Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cordillera Blanca

On El Escudo, Huascaran Sur.

Nicknames, a trip to the Cordillera Blanca   

    Carl has many. Rambo. Vampire Slayer. Carl-house-vinceanderson-twight. Meat locker.
    Carl has no connection to CC except that he is now banned from campus.  On Halloween he showed up as Rambo.  He got blackout drunk, roamed barefoot, and kicked in some windows.  He was easy to find after he left half a mile of bloody footprints zig-zagging across campus. Needless to say, he climbs like he parties.
    I trained all year, doing the incline with weight and climbing tons of mixed in RMNP.  Carl walked onto a D1 wrestling team.
    I heard the Cordillera Blanca would be ‘fun’.  I was inspired by the beautiful photos of steep fluted snow and blue ice. But I knew it would hurt. I promised some significant others that I wouldn't ‘touch the void’. In Lima, I got mugged.  I was already punting, and I hadn’t even stepped onto a glacier.

SW face of Piramide de Garcilaso.

    I met up with Carl in the dark and loud streets of Huaraz. He had previously been in the Quebrada Santa Cruz.  Him and his Canadian and Kiwi friends tried a route on the infamous Taulliraju.  They made it up a few pitches of rotten vert ice before it became too much.  Suffering from problems with constant rainfall and aggressive cattle, he hiked out.  As we packed up to go to the Ischinca valley, his friends got sick and would complete no further climbs.  I somehow managed to keep from puking all trip. 
    So much garlic.  Taking some Mark Twight advice way to seriously; Carl had tried to acclimatize faster by eating whole cloves. I just acclimatized like a normal person not battling vampires.
Descending back into the Paron valley, looking at the glacier below Chacraraju Oeste.
    We started to feel good. After a couple of days I could run hard continuously at 4800m, expecting headaches that never came.  Each morning we woke up higher than Pikes.  We pushed it a bit higher. Ischinca(the mountain) was uneventful but offered mind-bending views of intricate faces in every direction. The faces of the high peaks are beautiful in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The snow sticks to near vertical faces and builds structures that seem to defy gravity. After about six days on high we did the North Face of Ranrapalca in a quick one day push, climbing fantastic névé grooves and short vertical rock steps at 6000m.
Below the crux rock band on Ranrapalca, that was my lead.
Ranrapalca, N. Face, 950m. Our line threaded hourglass couloirs right of center, breaching the upper rockband at it's thinnest point.  A good warm up climb.

    Back in Huaraz, we wolfed down ice cream filled crepe wraps and read cold copies of Polar Circus that some Canadians must have left. We met some swedes that spoke better English than us.  They were jet-lagged but immediately began probing us for beta.   We explained that someone died skiing the east face of Tocllaraju earlier that week and that skiing in the range was particularly hard this year. We slowly learned how good they were, and his partner explained that he made the first descent of the south face of Denali.
    Even in South America, in spanish, people still ask me if I watch Scrubs.  Fuck Scrubs.  “JD de la tele?”, they ask.
    Our cabbie from Caraz explained that he spoke no english but did speak Quechua.  the farmhouses we drove by, he explained, were occupied by pueblos indigenos who spoke no spanish.  i found this hard to believe as i watched a skinny Quechua kid in a basketball jersey and shiny jeans feed his brown and white spotted furry pigs.
    We showed up and handed the cross eyed park guard our papers.  He let us in and told us about the guided parties allready in the valley, at Artesonraju high camp, waiting for the storms to abate.  We hiked in and decided to attempt the southwest face of Piramide de Garcilaso. We pronounced this garlic-slayo. This was probably because its alien lacework of snow flutes, mushrooms and gargoyles. It would likely scare the dead back to life.
    We had a pleasant forecast for a one day storm followed by a week of splitter skies; courtesy of some shit computer algorithm. Instead what we got was a one week storm.  We had a one day sucker hole that allowed us to make a carry to the base of the face and sleep at 5100m, only to wake to more new snow and constant avalanches ripping above.  We went back to Paron base.
    For several hours, as I sat in my tent reading about the first domestications of animals, being strafed by violent wind, rain, and snow. Vampire slayer occupied himself by standing at the banks of our base camp stream and hefting the largest rocks he could.  He threw them into the grey-blue glacial water and screamed “BOOM”.  He has a genius level IQ, but he prefers to remain unmedicated in the backcountry.
    When 7 days of horibble weather hit us, he had no book.  I ripped my book in half and he read the beginning while I read the end.

It became hard to keep track of days in the undefined white space in the clouds. Our sanity glue started to melt.
Things got desperate. We started to eat our high energy climbing food to pass the time. We filtered our coffee through a used sock.
approaching Piramide de Garcilaso.
    Then things got more desperate.  I sang in my graveliest Tom Waits voice while Carl took selfies in the tent. We drank coffee all day and then got cross-faded on chamomile. Andean Cows became the enemy.  They wanted to take things from us.  Shelter, food, our brains, sock-coffee. Even the salt in our piss. They would lick the grass we peed on. They were clearly loved by someone, they had weird little hemp bow ties on their ears and around their sharp horns.
        As the storm intensified, the cows grouped for a final assault. We left. The local guides are superstitious: they say that these storms settle in with the new moon. There’s no real evidence for this, but incidentally the moon was just a waxing sliver once the clouds cleared. I was willing to entertain the idea for a few seconds.
A church in Musho, this is where we started hiking.  12,600' vert below the summit.
    We dreamed of doing the French Direct on Chacraraju. Later on we would get some beta on a hanging serac threatening the route. Our fragile, restless egos were sore from 8 days in a tent.  We were feeling weak but light. So of course we picked a high objective with easy climbing. We would attempt The Shield on Huascaran Sur, the highest peak in Peru.  Peaking at 70 degrees, a blue ice arête soars up the west face, and the standard route provides a simple descent. I imagined a sky so dark and clear at nearly 7000m, like you could see stars in day.
Carl Pauses.  You can make out this church in the valley below if you look closely.
    I looked at my homemade antibottes. They drink yogurt out of gallon jugs in Peru. The left crampon had a makeshift plastic snowgaurd from such a jug.  The right one was made out of a whisperlight screen. It all looked Jingus as hell. So basically I felt ready.  Estaba nacido listo putamadre.  Or something to that effect. We were given perfect weather.
    We climbed long simul-blocks of good alpine ice, sinking screws in places and pickets in others.  We stayed roped together more as a safegaurd against crevasse fall on the upper portion of the route and the summit plateau.  The postholing at the top seemed to drag on for an eternity.
The never ending snow arete above 21,000

On the summit of Huascaran Sur, 22,205, having topped out El Escudo.

    We made it to the top and caught our breath. Without much pause, we turned around and descended into the long hours of the night.  Everything hurt a bit.  This would surely be a good memory.

Our climb had nicknames too.

Huascaran Sur, 6768m (22,210’). El Escudo/the Shield/West Face ice arête. D/TD
Ranrapalca 6162m, North face. D+
Ischinca 5530m, Northwest slopes.

The north face of Chacraraju Oeste.

Hatun Machay.