Cordillera Blanca – Peru Skills Seminar with RMI

“Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing, moderation is for cowards”

I am struck by this quote from the movie Lone Survivor, which I am watching on my iphone as I travel by bus to the city of Huaraz.  I have certainly sacrificed, and worked hard to be here.  For the last eight months much of my free time has been spent on training, and this trip has lightened my wallet considerably.  The level of climbing these mountains demand certainly entails more risks than I have previously been exposed to.   Whether I am living a balanced life or overdoing it I’m not sure, but one thing is certain, I am happy to be here.  I am tingling with anticipation for the adventure that awaits me.  I am headed into the Cordillera Blanca, one of the highest and most rugged mountain ranges in the world.  This area has a special combination of  interesting culture, great conditions, insane beauty, and wild routes that make it a mecca for alpinism.

This post has been broken into multiple parts.

Video of the entire trip

Part 1 (Lima to Ischinca)

Part II (Climbing Urus Este)

Journey to Hurarz (10,000 ft)

On the bus with me are ten strangers.  Strangers who I will be very intimate with for the next two weeks.  We will be sharing small tents, linking our fates with a rope, and (eek) even taking a crap into a blue bag while tied to them.  The group met for the first time this morning.  Our guides Elias de Andres Martos, and Robby Young led a short meeting where we introduced ourselves and briefly covered our experience.  Everyone in the group is well traveled, and most have climbed several big mountains before (Rainier, Denali, Aconcagua, Cotopaxi, Kilimanjaro).  In fact, nearly everyone has more big mountain experience than I do.  At least I spend a lot of time climbing the lowly mountains of Colorado.

The climbers from left to right. Lucy, Dan and Angie, Me, George, Kim, Victor, Magnus (my tentmate), and Correl.  in the center is one of the Guides Robby.

The climbers from left to right. Lucy, Dan and Angie, Me, George, Kim, Victor, Magnus (my tent-mate), and Correl. In the center is one of the Guides, Robby.

After our meeting we boarded our bus for the 8-9 hour ride to the mountain town of Huaraz.

Lima definitely has a certain elegance.   It is clean and refined as far as Latin American city’s go.  The morning found the streets swarmed with uniformed street sweepers and well dressed business people.  At the same time, it is a boisterous, macho sprawl of a city, full of beaten up three wheel cars honking at Mercedes Benz.  After 45 minutes or so on the bus, we reached the highway leaving Lima Centro and it’s clean elegance behind.  Shanty towns now lined the highway, and the acrid smell of exhaust and burning trash filled the bus.

As we drove, the slums thinned out and the scenery was slowly replaced with the ugly sandy mountains that comprise the arid Rimac river valley.  It took about four hours to reach costal town of Baranca where we stopped for lunch.  From here we followed a steep winding road into the mountains.  We reached a pass of over 15,000 feet merely two hours after leaving the ocean.  After what seemed like an eternity of driving we finally arrived in Huaraz.   Huaraz is a city that sits at 10,000 ft above sea level.  It is the jumping off point for most expeditions and adventures into the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra.  The city is poor and dirty by US standards, but it had a great vibe / personality and I felt perfectly safe wandering about.

Upon arrival at Hotel Andino, we unloaded our mountains of gear from the bus and checked into our rooms.

All of our bags piled up in the lobby of our hotel in Huaraz

Our gear pile in the middle of the hotel lobby

Hike to Laguna Churup  (14,600 ft)

I hauled my butt out of bed shortly after dawn at the insistence of the rooster who had been nagging incesantly since at least 4AM.  As soon as I stepped outside the hotel room I was struck by the view of the dazzling peaks surrounding the city.  The giant Huascaran (22,205′) dominated the horizon.  The shear scale of these mountains was simultaneously exciting and intimidating.

