Friday, July 31, 2009

The Ischinca Valley

After a few days of chowing down on some of Huaraz's finest food (mostly at cafe andino´s), we were about ready to go back into the thick of it and try the only other real goal we had for peru. this would involve walking up the Ischinca valley to climb the classic West Facce of Tocllaraju. this is a well know route that involves mostly 55-60 degree ice with a steeper pitch to exit onto the summit ridge.

there was a local transport strike on by all the collectivo drivers that meant we had to get up early to get a cab to the strart of the trail. we had rand ahead and arranged some donkeys. they were waiting on arrival and we were soon underway. the walk up the valley was beautiful. many rock towers rose either side, making me wish i had more time to go rock-climbing! three hours later we arrived at basecamp and settled in next to some brits we met in at Alpamayo, Lester and Ben.

we had an afternoon to kill which was spent packing to move to the high camp the next day. near the camp theres also a fun little sport route. some other guys had a top-rope on it so i went over and had a play. unfortunately i only had my trainers on, but it was fun none the less!

we woke the next day and made the final preperations to head up and climb our route. the weather didnt look too amazing but we left camp anyway. 45 minutes up the track it started snowing pretty heavily so Rob and I huddled under a big boulder and weighed up our options. it started to clear and we decided to just carry some of the gear up the hill to high-camp, then sleep in base camp before heading up the next day. this wuoold hopefully allow the weather to clear a bit, and allow the fresh snow to settle out a bit.

the next day saw us slogging back up the same hill. luckily half our gear was already up there so the walk was much easier! we found a great little sheltered spot at about 5150m. a lot of people camp a little bit higher, but that sites in the open. we set the alarms for midnight and settled in to try and get some sleep. in the late afternoon we had a visitor.

a couple of alaskans had decided to try the normal route in a single push from base-camp. they had, however left at 8am that day. not exactly an alpine start. we had been watching their slow progress from our camp before we noticed there was only one person on the ridge now. soon after Torsten joined us for some tea. his friend, Andrew, had decided to keep going! Torsten soon made his way down, telling us to keep an eye on Andy. as darkness fell he was still going up!

a restless night for both of us saw us soon rolling out of our warm sleeping bags and getting ready for the route. we left camp at 1am and were soon slogging up the glacier towards our goal. there was a nice path up most of the way from people who had climbed the normal ridgeline. we broke off the path to get to our route and were instantly plugging steps in soft snow. soon we arrived at the base of the face and were confronted with a monster bergschrund. we found a way through, involving some overhanging ice for a few metres and were on the face proper now.

i led off up the 60 degree nevé, finding perfect conditions. we led in blocks of three pitches, so as t stay warmer not belaying for two pitches at a time. after five or so pitches were arrived at the first obstacle, some dorment seracs. we skirted to the right a touch and blasted onwards and upwards. daylight had crept up on us now and the warmth was a welcome feeling. the lower face had been freezing! soon we punched onto the lower angled ridge that led to the summit. here the snow was deep and at 6000m it was really hard work. stopping for breath every 10 steps or so we were soon standing on top. unfortunately clouds blocked most of our views. it was snowing lightly so we started making our way down. a few abseils and some downclimbing saw us trudging back across the glacier to our camp.

we ate the remainder of the food and packed our stuff and made our way down. my knees felling the full impact of a heaving load! soon however we were down, frying up eggs bought from the local canteen. we were keen to have a go at the nearby Ranrapalca, but a rest day was in order first! the weather the next day wasnt really too amazing. we decided to see what it was like the day after and make decision to stay or go then. this peak wasnt particularly inspiring so we both wouldnt mind leaving without its summit.

the next morning saw Rob bringing his breakfast back up and feeling crap, with some sort of stomach bug. that settled the deal, we arranged some donkeys and made our way down. at the bottom we caught a taxi with two other Spaniards. on the drive down Rob was cold with fever, shivering while we were toasty in the backseat. at the hostel they were full, but Zarela found us a couple of beds. Rob went straight to bed to rest. he couldnt eat, so i went out and made up for it. smashing the menu at cafe andinos i was soon full and content.

with rob sick there wasnt heaps i could do so i just set about trying to get my belt on the usual notch after having taken it in a bit! there could be plenty of worse places and things to do than hang out and eat...

