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High Altitude: Cordillera Blanca of Peru

7:10:09 PM
Hi All:

Below is an attempt to chronicle a recent mountaineering trip I took the the Peruvian Andes, known as the Cordillera Blanca. The trip took place over a time period of a little over 4 weeks in what was technically the early season for the range (late May/June).

I was jolted from my senseless state as the wheels of our jet rumbled into the tarmac of the Lima International Airport of Peru. A state of mild nauseaousness violated my brain as my sandpaper tongue unstuck itself from the roof of my mouth only to encounter what felt to be fur growing on the back of my teeth. God I hate these long international flights.

As our plane taxied into the terminal I was grateful in knowing that the majority of my journey was over that it would only be another day before I was once again in the foothills of the Andes. Over the last 24 hours I had boarded and endured a series of flights which took me on somewhat circuitous path fraught with extended layovers to my ultimate destination of Peru. Now I had only to wait for the rest of my teammates to arrive in Lima and then endure an 8 hour bus ride which would take us from the coastal city of Lima to the small mountain town of Huaraz which would serve as our base of operations/supply for a series of mountaineering trips over the next 4 weeks.

As I finally stumble out of customs with 60kilos of baggage at 2330hrs, I begin the search for my ride to the hotel... My buddies had advised me that there would be a ride waiting for me and that all I had to do was find the guy holding the sign with my name on it. After stumbling around with my kit for about an hour, a particular gentleman caught my eye. He was holding a sign with a name on it which contained a signficant number of consonants similar to my own name.....after much gesticulation and exchage of rudimentary Spanish, we were able to establish that he was indeed there to pick me up from the aiport. Although, how he ever got "Brando Mirelas" from "Brad Miller" is a mystery.

Welcome to South America.

The next day, the rest of our 7 man expedition arrived with another 1000kg of gear in tow. The group was to represent a possible team which was to be fielded for an Everest attempt next year from the Chinese side. We were here in Peru to both train for this possible attempt on Everest in 2005 as well as to see whether or not we were compatible as a team....

Let the epic begin..... Lesson 1: Don't choose your mountaineering partners with the same casual attitude you might use in picking a rock partner for the day.

The following morning we managed to get everyone and our armada of expedition duffels onto the bus and eventually to Huaraz. All in all it was a fairly uneventful ride with the exception of 2 or 3 near misses with head-on collisions...luckily, I was in such a state of jet lag that I hardly stirred to the blairing of horns, screams of my fellow passengers or even the screeching of tires. I did wake up once feeling like I was suffocating when the bus crossed over the top of a 5,000m pass but then fell back to sleep as we dropped back down the back side.

8 hours of bus travel then deposited us on the door steps of our hostal, Familia Mesa in the busy little town of Huaraz at 3051m. Here we were to stay for the next 3 days while we gathered supplies, hired a cook, arranged for donkeys and let our bodies adjust to the altitude. Here I was able to catch up with some friends/locals I met during my trip to this region in 2001 as well as to take the opportunity to start getting to know my fellow teammates. Not much has changed in little Huaraz in the last couple of years.

Our first objective was to complete a 5 day trek in the Santa Cruz valley. This extremely beautiful (and immensely popular) trek is a brilliant way to help the body to further acclimate.This particular trek takes you up the Santa Cruz valley where, over a series of days, you slowly gain altitude from 3800m to a trip high of 4800m when you cross over the Punta Union pass. Additionally, you are able to sleep 2 nights at about an altitude of 4400m as well as hike right pass the famous mountains of Alpamayao, Quitaraju and Talliaraju.

Lesson 2: If they can't walk at altitude, they probably ain't going to be able to climb at altitude....

During the trek I could not help notice that some of my teammates appeared to be struggling with the altitude. Given the fact that we were essentially hiking only with water and some light clothing in our packs (the donkeys carried everything else), I was was growing concerned as to the overall fitness and preparadeness of the group. Oh well, people react differently to altitude, I was sure their bodies would adjust...

