Monday, July 29, 2013

La Esfinge - Original Route (V 5.11c-)

Hamik and I finally had an outing where we could relax a little. We packed a bunch of cookies and headed off to Paron Valley to climb La Esfinge (5,325 M or 17,470 ft). La Esfinge (or The Sphinx) is the most famous big wall in Peru. Since we did not have a porta-ledge, or much desire to sleep on the wall we picked "Original" route as our climb of choice. It features over 2000 ft of technical climbing with a crux of 5.11c-. 
La Esfinge at sunrise
Hamik enjoying the sunset after climbing La Esfinge in 8 hours
View of Laguna Paron on the day we hiked out
 The crux of the climb turned out to be the approach. Not only did we get owned by a taxi service, we also got lost on the hike to the base of the wall. We enjoyed a small victory on a collectivo when we avoided paying double for having giant backpacks - we were able to stuff them under back seats. But when we got to Caraz we failed to find other gringos who wanted to carpool to Laguna Paron. We had to take a private taxi for 100 soles one way. Even though it is only 35$ for an hour and a half of driving, by now we are used to paying 1/10th of that. Fail number two came when we got to the trail-head proper; since the trail we had to take was descending, we disregarded it, and cut up the fist rock gully we noticed. After ascending about 2,500 ft we stumbled up on a hill and saw the figure of La Esfinge sticking out a LONG ways to the west. On most days we would laugh it off and traverse over, but it was getting late, was starting to snow, and we had to climb over a fairly serious-looking ridge with our heavy pack on. When we got to the base of the ridge, our assessment turned out to be correct - it was pretty serious. On a sunny day it might of been a cool scramble in approach shoes, but now we had to solo terrain to 5.7 wearing beat up running shoes, heavy packs, in a snow storm. Somehow we made it over the ridge, got rid of screaming barfies, and arrived to intended campsite in one piece. We made hot chocolate, and crashed for the night.
Stormy Huandoys
This meadow looked kind of cool
Caraz I (?) at sunset
Camp site with a view of Huandoys
First rays of light hitting Chacraraju Oeste
 To our luck it did not snow for too long, and completely cleared through the night. We woke up at sunrise to beautiful glow over Chacraraju Oeste. From here Brad Johnson's book describes the approach as "an hour of blood, sweat, and tears," but we were able to find a nice trail and make it to the base of the wall in good time. To our surprise there were two parties intending to climb La Esfinge. One party from Peru was jugging up their fixed lines when we arrived. I was polite as a fox and did my best to assure them we are not going to get in their way. It was the right thing to do - by the time their first climber jugged to top of pitch two, Hamik was leading the third. 

Hamik following a traverse on pitch 2
Hamik leading up a chimney on pitch 5 (also a cool pitch!)
Hamik finishing an awesome finger crack on pitch 6
 Our plan was to treat this route as any free climb, and we alternated leads at every belay. As I look back to our strategy, I think it would be easier to lead in blocks, since usually we did not place much gear on any single pitch. Even though this climb was not very sustained or difficult, it offered climbing of highest quality in a setting that I could describe as unreal. With each climbed pitch we were rising higher over surrounding glaciers. Views of 6,000 M peaks all around were fantastic. I was happy to see the other side of Chacraraju Oeste, which looks terrifyingly beautiful. Views of Huandoys, Caraz I, and Piramide were also stunning. Almost every pitch had an original and cool crux with easier climbing surrounding it. Some of the pitches had very slippery sections, even more slippery than climbing on domes of Toulumne. Many pitches of this climb were memorable. Especially traverse on pitch four (maybe I was a bit off route there - it was spicy getting over to the overhang). Crux sixth pitch (awesome under-cling into a hand crack, followed by amazing finger crack) was amazing, but I blew the move after getting through the crux itself. On 2nd attempt I moved through the moves with no trouble and freed the pitch with no trouble. Hamik led the second crux 5.11 overhang (pitch 7), which was super fun and exciting, so was the wide section on pitch 8 - slippery lie-back protected with old rusty rivets. 
Hamik leading the wild overhang on pitch 7 (5.11)
View of Piramide and Laguna Paron 