Monday, July 20, 2009


it took only a few days to start feeling a bit better and get ready for our first proper mission. we were heading up the Santa Cruz valley to try and stand on top of Nevada Alpamayo (5940m). alpamayo is one the most famous peaks due to its beauty so we wanted to do this one first. we had both dreamed of this one for a while!

an early start saw us riding in a taxi with all our gear to the collectivo depot. colletivo´s are communal taxis, that pickup and drop people off all along the way. its quite a good, cheap if somewhat hairy way to travel. a few hours of bumpy, cramped driving later we were at the trailhead of the valley. here we organised a donkey driver and two donkeys(nando and jorje). we had heaps of kit to bring to base camp and for only $20 a day its a good way to avoid the back-breaking loads! you only get one set of knees!

the valley was a beautiful one, full of fellow trekkers and climbers. there were, of course, the usual serious, professional german hikers. for them its not about laughing and joking, its a very serious matter. 3 hours after starting we made our way into Llama corral, a grassy clearing where we would camp for the night and rest the donkeys. we pitched our tent and got busy relaxing. there we some local dogs about which were the cutest things ever, it was hard not to let them into the tent!!

at the reasonable time of 8am we broke camp and started walking again. the valley was now nice and flat so the going was nice and easy! we came to the end of the valley quite quickly and started making our way up the hill to where alpamayo basecamp is located. loads of switchbacks made the going fairly straight forward, however we were starting to notice some altitude. we rocked up into basecamp shortly after lunch and got busy organising ourselves.

we were able to talk to some current inhabitants about the routes condition and soon learned that the french direct was the route that everyone was doing. with lots of gear left in place on the route, we would gun for this line. (along with everyone else!) Jono, the californian dude, had changed his ticket to join us before heading back home to work. he was on a tight schedule, so that meant we were too! we packed the bare essentials for high camp and settled into bed for the night.

a dawn start saw us climbing the moraine slopes, past the moraine camp and on to the glacier. we had 1200m height to gain so our work was cut out for us! the glacier was pretty chilled out, except for one massive crevasse we had to step over, staring down into the gloomy darkness as we did so. 6 hours after leaving basecamp we were at the col camp, where we would climb from. at 5500m it was the highest id ever been. soon i started feeling lousy, with headaches and nausea. a concoction of drugs and rest saw me feeling slightly better. we set the alarms for midnight and tried to get some sleep.

everyone else decided to get an early start too, so we ended up being the last group to the base of the route. a bit disapointed we waited in the bergschrund for our turn to climb. the group above us were moving quite slow, and there wasnt a good chance to pass them so we just had to wait! leading in blocks of three pitches each we soon had some daylight to climb by. the route topped out right on the summit for some spectacular views! we had some food and realaxed in some sun before making the 8 abseils to get back down off the route.

once back at col camp jono had to pack his stuff and make his way down the hill so he wouldnt miss his flight. rob and i just relaxed. i still didnt feel great so had a hard time eating anything. after a sleepless night we decided to make our way down. i was struggling to recover. my body being completely depleted of energy, i had nothing left to give! its the most tired ive ever been, altitude makes big-wall soloing look easy...

getting down the galcier was super-fast as its all downhill! we stumbled into basecamp and just sprawled ourselves over the soft grass. we got one of the locals to fry us up some chips and eggs for a few bucks and started feeling heaps better. we arranged some donkeys for the trip out the next day. we had already arranged a driver to meet us, but we got a new one so we didnt have to wait an extra day!

a 7am start saw us making our way down the valley. with light packs, we again moved fast down the never ending valley. soon however we were done. we payed the donkey driver his deniro and got a collectivo down the hill. with another car infront of us, both drivers were racing down the windy roads. i felt like i should be james bond, hanging out the window with a gun shooting at the car ahead!! the first collectivo we caught broke down, luckily another one came along soon after and we we soon showering in huaraz and making our way towards some food.

at the trusty cafe andino, we went nuts and pigged out on all the food we could eat! i had lost some weight, which i desperately needed to try and put back on! so for a few days thats my main focus, eating carbs, proteins and fatty foods ready for our next mission tommorow. we´re heading into the ishinca valley for a short, 4 day mission to climb the classic west face of toccalarju.

now for some more burritos....

