July 3rd - July 4th
Brian and I woke up at
8:00 AM, showered, packed up, and headed downstairs to meet with our
guide Jaime and the cab driver. The plan was to drive up to the
trail for Vallunaraju,at about 14,750 feet, hike to high camp at 16,500
feet, and the spend the afternoon and next day working on glacier
survival skills. We were not attempting to summit the peak but rather
just wanted to spend some time at altitude and learn/rehash some
important glacier travel skills.
The Road To Vallunaraju
The trip to Vallunaraju
took about two hours and wandered up a rocky, dirt road which was
occasionally blocked by livestock and people harvesting blocks of
granite for buildings. Although I'd later come to fear our driver
he was quite subdued on the way up. As it turns out this was simply
because the 2WD cab needed a lot of coddling to make it up to the end
of the road. One one occasion we all had to get out of the cab so
that its engine could propel it over a large obstacle, at other times
the driver would have to get out and throw rocks aside.
Ranrapalca, On The Way To Vallunaraju
It was during the ride up
that I began to get an idea how large and beautiful the mountains
really were. The scale of the valley was monumental compared to
what I was used to in Colorado and I grew quite excited about the days
ahead of us. After awhiel the road began to narrow and
switchback. The drop-offs on the side were quite large but I am
used to bad roads so I was able to sit back and enjoy the views.
Near to the top of the road we came to a gate where a local
fellow explained that we needed to pay 40 soles to get in.
Apparently there is a toll o n this road as of the last few
years. There is not however a set fee and it depends very much on
the whims of that days gatekeeper. We paid the toll and headed up
a short way before stopping. Jaime told the driver to return
around 2:30 the next day and we grabbed our packs and set up the trail.
Right away I could feel the altitude, I was starting a hike
from higher than I had ever been before (~14,750 feet) and the trail
was very steep. We climbed up through ice covered portions,
scrambled on some 4th/lower 5th class rock, and after many brakes (Dos
Minutos Jaime,por favor) finally came to a point where the steepness
relented and the trail turned into a moraine. A bit more hiking
brought us past the regular camp which Jaime explained had theft issue
and to the base of more rock scrambling. Being weight conscious
Brian and I had both brought only our plastic boots and getting up
trough some of the slabby rock climbing, with heavy packs, at 16,000
feet, was quite interesting (it really sucked on the way down).
We stopped just below the
base of the glacier on Vallunaraju and set up our tent. Our campsite
was a little sketchy as the entire area we were on was one huge rock.
It was impossible to do more than run guy lines to rocks and I
noticed that a strong gust of wind would send the tent a couple hundred
feet down into potentially unclimable terrain. We spent a good
bit of chem wandering around and taking in the views. I felt
pretty good except for the fact that my breathing kept stopping
intermittently, fortunately this went away pretty quickly. We
noticed an interesting opening in the glacier right near our tent and
set off to explore it., The opening turned out to be a really
pretty ice cave so we wandered around inside of it for a few minutes
and took pictures.
Cool Ice Cave
Sunset, From Camp
After exploring the ice
cave I took a little stroll while Brian iced his foot in a cold puddle
of water. When we reconvened we noticed Jaime had wandered off
into the tent for a nap. He did this quite a bit over the next
week. Brian and I set off to make dinner and after about ten
unsuccessful attempts at getting the stove lit we finally struck gold
and got some water boiling. While cooking a huge gust of wind
came along and almost blew the tent away so we spent bout 20 minutes
hauling huge rocks over to it to really guy it out.
Semi-confident in the tent we set about to finishing up dinner, a After
eating I wandered over to a pool of water and cleaned everything up.
At this point the sun was going down and it started to get cold
very quickly. This was to be my first exposure to how life was
going to be in the high country for the trip. Since we were at
altitude and in an area that makes Colorado look tropical, the
temperature swings very rapidly when the sun rises and sets. What
was bearable 15 minutes before becomes frigid. Since it was
getting cold quickly (it was about 7:00 at night) we all headed into my
tent to sleep. One minute in the tent with three people convinced
me we needed a second tent for the rest of the trip. Brian and I
fit, with room to spare butt third person made it to cramped.
AS the night went on I found it impossible to sleep. Apparently
altitude makes it difficult to sleep, I hadn't known this and spent one
of the most miserable nights of my life waiting for morning to come.
The wind howled very strongly all night and I kept having visions
of us being swept off the rock or an avalanche sweeping down and
burying us. After what seemed like an eternity I began to doze
for ten to twenty minute blocks. Eventually the morning came and
I don't think I have ever been as happy to see the sun in my life.
I had brought Diam ox on the trip but had not been taking it.
After an American we bumped into later that day told me it helped
sleeping at altitude I began taking it. I'm not sure if it was
the diamox or better acclimatization but I didn't have anymore sleeping
problems after that first night. That was good, I couldn't have
dealt with a week of sleeplessness.
