(in case you missed the previous installment, click HERE)
Upon our return to Huaraz, a 3 hour cab ride, we quickly showered and took another cab into town to devour some pizza. No one made any mention of more climbing, in fact, I was hoping that Brian had forgotten the entire plan. Had he suggested we catch a plane back home, I would not have protested. As it were, he confided that following our Pisco fiasco, he felt like doing exactly that. We retired to our room and slept like corpses. Breakfast rolled around and the day took on an interesting character.
Coincidentally, the Austrian Rescue Expedition was situated in our hotel. They were fresh off their acclimatization climb of Alpamayo. If you are unfamiliar with that peak, it was voted the most beautiful mountain in the world by alpinists several years ago. Here is a copied picture of the peak.
(We did get a glimpse of her from Pisco, but the whiteout didn't allow for photography)
Anyway, these Austrian Hotshots were now ready for a lightning assault on Huascaran Sur. You can imagine my dismay at breakfast as we watched their enthusiasm over the logistics. A fellow was on his way to discuss details and establish burro transport to base camp with porters and the whole nine yards. Pascal, our hotel den mother had arranged this meeting and suggested that we should speak with Martel following his round with the Austrians. Brian got excited. I got depressed. They would leave tomorrow and this guy would want us to join forces. So much for my day of rest. This was it. I simply wasn't ready. Long story short, by the middle of the morning, we had a sit down with Martel, who outlined prices to include a porter, donkies and shuttle to Musho. The price was very good. Martel was a guide himself and came recommended from the hotel. He seemed legitimitate enough but I had to check some things out. Brian was ready to sign on the line.
After breakfast, we split up and went into town. I headed for the Casa De Guias, an umbrella company for the overseeing of guides. With such little English spoken, communications are limited but I was able to find out that this guy was not certified but had led trips up Huascaran before. Brian was off to check with other companies and compare prices. We both visited a guide company and got a comparable quote. By this time it was relatively certain we were dragging our rear ends up Huascaran. I begged for another day's rest but Brian the Slave driver would have no part of it. I told him that we would compromise. If he was going to drag me up this mountain on one day's rest, we would get two porters instead of one and that was that. At $30 per day, it was very reasonable. That would lower the top a bit for us and make things easier on these old bones. He relented. Further discussions with Martel indicated that these "porters" were aspiring guides that would enjoy accompanying us to the summit to have that under their belt. The deal was secure, we were leaving in the morning.
(hospital in Huaraz. I was definitely planning to avoid visiting this outfit)
Some of you may have heard the story about the earthquake of 1970. The skinny is this; Apparently a 7.7 magnitude quake shook loose snow and rock from, you guessed it, Huascaran. The ensuing slide buried the city of Yuangay and Huaraz, killing over 50,000 people. That's right, 50,000 people. Here is a link to some info about it.Earthquake in Huaraz All over the city are reminders of this terrible event. The before and after pictures are sobering to say the least. And to think, we were headed up to the mountain. Some lack of humility, I would say. A real challenge, Brian might assert.
We loaded our mountain of gear along with that of the Austrians and away we charged to Musho. We made the trip in about 2.5 hours and landed squarely at Musho where much jockeying for donkeys was orchestrated as we shuffled through bags and sorted supplies. The little children of the town found us quite a curiosity and asked for pens. I only had a tangerine and split it in half and offered it to a 3-4 year old little girl. What she did next was characteristic of the charm of the Peruvian culture. She sat down and began dividing the half of a tangerine to distribute amongst her little friends. Brian and I were astonished. We were certain that would not occur in the United States. Amazing to say the least.
As we embarked on the journey to Huascaran base camp, we followed our lead porter Willie as he bushwhacked off trail. I had some misgivings about this but Willie assured us it would cut time. I had a thought about retracing our steps but suppressed it due to my general fatigue. Don't get me wrong, I was feeling better than I had all trip. Yes, another day's rest would have been great, but now it was a sunny day and I was marching up the big mountain. Three hours or so found us in Huascaran base camp, a green pasture field full of steer. I did witness one of the most beautiful sunsets ever and here is video of the event.