Me on the summit with Huandoys behind me
South Face of Caraz I
 When we got to the giant bivy ledge (top of pitch 9) the wind picked up and east face was getting ready to go into shade. We picked up our speed - Hamik linked pitch 10 (5.10 corner - awesome!) with pitch 11, a 5.7 R groove. I linked "5.10 poor pro" to 5.9 R (pitches 12 and 13) - which was easier than 5.9, but had no protection at all! From there we tried to pick our way up through the upper section without much help from our topo. It seemed like the upper part of the wall would never end, and we would never re-warm our hands. At elevation of over 17,000 ft temperature drops are really noticeable when the sun drops over the shoulder. Wind chill makes it even worse. But after about 17 pitches of climbing the climb did end with an awesome finger crack in a corner and a casual walk to the summit. We took some photos on top, tried to digest the views of this unreal place, had a snack and headed down. Our single 70 M rope got us down to the base without much trouble and we made it down to the trail to see my favorite show - the sunset! Since we took only 8 hours to climb the route we never had to put on our head-lamps. Perfect day on good rock - good change from our previous alpine climb! :) 
Epic looking peak
Some BIG and un-climbed walls seen from descent
Huandoys at sunset - we are almost back at camp
Chacraraju Oeste
Cacti do blossom
Waterfall in Laguna Paron
View of Laguna Paron. Piramide above the lake, and Chacraraju Oeste on the right
BETA: 1) In my honest opinion, this original rating would translate to 5.10+, or 5.11a (at most) in many California granite crags.
2) Climb it in a day so you do not have to haul. Hauling on the upper pitches would be horrible. It took us 8 hours to climb the route, and we are not anything special. Even though we were acclimated to that altitude..
3) Find out if other gringos from Huaraz want to get out to Paron Valley. We took a collectivo from Huaraz to to Caraz for 6 soles (one way), but had to pay 100 soles (there, and 80 soles back) for a private taxi to Laguna Paron. It is hard to find other people to carpool with in Caraz.
4) Rack of doubles from .3 to #3 camalots with 3 smallest offset metolious cams was great to have. Did not use many nuts on route, and did not remember the need for any big nuts.
5) There are a few run-out spots on upper pitches, so mandatory free climbing to at least 5.9. I think this route would be most enjoyable for those who lead at least 5.10, and can move fast through 5.8-5.9 terrain.
6) 70 meter rope allows you to rappell down without much trouble. On the last rappell you end up with sea of slab below - traverse towards the scree slope which is to your left, it is a walk off from here.
7) I would recommend to camp in a flat sandy area about an hour from the wall. It has running water about a 100 ft east of camp-site. There is also a bivy cave less than 5 minutes from the wall, but who knows if it is already occupied. Water access there is questionable too (I did not see any).   

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chacraraju Este - Jaeger Route (ED1)

Chacraraju Este (6,001 M / 19,688 ft), like Alpamayo, is a striking peak in Cordillera Blanca. But unlike Alpamayo it is a peak which sees only few attempts per year, if any, most of which end up being just that - attempts. The Research I did before our trip showed not much reason to be optimistic. The first report I found about an attempt at 'Jaeger route' (our route of choice) was named "Paralysed in Peru - Accident on Chacraraju." Second, was a youtube video from a sponsored German team, at the end of which the climbers complained about terrible conditions of corniced summit ridge. Third article I found, was from a well-known British pro-climber Nick Bullock. In 20 hours, tent to tent he and his partner established a new 'three-pitch direct variation' to Jaeger route but stated, "The summit was not climbed to, as life appeared more favorable." A few days after our adventure on Chacraraju Este I am sure our life appeared much more favorable than getting to the the peak, but being too stubborn deserves the credit for not calling it quits.  The last 200 vertical feet took us close to four hours - we burrowed through sugar snow, fought hollow ice, attempted to aid a summit cornice with pickets, and used every possible trick we could think of before we reached the top in a complete white-out. This time the views were slim to none, but excitement, oh no, the FEAR was high - we still had to rapell from the unconsolidated and overhanging summit cornice, off of a single picket, create a dozen or so v-threads to abseil back down to a glacier in a white-out, and find our way down to our camp 2000 ft below - hiking through flurries of snow on unstable talus.
Summit ridge on Chacraraju Este - at dawn
Laguna Chinancocha - yes it was really that beautiful
South Face of Chacraraju Oeste and Este
 Every journey begins with some rest. Our post Quitaraju/Alpamayo rest was in Hatun Machay. We spent four days clipping bolts and "crushing gnar with our bros." By modern sport climbing standarts not "crushing" at all, but I was excited to onsight or red-point six 5.11As in first two days, which for me is good news. Mountain diet made up of Oreos must be working well, no matter how many I eat, my waist line shrinks. I was most excited about onsighting two of the area's 3/3 star 5.11As - "Welcome to Huaraz," and "Fancy a Good Route." The final sequence of the latter was one of the coolest finishes to any climb I have ever done - technical but at the same time powerful. Even Hamik was impressed with the finish and happy to get the onsight of this route. In addition to climbing rock, again, I hiked up a 4,800 M peak a few times to help my body acclimate. After the first couple of days my skin got worked and I was happy to do easier routes and some pull-ups back at the guest house. Quite funny, but our first mini epic of our trip happened on the way back from Hatun Machay - we barely escaped a shiver bivy and got picked up by a 'collectivo' (fun way to travel around) thirty minutes before sunset. This time we waited for a ride for close to two hours. Leave the hut earlier than 3pm, lesson learned!
On one of awesome 5.11s
It snowed in Hatun Machay!
"Welcome to Huaraz" - monkeys are sendin
Super happy about getting the onsight
Some South Americans at the hut had a hallucinogen party
This flower looked so cool, I thought it was fake at first
 When we got back to Huaraz, bought supplies for our alpine outing, and arranged our transportation, most of the local people were surprised to hear we were going to attempt Chacraraju - "No one climbs that peak, it is hard!" The worker at an entrance station to Huascaran National Park even tried to talk us out of attempting it! Cherry on top was a British guy we met at Laguna 69 - "Two climbers tried to climb it, but both died." My eyes bulged out in disbelief, but out of courtesy I kept my mouth shut. Some people are great (not really) at being supportive.
River on the approach

