was on the other side of the chasm. So here, if I fell, it would be a fall twice the distance between me and the ground. Because there was no ground to hit. After cautiously picking my way up it and reaching the ridge at 17,900, I was disappointed to see there was nothing to build an anchor with. So I dug to some firm snow and swung the picks of my axes in, and belayed off that. It was good Dad didn't fall either as he followed up The Wall, because although it was much safer than my leading it, I can't promise my anchor would have held.
While I was belaying him up, the Amazon Basin warmed up for the morning, and pushed a huge wall of clouds and moisture over the divide. It enveloped us and we didn't see the sun for the rest of the day. Or much of anything else, for that matter.
Thankfully, the route eased up from here on out. We crossed to the south side of the ridge to cross a very sketchy but much less sketchy crevasse and wallow up a windloaded pitch of 50 degree snow.
Finally, the difficulties ceased. But the sky was firmly set in its desire to slow our progress further. The fog became so bad that we couldn't tell which direction the ridge went. There was not differentiation between the earth and the sky. Despite being 20 feet apart we couldn't always see each other. Walking was weird because you couldn't tell when you were about to touch the snow. You were just moving your foot and then it hit something that looked no different than the air you were just moving it through. It was very dangerous, so we would often stop for 10 or even 20 minutes at a time, just waiting to be able to see enough that we knew we could take another step. I made the comment "I don't know why people are afraid of the dark. A headlamp deals with that. The light is what they should fear, when it white on white there is nothing to be done."
The ridge was an annoying pattern of long flat sections followed by 45 degree headwalls to false summits, short descents, then repeat. This was annoying in the fog, because every time the ridge sloped down we couldn't tell if we were on the summit, and also were worried about walking off the side of the ridge. We had to check GPS several times to see if we were on the summit. Because we had to spend so much time waiting for a window to see if we could walk, we soon became worried about time, were already worried about down climbing The Wall, and had no idea how much further it would be to the summit. We were also entirely alone on the mountain, in a mountain range where the SOS button on the inReach does no good since there isn't a helicopter in the valley and even if there is it cant fly to 18,000 feet. And we were moving really slow due to the altitude. We contemplated long and hard at one of the false summits, around 18,400. A fog window showed part of the the remaining route. It did not look good. For some reason we decided to push on, climbing two more headwalls of 45 degrees, about 100 vertical each. We crossed a long flat section before reaching the western summit of Pisco Oeste. Gaia shows the eastern summit being one contour higher, but a quick window revealed that getting there required descending a hundred feet, crossing several large crevasses, then climbing a 150 foot wall that appeared to be about 55 degrees, very icy, incredibly exposed, and although much easier than The Wall from lower, still not a gimme.
Considering this, along with the previously listed concerns, we decided to call this our summit. The fog never relented as we descended back down to the crux. Dad was able to find some dodgy ice to get in a screw, so he belayed me as I downclimbed, made the crossing, then set up a belay and he climbed down. Again, with the crevasse between us, my belay on protected his crossing of the bridge, not the downclimb. We trudged slowly back to the saddle, where it was still cloudy but visibility was good.
At the saddle, we were absolutely wrecked, still had hours to go, and had been going for 11 hours already. We descended back down to the moraine, took off glacier gear, then began the trudge out. The rock glacier is pretty easy in the day light. Upon returning to camp, we were in for a surprise, the refugio was being opened and there were a handful of parties (including two guys from Boulder) hoping to climb the next day. Lucky bastards have our trail to follow now...
We arrived back at camp at 5 pm, about half an hour before it gets dark. We made dinner but couldn't finish it because we both felt too wrecked to eat. That night, the no-longer-so-high elevation of 15,300 didn't keep us up at all.
To continue reading see Peru Part II about Nevado Yanapaqcha 17,913.
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