A rather unusual night ensued. A group of young Peruvian 19-22 year olds pulled into our spot and established a party of sorts. As the evening progressed, their noise level increased. They were drunk and stumbling all over camp. I put in ear plugs and tried to return to sleep. A few hours later, Brian awakened me to indicate they were playing with our glacier gear. That's right. The crew was shuffling around with our ice axes, shovel and pickets. This simply would not stand. We both had thoughts of what they might intend to do with the ice axes. As we sat there in the 2 am morning the footsteps obviously were nearing our tent. Any number of thoughts ran through our minds and I removed the earplugs and unzipped the fly. Standing before me were two Peruvian teenagers, a boy and girl. As I shone my light into their faces the girl begins with her diatribe. "Excuse me, my friend is very, how you say, drunk. Yes, she is very, very (giggle)drunk!" I stare at her with my light directly into her face and sweep the boyfriend to assess his motive. She continues. "My friend is very drunk. She is very drunk!" Okay, I think, what is the point of this, are we supposed to perform a Heimlich, provide company, what is the point here." As the girl pauses, I interject, since she seems to have some grasp of English. "What do you want?" I exclaim, obviously decrying my lack of sleep and patience. After another brief pause she offers the pitch. "Do you have any marijuana?" She asks. "Or alcohol"
Well, that is exactly what they needed alright but I was done with this. After an emphatic NO, Hell No, we are trying to sleep, they were sufficiently run off for the night. Next morning, they were still in bed as we packed, loudly, for moraine camp. This particular day was a nice climb but we were now joined by Carlos, porter number 2. If Willie's English weren't bad enough, Carlos spoke none. Great. Martel was batting a thousand. English speaking "guide" porters. Apparently, Carlos is the mayor of his city. Not that you would know this from him. He hiked straight up to base camp, grabbed loads and proceeded to the Refugio without missing a beat. On top of that, this 3-4 hour climb for me and Brian was repeated by those two to double carry gear.
(Brian at Moraine camp on Huascaran)
As we set up camp, they dropped back down the valley. From moraine camp, we were next to the Refugio. It is a beautiful spot.
(Brian soaks up the sunset at Huascaran Refugio)
As we busied ourselves with the normal camp tasks, a routine becoming far too familiar on this trip, a group of climbers adjacent to us from Chile outlined their summit plan for the evening. At 8 pm they would embark for the Escodudo Route, or Shield. That is a very technical ice climb to the summit.
(I outlined the ice wall. Our route followed the bottom and circled around the shield through a section called the candaletta or garganta. Garganta means throat.)
Now understand that we were two camps away from thinking about any summit and these guys were going for it that night. Pretty ambitious. As we settled in on this my birthday, June 28, another group came rolling into our spot. Guess who? You got it, the moveable feast of Peruvian party animals from the night before. I literally felt my blood pressure rise. Not only that, but they put their tents almost right on top of us. My day was not getting any better. As I sat there, my blood boiling, Brian returned from filtering water and stopped dead in his tracks. "You're ******* me, right?" "This can't be for real!" I assured him that it was. He got madder than I did. If evil stares were money, they would have been a rich little cadre of teenagers. I think they picked up on our vibe. When Willie returned I spoke with him and indicated that he needed to have a talk with that crew, that we wouldn't tolerate this any more. Willie is about their age so I could sense his reluctance to have a confrontation so I just grabbed him and asked him to interpret. Moving into the center of their circle, Willie began, very nicely to make our case. I could tell it wasn't being received respectfully so I interjected. "There won't be any more of this partying, alcohol or marijuana around us tonight, DO YOU UNDERSTAND" Willie didn't need to translate my intent on this one. I was angry, they had ruined a night of sleep and put me in a defecit. Just to reiterate, I pointed at the two that came to our tent the night before. "No one is coming to our tent tonight, understand?" They definitely understood. I made a motion of laying my head down and made sure every one of them nodded their understanding. I'm sure they didn't appreciate a Gringo coming down on them but we didn't have any more problems out of that crew. I think they were out of drugs anyway.