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Acclimitisation blues...

after a few days in huaraz, getting used to the thinner air it was time to go higher. we set of for a day walk up to laguna churup, a beautiful lake at 4450m. this would be a good chance to let our bodies acclimatise. we caught the taxi up and were soon walking. taking it nice and slow, it was still an effort not to lose my breath! an hour and a hlaf later we we casually munching on some food by the lake. i felt pretty good. we had enought time to stay up there for a few hours before making our way back down to the taxi.

once back in huaraz i started feeling a little seedy, but thought it would just pass. we went to the famous cafe andino for some food and tea before making our way to the markets. by now i was feeling much worse, with nausea and headaches. we picked an entrance to the markets and went in. we had gone into the meat section. with dead chickens and ox tongues inches from my face i had to get out of here. i found a fast way out and struggled to catch my breath. fighting a wave of nausea i thought i was winning the fight. until the enemy sent another wave that saw me heaving up the tasty sandwich from cafe andinos into a nearby drain. feeling better for the release i made my way home to the hostel where i lay down and tried to rest. i drugged myself up and started feeling sorry for myself. soon i was leaking out both end in an effort to empty my bowels completely. i think the altitude, combined with an upset tummy led to these miserable 24 hours.

after a sleepless night i was feeling slightly better in the morning. we had originally planned to head up the jacca valley to climb vallunaraju, an easy peak with a summit height of 5680. i felt well enough to come up to the refugio, and would see how i felt from there. we had recently met an american called jono, who had decided to come with us. so we piled into a taxi which proceded to drive to the doorstep of basecamp. they really know how to do it in peru! after a diaster with the pasta we were soon settling into bed. i wasnt feeling particularly good so i popped some pills and tried to get some sleep. during the night i felt awful. i was struggling for breath, feeling like someone was sitting on my chest. my head pounded and my heart raced. we had set the alarm for 3am, and when that went off i checked my pulse. it was 120bpm. with such a sore head and a high pulse i decied i just needed another day to rest. the others set off and i was sorely disappointed to no be going with them.

going back to bed i slept for quite some time. after some time i started feeling better, helped along by some altitude drugs. at around midday i went for a walk up to glacial lake above the hut, it was quite spectacular! after milling around for a while, and throwing some stones i made my way back down for some tea. after a litre of cocoa leaf tea i was feeling much better. i had made the right decision to hang back for the day. Rob and Jono came back just after 1pm, they had made good time to the summit and back. a couple from moab had sandbagged us into thinking the route would talk heaps longer, so the taxi wouldn´t show up until 4! as far as places to lounge around go, we weren´t doing too badly! the taxi showed up a touch early and we piled in and made our way back down to the hostel. soon we´re going to be heading out to grab some big burritos before having a pleasant rest day tommorow.

then hopefully we ´ll be heading up the santa cruz valley to try and have a shot at climbing the famous alpamayo! see how we go!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Simon vs. HAFE

so i made it to peru! im sitting in downtown huaraz today after arriving yesterday via bus from lima. with the moutnains of the Cordillera Blanca mountains looming above us, it is a spectacualr location. the town is at 3100m so the effects of altitude have presented themselves. with a mild headache this morning i know i am acclimatising. unfortunately i have been struck down with a bout of HAFE, ie. High Altitude Flatulence Edema. while u wont find this condition in any of the medical textbooks, who are u gonna beleive? some nandy-pandy desk jockey or me, in the thick of it, with my finger on the pulse. the symptoms of HAFE arent too hard to imagine, severe flatulence. i pity poor Rob. often the hardest hit person is the partner of the victim. such a nice guy, its a shame that his soul will be forever scarred by the experience of sharing close quarters with the unfortunate HAFE victim. let me explain how HAFE forms.

in the rareified atmospheres of altitude there is less oxygen available for the lungs to consume. due to this the body needs to suck more air to get the required fuel for the body. for most people this just results in High-Altitude Lassitude, which dissapears quickly. for some unlucky souls however, they are unable to expel the same level as they inhale orally. this leads to a build-up of air that must escape somehow. this results in the air heading south and out the other end, so to speak.

thankfully this condition is not terminal, and rarely fatal. often the worst damge is on the surounding environment, with high cases of ´Burning Nostrils´occuring. usually HAFE passes once acclimatised, taking roughly 153 hours to pass. so the good news is this wont plague me forever, although the memories will torment Rob for the term of his natural life.

so no need to worry, i am coping with ths unexpected hurdle as best i can. for now its off to buy supplies and get ready for our first few missions. some peaks easy enough for us to get high without much trouble. afterall, getting high is what climbings all about.

so adios for now amigo´s!!

(NOTE: there is absolutely no truth to this post, apart from the fact my bowels are having a fun time with the local cuisine...)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mt Cook Solo

So I sit in Wanaka, snowfalkes gently falling to the ground. Over the last few days I've managed to get a whole heap of procrastination done. But here is the report of the failed mission to solo mt Cook.

