I’m back. Safely. Here's the video recap!!
Unfortunately, no summit. And also, not as much internet as I would have hoped, so I wasn’t able to post any blog posts along the way. SORRY. But, I was able to send out some GPS way-points throughout the trip (check them out HERE). So here is a trip recap, as best as I can recall it (I can recall things pretty well).
So, back on the 8th of July, we headed out early to the small village of Janco (I use “village” lightly, it was basically just a single hut), about 45 minutes drive out of Huaraz. We packed up two big vans with our gear and 2000m of ropes and 10 ladders (for possible crevasses), and we were off!
When we arrived, we waited a bit until the BURROS showed up to carry all our gear up the valley. 26 in total. It was a beautiful, cloudless day and we were all pumped. Not a single soul in this particular valley, it was completely ours.
Now, a little background on this peak. It was first climbed in 1952 by a Dutch and French guy. And although I don’t know the exact number of how many people have climbed this thing, I think I heard somewhere that it was only a handful of people and the last time was 18 years ago up the route we were trying. Needless to say, it’s a very very hard peak to climb. For one, because of how remote it is. That makes the logistical side of it a nightmare. It’s hard to get porters and burros to that spot, so very hard to supply a long expedition with food and supplies. Secondly, it’s a MASSIVE mountain. It technically has two summits, Norte and Sur, and the Norte (the shorter one) one is a formidable peak in itself, and then you continue up the ridge and climb SUR, which is another long ways up a continuing ridge. Pretty much the whole climb is up a super exposed ridge. EPIC.
After a 2.5 hour walk up the valley we reached the end of it, where there was a beautiful emerald green lagoon at the base of a massive peak (San Juan, not Huantsan, which was actually hidden around the corner). We set up a cozy base camp à la Altitude Junkies style - each our own personal tent, a kitchen tent, a mess dome where we ate all our meals comfortably and had Barbara berate each and every one of us (haha just kidding...sort of). All in all we were 7 climbers, plus Phil, two Sherpas (Kami "Mad Dog" and Pasang, both whom I had climbed with on Everest), 2 local porters (Alex and Eloy), and 2 cooks (Daniel and Juvencio).
The first couple days we spent just sitting there acclimatizing, letting our bodies double in red blood cells (Hey, why are Irish folk so good at acclimatizing? Because their red blood cells are always Dublin.....Phil's joke. Not mine). On the third day we ventured up the side of the lagoon up the rock face to morraine camp about 500m higher. Pretty tough climb the first time through, taking us about 2.5 hours to reach. We dumped some of our ice gear up there, took a few moments to breath the thinner air, and headed back done. First rotation done.
Two rest days/further acclimatization days.
Then we went up to Camp 1. We first slept a night at morraine camp, which we decided to move to the base of the glacier to make our climb to Camp 1 a little easier. This was an extra hour's climb. No biggie, because the second foray we were much stronger and did the climb pretty quick. 3 hours in total. Mostly a rock scramble. We got to the glacier late in the day as the sky was turning orange-y red and started melting snow and cooking our freeze dried meals (chili meat with pasta FTW!). It was a relatively warm night, which was kind of strange, and with absolutely zero wind. I remember having to wake up a couple times to use the bathroom and I actually just stayed outside for a good 15 minutes each time counting the stars (lost count). So beautiful.
We woke up at 5am to vacate our tents so the porters could carry them up to C1. But we didn't set out onto the glacier until 7am once the sun had hit. Big mistake, because as soon as we started moving in the sun we were being baked and the snow got pretty slushy pretty quick. Not to mention, this glacier was riddled with crevasses, worse than anything I had ever seen before (and that's including the Khumbu Ice Fall). We stuck to the right-side rock wall (which was just as dangerous if you consider the possible rock fall, but it was either the crevasses or rock fall - would you rather fall in an ice hole or have a rock crush you? I'll have a rock crush me, thank you!). We went up in two rope teams of 4 (the Sherpas had gone ahead to fix ropes out of C1 up the ridge to C2).
Well...there were some issues. One, the second rope team had a few communication problems (but I guess that can happen, it was our first day out on the glacier anyways) so that slowed things a tad. Two, the glacier was dangerous as fuck. Three, once we got up the headwall using our ice tools and up onto the ridge, we quickly saw how scary and impossible the rest of the ridge up was from C1. It's common for a ridge to be corniced (basically overhanging snow caused by wind blowing it over) and you just safely traverse on the other side of it. But, it's highly uncommon to have multiple cornices up a ridge, swapping directions! Looking up we were able to see one cornice blown to the left, another blown to the right just above it, and then another blown to the left, above that! Something like that is just unclimbable, unless you want to risk it all. I don't.
So that's all it took. One look at that ridge and the climb was done. Phil said nope. Plus the weather was coming in bad, so he even nixed the idea of sleeping at C1 that night. So we turned around. UGH. That wasn't easy to accept, especially after a whole tough day of climbing. Objective completely aborted. But, dem's the rules...we headed down. It got a bit hairy on the fixed lines down because there were a few people not quite sure how to get down quickly. Not exactly what I wanted to be dealing with at that moment, but we eventually moved on from it. Emily, Hans, Phil, and I got back to glacier camp within an hour, packed our things, then made the long hike down to BC. All in all it ended up being a 10 hour day - felt much like a summit day. Ooff. I was knackered. I got back to camp and chugged some liquid yogurt and a Cusqueña beer (I had eaten only a few Chips Ahoy cookies for breakfast, a single chocolate almond for lunch, then a bite of a twix on the way down - I was famished). Then passed out in my tent until everyone came in later to BC, strolling in in the dark with their headlamps on. Had an amazing dinner and passed out again.
Phil was uber-disappointed considering this was a peak he had planned to climb since last year. I mean, all of us were disappointed of course. When I go on a climb, it's with a clear objective. I don't do well when that objective is just shut off so quickly. Phil mentioned possibly attempting San Juan as a consolation (the peak right in front of us, slightly smaller, and slightly less challenging), but I wasn't up for it. We did a bit of reconnaisance up to morraine valley a few days later to find the route, but a combination of disinterest and my ankle finally flaring up on me after being pounded the other day led me to get off the mountain. I hiked out, with the help of a burro, hopped on the back of some construction workers truck and headed back to Huaraz (but not before we had two consecutive evenings with MASSIVE bonfires, plenty-a-beer, and some fire-walking shenanigans led by Phil).
Some of the team stayed to try San Juan, but from what I understood, the next 3 days were deplorable weather and they were stuck at BC. I haven't heard the full report from them yet, but they should be arriving in Huaraz today.
All in all, despite not climbing anything, it was a great exploratory trip. I love Peru and Huaraz, and I love climbing with Phil. If anything, it got me guns-blazing for Everest 2016. More on that in a bit!