The original plan for the first day in Huaraz was to relax and see sites in the city while we acclimatized to the altitude of 10,000ft.  As if we were not about to get enough hiking in over the next ten days, our original plan was quickly replaced with a hike to Lake Churup.  At 14,600 Laguna Churup is higher than any mountaintop I had previously stood on.  The hike to reach the lake provided some fun scrambling in addition to trail walking.

There was some fun scrambling in a couple sections of the trail

Scrambling up the Peruvian version of Via ferrata

On the hike up to Laguna Charup  Laguna Churup.  Charup is the mountain in the background.  Elevation 14,500

Back at the hotel we attempted a little relaxation.  I was trying to avoid a high cost phone bill and thus used an app to call my wife via hotel WIFI.  This was great when it worked but the wifi was infuriatingly inconsistent.

Basecamp Bound (14,400ft)

I once again was treated to a fitful nights sleep courtesy of that indomitable rooster.  This time he recruited a local mutt to also bark obscenities at me all night.  Aw well sleep be damned, I had plenty of energy thanks to the combination of super strong Peruvian coffee and excitement coursing through my veins.  We loaded the bus and started the two hour drive back to the small village of Pashpa.

Not long after leaving the paved road we hit a snag in the form of road construction.  Here however there are no alternate routes or detours.  The construction crew did not want the bus to pass and it took quite a bit of time for the guides and bus driver to work out a solution.   Finally we all debarked and the bus drove across the construction hole on a makeshift wooden bridge.

Pashpa our departure point for 11 days in the mountains.

Pashpa our departure point for 11 days in the mountains.

Loading all of our food and duffles onto donkeys.

Loading all of our food and duffles onto donkeys.

The hike back to basecamp was easy and mostly uneventful.  We hiked along a beautiful river, through interesting (even if slightly sparse) vegetation.  Unfortunately on the hike in Angie fell ill due to something she ate, probably in Baranca.  She struggled to reach basecamp, and unfortunately this stomach issue affected her entire trip.

A donkey plods along laden with our gear

A donkey plods along laden with our gear

The group a little ways below base camp (around 14,000 ft)

The group a little ways below base camp (around 14,000 ft)

The valley was home to a heard of cattle.  They are known to steal packs and duffles from tent vestibules in search of salt from sweat.

The valley was home to a heard of cattle. They are known to steal packs, duffles and other gear from tent vestibules in search of salt from sweat.

As we rounded the valley and Tocllaraju came into view my stomach did a summersault. It was so big, and steep, and glaciated!!! I couldn’t wait to test myself on it next week.

Basecamp was situated at 14,400 in a broad moraine valley called “Ischinca valley”.  A river wandered through the valley providing water and dividing up camps.   My tentmate for the 10 nights would be Magus.  Magnus was  an affable fellow who hails from Germany by way of San Diego.  We got along well and made a good team.

This was our base camp in the ishinca Valley.  We slept in the orange tents and the blue tent was our cook tent.  The big brown tent was where we ate our meals.

This was our base camp(foreground) in the Ishinca Valley. We slept in the orange tents and the blue tent was our cook tent. The big brown tent was where we ate our meals.

The local outfitters included two Peruvian cooks, Emilio and Pablo.  The local people we met were all gracious, welcoming, and interesting.  I very much enjoyed my broken spanish conversations with these gentlemen.  They set up a large cook tent and a well furnished mess tent.  We were treated to great traditional peruvian meals, which were amazing considering our surroundings.

Our Mess tent at base camp.

Our Mess tent at base camp.

I was worried that time in camp would be boring.  Instead time in camp was quite busy.  It seemed we were always training, eating, preparing and packing gear, doing laundry etc.  When I did have downtime I watched movies on my phone and wrote.

This was a ‘seminar’ so days that we were not climbing we spent learning.  Instruction included:  knots, glacier travel, placing protection in snow / ice, crevasse rescue, rappelling, avalanche beacon search, and glaciology.  I also spent time working on my Spanish.

Practicing rappelling at base camp

Practicing rappelling at base camp

Next Read the trip report on climbing Urus

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