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...

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