Chacraraju Oeste at sunset
Summit cornice on Chacraraju Oeste
Annoying cow at Laguna 69
 One of several positive things about attempting Chacraraju Este is a relatively short approach and a beautiful camp site. We took full advantage of our position and camped on shores of Laguna 69 for four nights. This area is famous for its scenery and attracts a myriad of tourists from Western world. The few negative things include an annoying cow that would wake us up at least a few times per night, and no trail through the glacier. Since Chacraraju does not draw crowds two Californians with limited glacier-travel experience had to navigate through a sea of giant crevasses and snow that at times was up to our hips. To my surprise, we did a good job and finished our outing with no crevasse falls or reached dead ends. Crux of this approach came when I was breaking trail through deep snow and started sinking a bit too deep for my liking. Turned out it was because there was a giant crevasse beneath me. After getting out and digging through several feet of fresh snow I found a solid snow bridge and overcame the problem. 
Another cool flower
Laguna 69 - water is unbelievably clear
View of Chopicalqui with a lenticular cloud (right from our camp)
Chacraraju Oeste (left) and Este (right)
From below our route of choice looked fairly straight forward and we were quite surprised it was rated ED1. On overall difficulty rating of mountain routes ED is considered serious business. Difficulty rating goes from Facile (F) - easy,  PD - a little difficult (DC on Rainier, West Buttress on Denali and other walk-ups on big peaks), AD - fairly difficult (Matterhorn, Hornli Ridge or East Face of Mt. Whitney), D - Difficult (North Buttress of Slesse, or NE ridge of Bugaboo Spire), TD - Very Difficult (Beckey-Chouinard on South Howser Tower, Harding Route on Keeler Needle) and ED stands for extremely difficult and closes the rating system.  For example, North Face of the Eiger is rated ED2. Difficulties we could not spot from the bottom were found close to the top.
Chopicalqui at sunset
South Face of Chacraraju Este
View of a small waterfall at Laguna 69
View of Laguna 69 from above
 With no clouds and sky full of stars we left our tent thirty minutes past midnight. Having done the approach most of the way up the glacier on the day prior we cut our time by couple of hours. A team of three climbers from Chile repaid us a favor and picked up our work. They broke trail all the way to the bergshrund, which saved us time and energy. They camped on the glacier and we were surprised they did not get on the route earlier than us. We simul-climbed or soloed majority of the route with occasional picket or ice screw placement between us. After about six blocks of that we pitched out several pitches due to more complex climbing than we were willing to simul. The climbing ranged from solid blue ice to one centimeter of ice over loose rock, and traverses over spines of vertical powder. It was quite different from anything I have ever encountered in the mountains. This was no Sierra Nevada!
Chacraraju Oeste - another majestic and extremely difficult peak - a step up
Finding our way through the glacier
Hamik with NE face of Huandoy Sur in the background 
Great looking snow bridge (breaking trail day)
Resting back in the tent - views are not bad
Top portion of Chacraraju Este's South Face (crux of our climb)
 The climbing community often debates over "do summits matter?" question. Even though it is quite silly to ask, it produces a variety of valid points from both sides of the argument. For me this question has a variety of answers in different situations. On Chacraraju Este, the summit mattered beyond any doubt. After I finished a pitch and built a solid belay station bellow the summit ridge, Hamik took the next lead and traversed left bellow the summit cornice. By summit cornice I mean something that looks like a snow and ice castle of an evil villain in a fairy tale. With increased difficulties of our climb, the weather changed too. Clear day turned cloudy and by the time Hamik was half way done with the pitch we were in a white out. This traverse took a long time as he tried to burrow through the cornice at it's low point and use every trick up his sleeve to scale the summit ridge. When he was unable to climb up it, he tried to aid it with pickets which didn't quite work with sugar snow dumping on him every time he tried to make an axe placement, or put in a picket. After he traversed a rope-length left and made a DNF belay anchor, I understood why it took so long to complete the pitch when I began to follow.
As psyched as it gets at 12:30am
Above the clowds (about 500 ft up on our route)
Angle on first half of the face with weird snow formations
Chopicalqui, Huascaran Sur, and Norte at dawn
Rock slabs covered in thin sheet of ice higher up on route