At the end of the trek we hiked into base camp for Mount Pisco. We slept in
a cave at about 4900m just outside of the moraine while it snowed and hailed outside. We stayed amazinigly dry..IThe next day we got up at 2AM, ate some
porridge and started the two hour approach through the moraine (piles of
glacial debris about 50m high in some spots) by headtorch. On each side of
us were drops of about 2oom into moraine lakes below and the trail was only
about .5m wide in some spots!

At about 5000m the sun hit us on the col and litup all of these amazing peaks towering above us in a stunning alpine glow.

At about 100m below the summit we hit some conditions I was not comfortable
with which included a heavily corniced ridge that had holes poking through to the valley floor. At that point I decided to turn back because we needed technical tools and ice ice screws to safely climb and protect the route. The other guys decided to try and climb a 65degree ice face with only an ice axe and no protection and just made it to the top but ended up taking huge risks....not my cup of tea. I then had to solo my
way off the mountain and through the glacier back to camp. We had a team
chat afterwards and we all agreed that we made the wrong decision and that
there was a better way to do the route had we explored our options as a
team. It was actually a terrific learning experience for me..exactly the
kind of stuff I wanted to be faced with while down there.

Following the climb we are rested and restocked on food with the idea of heading into
the hills again to hopefully climb three more peaks (Tocallaraju, Ranrapalca
and Ishinca). One route will be a normal route while the others will require
technical tools, ice screws and some rock climbing.

Two of the guys that were trekking with us (not part of the climbing team) had to turn back on the second day from altitude sickness...we actually had to strap one of them
onto the back of a donkey to get him down! Talk about going down in style...The rest of the guys are were up reasonably well, however, I think we will probably lose two of the remaining 5 (two dropped out after Pisco) to a lesser route by the end of the trip. I think they were at their limits this past week as it relates to the altitude. This next foray will tell the true tale as two of the mountains are towering above 6000m.

Lesson 3: You don't get stronger at altitude, you only get leaner. Show up fit or pay the consequences.

After returning to Huaraz to resupply after our climb on Pisco, we then hiked into the Ishinca Valley to try our luck on two peaks there -Tocallaraju and Ishinca (we ruled out Ranrapalca given the lack of snow and heavy rockfall this year). At this point we were two team members short as they went down with some sort of parasite and were taking heavy doses of antibiotics in order to join up with the rest of the team in a couple of

The journey up the valley was relatively short and left us at a base camp of about 4500m. Everyone seemed to be handling the altitude okay at this point. Upon our arrival we decided to take advantage of a good weather window and make a dash to try and climb the face of Tocallarju.

Typically there are two routes that are done on Tocallarju - the West Face consisting of 500m of technical ice and snow climbing up to 60degrees and the Normal Route, which consists of a long ridge climb with some technical climbing up high.Both routes take about 6 to 10 hours round trip and deposit you gasping for air at the summit, standing at 6036m.

Three of us left base camp and started the long journey up the rocky and icy path to high camp. This approach hike consisted of carrying all of our kit necessary to spend the night out at the base of the climb and to complete the climb itself. This path took us from 4500m to 5500m. Once reaching the high camp we were to dig a snow cave and crawl in our sleeping bags and waterproof bivouac sacks and wait for the next morning to complete the climb.

However, this was not to be the case. The 1000m vertical ascent up to the high camp strung us out over about a kilometer of distance. Since I was the first to reach the high camp, I began digging a shallow trench for us to lie in and set up camp for the night. However, one of my ropemates ¨hit the wall¨ at 5200m, lasped into a delirious state, threw all of his kit onto the glacier and ran back down the mountain...bizarre behaviour to say the least.

After waiting for him to show up for about 30min, I proceeded down the mountain to find his kit on the snow and my other climbing partner scratching his head in bewilderment. Myself and my other ropemate gathered up the remaining gear and settled in for the night.

