Team Members ( Peru Expedition 2012)
Baz Rodgers, Dunc Rodgers, Henry Latti, Bob Shields
Fourteen and a half hours of Iberian hell later, stewardesses that had faces liked a slapped arse, screaming kids, entertainment which consisted of a drop down micro screen showing a film that I had never heard of and would certainly not gone out of my way to watch ( so I didn’t ), crap food and cramped legs, we stumbled into a late afternoon Lima. At least the organisation was working, our driver was there in arrivals, he whisked us away through the rush hour smog to our hotel where we ate and fell into a state of semi comatose slumber which was invaded by nightmares of being cooped up in a small box with only David Cameron and the St Winifred’s school choir for company, arghhhhhhhhhh.
Lima is a real shitheap, 12 million people sandwiched between a polluted Pacific to the west, the rising Andeas to the east and the desert to the south and the north. I have been to this city six times and I have never seen the sun through the smog yet, its grey all the time and it is also incredibly unsafe to walk about there ( so I am told by most Peruvians ) so I never have. Its a place of transit and so it was this time again. A taxi turned up to whisk us to the coach station, we boarded our nice air conditioned coach ( having the four panoramic seats on the top deck and the front ) and we were away. 90mins of driving through the sprawling mass of electric fenced town houses, suburban squaller, fetid slums interspersed with rivers that are called ( open) sewers we were free ( ish).
We headed north on a road that clings to the narrow strip of land between desert and sea tighter than pedophile to a children’s play area. Another hour saw the city smog dissipating and a reluctant sun starting to shine. Turning right (east) we started our climb into the hills then some six hours after setting off we topped a pass and had our first glimpse of snow covered peaks ahead.
The air was clear, the peaks encircled us and shone enticingly in the evening sun as we cruised down the road into Huaraz, our driver was there to meet us and within ten mins of the bus disgorging us and our kit we were in Olazes guest house with a coffee in hand goggling at the panorama.
Huaraz is a bit of a Blackpool/Chamonix for south American adventure travellers, it has a well developed infrastructure in the town centre where you can hire a bike or a mountain guide, book a trek, buy a map/steak or just have your pocket picked. Its also at 3052m which means that rushing up stairs or after that pickpocket so soon after arrival is not a good idea. Traditional dress is still worn by the majority of middle aged women and obesity seems to be an issue with the majority or teenage girls who wear western clothing, just like home then except for the traditional clothing. Outside of the city centre the town dissolves into a sprawling third world mess of shanties where the kids roll around with the pigs/dogs in the gardens and the washing is done in the river/sewer outside of the house. If this sounds harsh then it is not supposed to be, just factual.
After a day in Lima we headed out and up to the Lazy Dog in at 3500m or so to help our acclimatisation.
The Lazy dog inn is a large house surrounded by a collection of cottages in a walled compound run by a Canadian matriarch called Diane and her acolytes. There are also four very lazy dogs and a couple of demons in the guise of horses that she uses to terrorise the unsuspecting guests. It is however a great place to sit around and do nothing, watch the humming birds farting around between the flowers, or if you are feeling energetic and want to assist your acclimatisation go for walks to Laguna Churup etc etc.
I however had man flu whilst I was there so spent the majority of time feeling really miserable and sorry for myself and sleeping. Man Flu in the UK is serious, at altitude however it develops into MEGADEATH Man Flu. The effects of which I should avoid describing to ensure I do not scare you ( especially if you are a woman ( but then if you are you just would not be able to comprehend the suffering we men have to put up with as you do not get ManFlu)).
Four days and three nights of Manflu and Matriarchal rule were sufficient to ensure I had had enough and was acclimatised so we headed out for a “taxi” ( how they get these vehicles up these roads is beyond me) ride up the Llaca valley to the newly built and lovely Alpine Club hut, which you have to camp beside because you are not allowed in it ?? to prepare for our acclimatisation hill.
Vallunaraju ( 5685m ) is a non technical ascent which takes two days from the Llaca valley. The initial ascent on an indistinct path is steep, crosses some problematic granite slabs and is a bugger carrying 20 plus K to 4900m. However once at high camp you settle down and try to get some sleep to prepare for the 0100hrs wake up.
The final ascent itself is reasonably straightforward, except for the “death on a stick” initial ice covered granite slabs that twenty years ago would have been covered by glaciers, and by dawn we were firmly iced into the summit watching the sun rise over the Cordillera Blanca, pretty cool.
Summit ticked we headed back down to Huaraz and the comfort ( and good coffee ) of Olazes. I stretched the time in Huaraz to two days to ensure I was fully recovered from my brush with death ( The MEGADEATH Manflu ). However I could put the technical warm up off no longer so we were up at 0100hrs again for a taxi ride, its great getting taxis to the bottom of the hills, over to the south and to a seldom climbed hill called Huarapasca. You can go on a road ( loosely termed) to about 4500m ( great), you then get ( fall ) out of the car into your boots and kit, pant your way up two or three hundred meters of moraine to the start of the glacier ( shit it looks steep) and the climbing.