 Traversing below a cornice which at times was overhanging and pushing me off balance, majority of my foot placements were in unconsolidated powder snow which collapsed under my weight. Some sections we passed required more prayer than skill, making run-out WI5 climbing feel like child's play. I attempted to aid a section Hamik gave up on, but also had no luck. Every time I tried to place something above our solid picket I got a face full of snow. When I got to the belay he told me about an epic fall he suffered while attempting to aid it. Thank god I did not see it, and could not feel it neither since he fell directly on to the picket while still being connected to it. At the crux of the traverse I had to down-climb ten feet and another 40 feet left to the next placement - an ice screw in a rare block of ice. Falling here would be a disaster. With 30 foot ice hangers below, powder gargoyles all around, minimal visibility, and a cornice pushing down on me, it took a lot of mental strength to piece together a sequence to the belay. At one point I was on an actually overhanging section with less than solid ice tool placements and feet scratching for placements in sugar. When I got up to our belay, I forgot about the amount of time it took Hamik to climb these 60 meters, all I could say was "good lead."
Chopicalqui, and Huascarans during sunset. Incredible view.
Hamik climbing on Jaeger Route
Above the clouds!
Chopicalqui is a peak I would love to climb!
Me following a traverse high on the face (photo by Hamik M.)
 With my eyes still bulged, I saw our last hurdle. It was finally possible to mount the summit cornice and traverse back right to the summit. Final encouragement from Hamik was - "if you feel like you are falling, make sure to fall to the north." "Thanks buddy, that helped." I stomped a starting platform and cleared a foot of fresh snow from the top to get some purchase. At first I crawled, using both my axes to balance my body from peeling off into unknown. Than it got wider and I was able to get up and walk with caution. I went up another hill and realized it was the high point of the ridge. Shouting with joy I belayed Hamik up. Yells of joy ended after a summit photo and a game of rock, paper, scissors.  This time we were not playing for who will eat a chocolate bar, but who would rappell from a backed up picket. Even though I won this game, chances of a picket vertically buried in powder snow holding a fall were not encouraging. I buried our main anchor as a T-slot (horizontally), said a small prayer and went over the lip. It held for both of us.
View of Chacraraju Oeste and summit ridge (photo by Hamik M.)
Excited to be on top!
White-out on summit ridge (Chacraraju Este)
Hamik rappelling from an overhanging summit cornice. Wildest rap of our lives!
Hamik on one of our raps
V-thread backed up with a screw
 With hours of day-light fading we started rappelling our route. Making V-threads for most of our anchors we developed a good system with Hamik constructing and me dealing with rope. We were able to thread the rope directly through our V-threads and leave no tat on the mountain. The only 'booty' we left were three pickets. Our system worked smoothly and we were able to rap the majority of south face in day-light. As we got lower down it started to snow, but visibility slightly increased. As we got closer to the bergshrund we saw the lights from Chileans camping on the glacier and realized we were getting closer to safety. We down-climbed last 100 meters of 55 degree snow and made our way to say "hello" to our new friends. They passed us a tasty drink and seemed sincerely happy about us summiting - "it is extremely rare for anyone to summit Chacraraju, you are first this year." With our primitive Spanish and their limited English we spoke about climbing, shitty weather, and food before hiking about 2000 ft down to our camp at Laguna 69. Twenty two hours after we started our journey we got back to camp, unfortunately to find our tent soaked by melting snow. I devoured a pack of top ramen and passed out. Unfortunately, as we packed our camp we saw the climbers from Chile descending back down from glacier camp, due to weather without making an attempt to climb. I hope they have more food and time to make another attempt at the route.
This flower was tiny

First cactus of this kind that I saw blossom
Huandoy seen from the valley - a giant face
AND I finally gathered courage to eat CUY! (guinea pig)
On our way back to Huaraz we met many other people, including a group of Austrian tourists who offered us a ride to Yungay. Making it back to our hotel before sunset was a treat, this time we were able to get out and celebrate our climb with a good meal (two meals and two cones of ice cream in my case). Relaxing in Huaraz is great, but there is more rock climbing to be done. 'The Sphynx' is calling! I'm psyched to make it out to Paron Valley.