That night the temperatures were relatively warm at a balmy -25C. We awoke to the cold and the beeping of multiple alarms at 2AM and began the arduous task of getting dressed, melting snow for tea and gathering our climbing kit - all from the confines of our sleeping bags. Not fun.

Once dressed we began the last leg of our approach to the towering West Face
which consisted of another kilometer of hiking on the glacier and another 150m in elevation gain. Sadly, my climbing partner was shattered. After taking 45 minutes to move 300ft, he fell face first into the snow and wept from the exhaustion. Tocallarju was not to be ours this day. We quickly downclimbed and stuffed him back into his sleeping bag and began the process of both rehydrating and feeding the life back into him. After about 2 hours he was strong enough to return to basecamp, however, he left his motivation at the base of the climb and decided to return home to the USA the next day.

In retrospect, I think the bivouac out on the glacier was too strenous and that we should have expended the energy to take a tent to the high camp. As a result of this insight, I made the hike to high camp again the next day in order to carry a tent and additional equipment for the purposes of setting up a high camp for my teammates who were to try
(unsuccessfully) for the summit the following day.

However, all is not doom and gloom! After taking a rest day at basecamp, myself and two other teamates (who had since recovered from a parasite) made a dash for the summit of Ishinca at 5600m. Success!! After a beautiful climb through towering ice cliffs and knife edged ridges, the three of us made the summit. We took some photos on the summit and ate some really bad Peruvian chocolate.

The views were fantastic! Below us stretched a myriad of snow capped mountains interspersed with aquamarine coloured glacier lakes and green valleys. To one side of us were the deepest blue skies and on the other we could see Tocallarju being pummeled by a storm about 400m above us.

All in all, we were on the summit for about 15minutes after about 7hrs of combined effort to get there. We then raced the melting snow back to the camp, as we were afraid that some of the snow bridges we crossed over crevasses might collapse on us during the heat of the day.

Upon returning to town, 3 team members decided to pull the pin and return home. The altitude was simply too much for their bodies and the effort required in the mountains above 5500m exceeded their respective fitness levels. While we were all sad to see them go, we would rather have seen them leave realtively healthy and alive than otherwise.

Some mountain news that has reached us has been somewhat morbidly interesting. 48hours after our failed attempt on Tocallarju, a storm moved in creating unstable snow conditions (causing my other teammates to abort).As a result of this, a local Peruvian mountain guide was killed in an avalanche while aborting an attempt on the normal route about 100m from our own stopping point. Sadly, I had met this guide on the trail the day before, not knowing it was probably to be his last. He was probably 20yrs old.

Lesson 4: Fate does indeed work in mysterious ways.

Other news included a climbing party finding a decapitated German climber on
the route we were to attempt as our last foray. Apparently, this climber
disappeared 20yrs ago...the speculation is that he was beheaded by a falling
ice block and swept into a crevasse. 20 yrs later, the glacier has finally
spat him back out - completely preserved.

All in all, the conditions above 6000m appear to be very unstable during this early part of the season. As a result of this, we decided to reevaluated our objectives given our timelines. We decided to climb Vallanaraju (5800m) and attempt Chopicalqui (6300m)with our remaining time in Peru.

I apologise for the rough account of my trip to Peru - I hope to refine it over the next few days as well as add some pics. Should you have any questions - feel free to email me directly and I am happy to supply some additional beta for the area.


5:44:55 PM
Awsome Brad,
Nice read and great pics.

6:07:07 PM
Interesting read. just returned from climbing Denali. i experienced similar partner problems. he didnt think he needed to train for the trip. i think he went for the odd run and that was it. he hit the wall numerous times and didnt acclimatise very well at all. i ended up climbing the west buttress solo on summit day instead of the upper west rib - which i would have preferred, but that would have required 2 fit climbers.mmmm. good trip and all. buried and ripped tents and some fun storms. big crevasses with scary soft snow bridges. we rode our sleds down the mountain from 11000' to 78000'. Hoonig past some unsuspecting japanese party. quite good fun.

phil box
7:39:59 AM
Never realised you could go down from 11,000' to 78,000', my what a big mountain, lemme see that would make it over twice as high as Everest.

