Acclimatization On Vallunaraju  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 feet.

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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