Starting Up The Glacier
While I was
up and about as soon as the sun came up Jaime and Brian were not so I
wandered around a bit to take ion the views. Abotu an hour after
I woke the other guys wandered out of the tent and we made a quick
breakfast of oatmeal. Once again the stove was annoying. As
it turned out the stove was just finicky and a Marco (our future
porter) managed it for the rest of the trip.
Once we had eaten we geared up and the three of us attached
ourselves to the rope. I normally don't believe in roping on snow
where protection is not being placed but it is different for glacier
travel. On glaciers it is possible to fall into hidden crevasses
which will surely kill you so you always want to be attached to a rope.
Once attached to the rope you generally connect your harness to
the rope directly in front of you either with a prusik or mechanical
ascender. The idea for this is that if you do fall into a
crevasse your teammates will arrest you fall and you will then (if
awake) climb the rope. Once we were tied in we started up the
glacier. The snow was absolutely perfect for cramponing up and
the angle went between flat and maybe 40 degrees. After gaining
about 1000 vertical feet we came upon a crevasse that was to be the
site of our lesson. We stopped here and dropped our packs.
On The Way To Crevasse Practice
Now I have practiced
ascending ropes using both Petzl Tieblocks and (mechanical devices) and
Texas Prusiks (cordellete) and found I liked the mechanical method
better. Benign a boy scout about climbing safety I attached my
harness to the rope using the tieblocks but also carried a set of
prusik just in case I dropped something. The idea behind having
Jaime along on this trip was to learn how to set up various anchors and
pulley systems. While we did go over a bit of how to arrest a
fall and set up headman anchors he didn't go over much more or anything
very carefully. I would have liked a more thorough demonstration
of anchor systems and pulley set up for the money we paid but it didn't
happen. We paid two days worth for about two hours of instruction.
Starting Crevasse Practice
What we did go over was
actually setting up an anchor using a snow stake as a deadman (just
bury the stake) and an ice axe as a second. This system was set
up near a cool creasse we found at about 17,500 feet. Once tit
was set up both Brian and I were lowered into the crevasse and then
climbed the rope. When it was my turn I decided that I'd leave the pack
off. I wasn't feeling bad from altitude but I could notice how
hard it made everything. It felt like I was swimming through
molasses whenever I moved. Jaime lowered me down into the
crevasse until I said stop. At this point I pulled out my second
tieblock, attached it to the rope (the first was already on) and put my
feet in the webbing attached to it. I moved up the rope quite
easily until coming to the lip of the cornice. Normally you would
pad the lip with an axe under the rope or maybe a jacket to prevent the
rope from biting into the the overhung portion of the cornice. We
hadn't and I found myself hanging there with the rope above me deeply
inset in the snow. I asked Jamie what to do (you need free rope
to slide ascenders up or else you aren't climbing the rope). He
told me to put my hand in the carabiner that the ascender was attached
to and to punch up through the cornicce. I did and it worked just
perfectly. I was soon up and out of the crevasse.
I'm sure rappelling freaked me out the first time but I
doubt it freaked me out as much as hanging over a crevasse with only
metal buried in snow as an anchor, climbing is all about repeated
exposure to increase comfort level and the first time is always creepy.
Anyway after I was out Brian went in, he also decided to carry
the backpack. As it turns out his prusiks were made from to large
a diameter cordellete and he had a hell ofa time climbing the rope and
punching through the cornice. It isn't easy to slide prusiks in
the first place and if you have the wrong diameter for the rope your
attachments can bind up or slide back down the rope. After he
finally got out he decided to buy the set of ascenders I used as soon
as we got back into town. We didn't learn anywhere as much as I
had hoped but I can't say I walekd away with nothing, mountaineering is
all baby steps anyways so I made my first one with real crevasse skills
that day. After Brian was back up we headed back to camp.
Jared, Climbing The Rope, Out Of The Crevasse
Brian, In The Crevasse
I'd felt pretty good up
until this point but as we began descending I started to feel bad.
Back at camp it took a monumental effort on my part to even stuff
my sleeping bag and by the time we had repacked and were headed down I
was dizzy, nauseous, and had a splitting headache. Down climbing
the route was horrid and my lack lack of coordination continued to
grow. While Jaime didn't assist on the sketchy parts I'm glad to
say Brian did. He even would actually lift and move my foot for
me over sketchier parts and spotted me through any exposed or icy
sections. When we were finally back at the car I was in full
blown agony. I had made sure to drink liquid and pop Alee but
still felt horrible. Brian on the other hand felt fine. I
was pretty scared that I might be one of those people that can't deal
with altitude but in the end I was lucky and never noticed being up
high again (except for lack of breath) . I'm not sure why that
one day was so painful but I can now say it sucks to get sick at 17,500
When we got to the cab there was an American guy there who
asked if he could go down with us. We said sure and he hopped in
(and covered half the fare) It was this guy that told me to take
Diamox. AS it turns out the only side effect is tingly fingers
and the inability to taste carbonation in beer and soda.
Cool Ice & Snow Formations, In The Crevasse
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