Hey beefy, ya gotta write up the trip report on your trip mate. Sounds like a near epic eh.

6:23:48 PM
yeah ill write it up when i get a chance- sorry about the extra zero. i meant 7800'.
6:46:16 AM
Hey Brad, Thanks for the info - it has come in handy. Conditions are still very average, and loads of snow is present on south facing routes, especially above 6000m.

We have just got back from Laguna Parron, where we climbed the NW face on Piramide and the RH couloir on Caraz II. We are keen to get back into the hills - Huaraz is crazy with gringos.

10:08:35 PM
Read a trip report of Caraz II from Matt. Congrats to you both on making the top,sounds like you guys had an epic. Care to post a trip report?

9:07:49 AM
Ant- read your trip report...nice work!!!!! Caraz II sounded fantastic! What's next on the agenda?

8:48:25 AM
Hey Brad,

The EASY route on Tocllaraju and then the north face of Ranrapalca.

5:36:33 PM
Nice. Bring screws, may be necessary to aid past the bergschrund on Toc.

9:21:16 PM
Ant, all this high-altitude Peruvian posin' may be nice, DUDE, but -- really just an EXCUSE to stay off the green roof lead problem at Vic Ranges .. it's still waitin' fur yer.
- Steve (no relation to HEX)

10:27:06 AM
On 3/08/2004 gfdonc wrote:
>Ant, all this high-altitude Peruvian posin' may be nice, DUDE, but -- really
>just an EXCUSE to stay off the green roof lead problem at Vic Ranges ..
>it's still waitin' fur yer.

Choice. Hopefully it is still there in September - my tender slightly "frostnipped" fingers should be good again by then.

P.S. Ranrapalca was out of condition, Tocllaraju was as busy as Thredbo after a dump, and my farts were looking something like gravy. We are back in town stocking up on food before heading off for a "fat white" Peruvian line (i.e. Ocshapalca). Ciao!
1:06:15 PM
Ewww .. too much information there I think.
Redpointed the green last night after staying off it for a couple of weeks. I'm a happy man. They're not planning to reset it anytime soon apparently.
Got the 2nd roll of Buller pics back, will post some updates when I get a few minutes with the scanner.
Good luck with the peaks.
- Steve

3:01:54 PM
Have a look at Vallanaraju while at Oschapalca. There's some fun D+ mixed lines. Also, the glacier looked like a bitch on Oshapalca when I was there, however if you go left a bit, there is a subsidiary peak (baby Osha) that is a bit easier to get to and it is the same style climbing (high mountain "sport lines").

Re: farts and gravy - Get some antibiotics man, it only get's worse.

9:57:10 AM
Got generic sulpur drugs racing around me at the moment - feeling much better.

Going to try a new ice line on the N face of Ocshapalca. Its just before Ishinca BC. Some germans put it up in the last few days - 350 metres and up to 90 degrees waterfall ice, something like TD-. And we have a camp/lake all to ourselves.
9:53:05 PM
Hehe. Just found this. Read it and weep (or giggle), Alpine Climbers.
(Pedro's post, bad spelling and all).

12:42:39 PM
Just descovered this thread. Nice one Brad. Brings back memories...might have to go back for more.

Do you know the name of the young guide that died? Not Samuel Roca?

1:38:02 PM
Samuel Roca rings a bell with me, but I don't think he was the guide who perished on Tocallaraju. Let me find out and I'll let you know.

4:37:26 PM
Hi Brad,

Wow sounds like an amazing experience and the photo's are fantastic,
you must have very strong arms, do you work out ????

There are 19 messages in this topic.


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