After walking out of the Hooker with Jez we drove back to Christchurch. A few days of catching up with the outside world was a good thing! The weather forecast was still holding strong so I would have to go back in! Thats the best thing about mountaineering, you don't get to choose the time of engagement, you have to be ready to go when the weather and conditions are right. I had both. So I packed my things and waved good-bye. I was a little sad to leave Lyttleton, its a beautiful spot. I had to start preparing mentally for this next mission, to try and solo White Dreams (NZ 5) on the south face of Mt Cook. With a few big wall solo missions done, I'm real keen to transfer those skills and mental aspects to the big mountains.

So I arrived to an empty Unwin Hut, no surprises there. I had enough time to pack the few things I would be taking. Going light would be the key to success and everything got pared down to the essentials. Unfortunately this meant the sleeping bag stayed out. With blankets in the huts I would just have to rely on the extra fuel I would pack to stay warm. If anyone tells you they have a good nights sleep on the eve of a big route, they are insane or lying. The alarm went off and I sprang into action. Getting ready in record time. The walk-in had previously taken us 8 hours to Gardiner Hut each time, so I left the trail-head just as dawn was breaking. Having walked the track multiple times recently I cranked the iPod up with some classic Punk-Rock and set about getting up the valley.

With a light pack I felt fit and was moving fast. The competitive streak in me wanted to see how fast I could do the walk. Knowing the track well meant there were no wrong turns or back-tracking. Soon I was at the worst bit, the bloody moraine wall. I slid my way down and was soon munching some snacks at the lunch boulder on the glacier. I made my way onto the white ice crunching my way speedily up the glacier. The scariest bit was when I finally got to the crevasses. I took a deep breath and starting following our previously laid tracks. Things had opened up slightly since the last visit so there were a few interesting moments. Before too long I was resting in the bergschrund beneath the Water-Fall route onto Pudding Rock. Each time I had climbed this route, it was progressively easier. This time proved no trouble at all, it felt awesome moving with a pack on vaguely steep ground without a rope. A sense of mastery is something I yearn to feel in my climbing, and this moderate ground gave me that. The ice-fall in the bowl above the gully had dropped a few pieces of ice which I skirted and punched up to the ridge-line above.

I happily fell into the bench seats at Gardiner Hut and checked my watch, 5 hours flat. I was stoked, but the flip side being I now had time to kill! I picked up one the the hut books and settled in with a liter of hot cordial. The hut radio burst into life as DoC made the sched. The weather had changed for the worst, the next day would bring gale force winds about the tops so I decided on a hut day. It proved the right choice as the next day brought snow and winds. I managed to get through all 545 pages of the novel, feeling somewhat let down by the reviews. When darkness fell I settled into my blankets for another nights sleep.

The alarm woke me at 3am and I struggled up to get the brew on. I swear I could hear cries of pain in the background. Once packed I made my way across to the slopes that lead up to the base of the route. The moon had made its way east so a dark clear night waited outside. Needing to gain some 1800m I was in for a big day. But as I climbed higher I grew more and more concerned. I was on the lee slope to the wind and plenty of fresh snow had been deposited, having not bonded well to the underlying layer. Sometimes I was slipping, other times up to my knees. I said out loud to no one in particular, 'what am I doing here?!'. On a fifty-five degree slope I decided that being out at 4am, on the side of Mt Cook by myself in the midst of avalanche prone slopes in the middle of winter wasn't really all it was cracked up to be so I pulled the pin.

Gingerly I made my way back down the 300m height I had gained. With visions of being swept to the glacier below coursing through my mind I was taking all the time in the world. Before to long I was back at the hut, questioning whether I had made the right decision. A recent conversation I had with my good friend Johnny came to mind. In regards to the recent tragedy that claimed the lives of Micah Dash, Johnny Copp and Wade Johnston in China. Johnny had told me,

'If u could ask those guys now I'm sure they'd say its not worth dying for, not worth trading all those years of potential for this new route.'

This settled my mind somewhat as I made my way across the glacier to the true right side. Not being sure of whether I would get through or not provided me that feeling of unknown that mountaineers crave. With a few wrong turns and the odd jump over some deep, dark gaps I was soon flying down towards warmth, safety and a hot meat-pie. I was sorely disappointed that I was making my way back, this spurned me into trying to go as fast as I could back to the car. Four hours after I left the hut I was popping the boot and donning fresh clobber. The meat-pie didn't let me down and soon I was making my way to Wanaka.

With 4-5 days left till I head off to Peru the weather forecast is pretty average. At least it will give me the chance to relax and psyche back up to climb hard in Peru. A few week in front of a fire will give me all the guilt I need to put it out there and suffer on some of South America's finest.