The first hundred Metres or so is OK but it soon rears up to 70 degrees, the calves and arms burn but the focus comes on as height is gained. At approx 5300m you come over the top of the inital slopes to be faced with the last 200m of ascent on a beautifully ascetic little peak. The real beauty of which is that there are no trails on, its seldom climbed and tucked away in a bit of a backwater, this is what we were here for and we lost no time in getting to grips with the last 200m of steep climbing. No sooner had we arrived on the summit that a 3m worktop masquaring as a bird ( A condor) sailed by just underneath us, the perfect Peruvian summit present.
Time was ticking away now so once back in Huaraz we packed and readied ourselves for the next morning and our departure for the Santa Cruz valley and Artesoneraju, the main objective of our three week trip.
To get to our hill we had to trek up the Santa Cruz valley, the entrance to which is like entering into the chasm of doom, a cleft in the side of the hill. Once you have braved the marauding flies, groups of trekkers and climbed about 700m or so the valley opens out before you and the snow covered peaks are evident in the distance.
Two days later ( three days in total ) we were camped underneath the glaciers of Artesonraju looking up at what looked to be an awfully steep pile of ice.
Atresonraju is used by Paramount pictures as their logo, do not let anyone tell you otherwise ( certain Americans would have you believe that it is an American hill that is used)
The route ( The North Ridge) we had chosen is just over 1100m of climbing graded at D+. It starts on the snow/ice slopes on the bottom lhs side of the picture above, winds its way through the crevasses and easy angled snow slopes to finish up the 70 degree ice slopes just on the lhs side of the summit ridge.
Sounds easy, the weather however had been slowly deteriorating and the days were either wet or snowy, depending upon the altitude of your camp. The nights had also been becoming more and more windy ( outside the tent that is).
We took a day of rest at Moraine camp to see if the weather would settle and to all intents and purposes it seemed to have done just that as we stumbled out into the light snow flurries at 0030am. Umberto, our cook, had some eggy bread waiting for us ( what a star) so we wolfed that with a big mug of hot coffee to try and force a degree of wakefulness into our eyes and brains and set off up the moraine towards the glacier above in the circle of headtorch reality.
I think it is fair to say that if anyone had suggested turning around to me within the first 500m I would have jumped at the suggestion. My legs were like lead, my head was pounding and I just could not understand why I was doing this to myself. Mountaineering can be really shit sometimes, its bloody hard. However at 0400 we were at the start of the wall ( the last 300/400m of 70 degree climbing that leads to the summit ridge ).
The initial slope around a big crevasse leads to another five 60m pitches of between 70 and 80 degree climbing. It was around the second pitch that the snow and wind started, we gritted our teeth and kept going. By the start of the last pitch we were just three small ice rimed climbers on a very big wall of ice being buffeted by 60kph winds in a maelstrom of snow and spindrift. One more pitch to go and we were not giving up, amazingly when we hit the summit ridge of Mr Whippy cornices the snow stopped and wind abated and we were along it and onto the summit at 0530, just before the sun rose.
I would love to be able to put a great summit picture up now but the truth is I was just way too tired and cold to even consider going to the effort of taking out my camera ( so I nicked this one off the web), the wind and the snow storm had taken its toll. We looked at each other and said well thats it better get down now, turned around and headed back along the ridge. This was not an anticlimax, I think we were just keen to get the descent, which we knew was going to be interesting out of the way. By this time the light was improving and we could see just how narrow the ridge was, how big the cornices were and how steep the drops were on the walkable side of the ridge.
Reaching the top of the wall we stopped to join the ropes, clip the snow stake belay and start the abseil descent. Peter would abb, Bob would follow, I had the dubious pleasure of removing the backup and abbing off the single stake or abalakof belay. Two abbs down and the wind hit us again, it was really whistling and the air was also full ice crystals which were being dislodged by the wind and driven across the slopes, they bloody well hurt when they hit your face.
After long delays at one abb point to get a decent belay ( which Peter found by burrowing into the snow like a demented terrier) we were at last back to the easier angled slopes, tired, cold but just very happy to be off the face and out of the wind.
By the time, 1030am we made the camp we were knackered and glad of a cup of coffee and a little snooze before we broke camp, shouldered our 20K packs and headed for the valley floor another 900m below us.
After a night of welcome sleep it was back to Huaraz and onto the UK.
We had chosen these three peaks to get away from the commercial crowds hogging the more generally climbed peaks ( Alpamayo etc). Did it work? with the exception of Vallunaraju, yes it did. The Llaca valley which gives access to Valla is now easily driven up thanks to a road which has been built to help engineers access the draining of a large moraine lake up there. This improved access has meant more climbers and the associated mess that goes along with them. Huarapasca however was a delight as was Artesonraju ( although it was bloody hard)
Would I go back, yes I am planning my next trip for 2014, watch this space.
Thanks to Jenn at Skyline tours for all the invaluable in-country assistance. Ted, I hope you are on the mend.