(breakfast with Mr. Muir at 15,500 feet) Brian and I looked forward to carrying his face to the summit. We were honored to have him as a representative of the Muir faction on our trip.
The Chileans did leave around 9 pm and I silently said a prayer for them. I looked at that wall and considered all the things that can go wrong in such situations. I'm sure they were experienced. We settled in for the night. Next morning the sun rose cold and all the water from the glacier had frozen so we had to wait to get some flowing for our next move up to camp 3, on the glacier. By 9 or 10 am we were moving up the boulder field between moraine camp and camp 3. The boulder field isn't like the moraine field on Pisco. These are full sized boulders with no marked trail whatsoever, like most things in Peru. Occasionally you can see a rock cairn here or there to indicate general direction but very little indicators of a foot path exist, the prevalent thinking seems to be, "pick your own way, they're all terrible."
And as is were, I was left behind huffing and puffing jumping up onto huge boulders, second guessing each step, wondering if I should have descended or gone around. Brian was 60 yards above and Willie and Carlos were racing each other up the hill. Below is a video of the scrambling to give you an idea of what that was like. (sorry for the low quality, I had the wrong setting button switched while filming on this one)
While jumping and climbing and trying to make good decisions on the boulder crawl, I came to a spot that was a dead end of sorts. Above me was the slickest rock you could ever imagine. Below me was a rock slide of 30 feet which then dropped off and made a 15 foot fall onto other rock. My only decision was to retreat and track another path. How to do that, however, was my predicament. Either move would involve a bit of a hop onto unsecure footing. The smooth rock is always dangerous and there was plenty of ice from the night before lurking in all the shadows. As it were, I made the wrong choice and my double plastic boot blew out from under me. At this point, I was careening down the sliding rock of Peru. You know how harrowing that can feel to be out of control with no means to stop and the notion of a terminal fall below is always on your mind. Although the slide probably lasted fewer than 6 seconds, it seemed an eternity as my hip and elbows and knees all banged down the rock. My only option was to somehow steer for the crack between two prominent boulders. I managed to use the trekking poles to steer myself and wedge them sufficiently into the cracks. That arrested the fall. I did not lay there long, moving quickly to jam my fist and foot into every nitch they could find. I was banged up and bleeding but no serious damage occured. My pants and shirt were ripped and I bled through the shirt but other than that and a big thigh bruise, all was well. Now, how to get off this thing.
Since I had essentially lost all the elevation gained, it was not too difficult to move laterally across the bottom of the sliding rock and onto a more textured one, thus avoiding the chasm below slick rock. Soon I was back on my way up to the foot of the glacier. I was concerned that I might have broken the camera but my body seemed to absorb the brunt of the impact. I will say that for a moment, when sliding down with nothing to grab at 16000 feet, I had some helpless thoughts. In retrospect, I would take three dozen falls like that, though, to avoid having a stomach illness on this trip. You can beat up the outside of my body but stuff thats in your stomach or head, like a sinus thing, are debilitating.
(my bruise from the Fall resembled the state of Texas)
In a few hours, the glacier came into sight and I donned crampons, whipped out the ice axe and placed my feet on more positive surfaces, ice! Ironic, huh. Those crampons are amazing. They grip most all the time and you need them on a windswept snow slope. There was no concern of crevasses here, as evidenced by the footracks. Within an hour, I saw the heads of our porters and Brian. I was within sight of camp 3 and we had it to ourselves, for a while. As the video below illustrates, we weren't alone for long. The guided American team along with the Spaniards encircled us. That seems to be a pattern in the Andes.
(In the next installment, I will detail the hurricane force wind storm that surprised and rattled us all that night and impacted the climb for several people. Stay tuned, got some good video of it) Now live, click HERE