Sunday, July 14, 2013

French Direct on Alpamayo and Quitaraju's North Face

Life is a roller-coaster. Even though I realized that a while ago, at times it is hard to look ahead towards future when you are down. After about six days in Peru I caught a respiratory infection and was coughing up green chunks of sickness. It has rained or snowed in the mountains for every day that we were up here, and my mood was at a low point.
View of Alpamayo at sunset
To be honest I can't even recall the time when I was more annoyed by everything that went on around me. Even though Hatun Machay was a fun place to rock climb, we came to Peru to climb mountains! Despite continuous precipitation we wanted to try climbing a peak anyway. We chose Churup as a good mountain to acclimate on since Hamik has done it before, and it is not very high in elevation. Even though I did not feel very healthy, I thought getting to the mountains would make me feel a lot better than spending time in polluted Huaraz.

The hike in was beautiful and the weather stable for most of the day. After we got to camp it all changed and snow begun falling again. We met a group of three Argentinians who graciously offered we try climbing the route first, and they will use our tracks to climb it on the day after. We got up early, got through approach glacier (which is much smaller and broken up than it was two years ago, according to Hamik), and to the base of the climb at dawn. We saw constant spindrift avalanches come down our line of ascent, and wind rip apart the summit ridge. People say real avalanches are not common in Peru, but based on our previous experience in California (where avalanches are also not common) we decided to avoid trying our luck on upper slopes loaded with fresh snow. I was a bit crushed by a combination of being sick, unstable weather, and bailing on our first climb - "What the hell am I doing here? If I was in Sierra I would not be sick, the weather would be perfect and with a week off from work I could have put up a first ascent on one of those remote backcountry walls I dream about." As I wrote this trip report I found out about a recent death of a three man Argentinian group on the slopes of one of the Cordillera Blanca peak - due to an avalanche. Hopefully it was not guys we met on Churup, but this event is a reminder that mountains are dangerous and listening to your inner voice of reason could save your ass in certain situations.
Donkeys loaded with climbing gear for other gringos
If this pig would be up for rent I would rent her to carry my stuff in a heart beat
Hamik's pack

Some of the flowers I captured during our approach
Another rest day in Huaraz, and my lungs felt stronger. Even though weather continued to be gloomy the forecast showed sun for several days in a row. It was my turn to decide where we head for our next outing and I thought an attempt on one of the most beautiful peaks in the world (Alpamayo) could be a good way to rebound from feeling shitty.


Other side of Quitaraju
Hike from Cashapampa (a small mountain town at 2,900 M where you start trekking) to Alpamayo (5,947 M) is LONG and every climbing party we encountered hired 'burrows' (mules) to haul their gear to base camp (4,300 M). Some go further and hire porters to carry majority of their gear all the way to 'advanced' base camp (approx. 5,200 M). If we were wealthier, or knew better, we might have hired mules, but ignorance is bliss - transfer fees for a 6 day round trip from Huaraz cost us 38 soles ($14) per person! In addition, it felt good to organize own logistics, do the peak without a guide, and carry all of our gear in and out without outside assistance. Even though now I am actively looking for a masseuse to relive pain in my sore shoulders (I lost enough weight that my backpack's hip straps do not offer much support and majority of the weight is distributed through my upper body).
View of other peaks as we ascent to moraine camp (acclimation mission)
Beautiful (aside from the dude in the corner - me)
I promised my mom to include more flowers in my posts
More views from an ascent to the col
 The hike through Santa Cruz valley is beautiful, but throws a lot of elevation gain at you right from the start. It was supposed to be a sunny day, but both of us were happy to begin hiking under a layer of clouds. After we met a few German climbers on their way back we changed out minds and got a bit worried - they reported about 50 cm of fresh snow and climbers being stuck in camp for days with no action. Since we did not want to go too high too fast and conditions higher were supposedly grim, we decided to spent our first night a bit past second lake. On our second day we got to base camp (4,300) and hiked up to moraine camp to acclimate a bit better before we move any higher. Hike up to moraine camp ended up being longer than we expected (about 2500ft of elevation gain) but offered more beautiful views and opportunity to obtain clean water directly from the glacier.
Other side of Alpamayo
New friend
Really good dinner at base camp (10 soles!)
View of Artisonraju at sunset

Alpamayo as seen from the col
 On the next day we moved up to 'advanced' base camp, along with over 20 other climbers - all interested in climbing Alpamayo. Even though Quitaraju (6,040 M) offers a good line of ascent and beautiful views of Alpamayo none of these climbers were interested in attempting it. Alpamayo was titled as "the most beautiful peak in the World" in 1966 and it's fame drew crowds from many parts of the world. On our way we met climbers from Spain, Austria, Peru, Japan, Poland, Slovenia, plus multiple parties from USA and Germany. It was really fun meeting other climbers from different parts of the world.

Yours truely enjoying a beautiful sunset
Can this get any better?

Moving our camp from 4,300 M over a 5,400 M pass with 55 pound packs was one of the most strenuous days of the trip, even though every one of these six days was tough. Looking at porters moving other climbers' gear made me a little jealous, but hopefully a little suffering at the start will make us stronger for rest of the trip. On fourth day of our 'mini expedition' we woke up at dawn and climbed a variation (looked safer and steeper) of Quitaraju's North Face. It turned out to be a great climb with a good amount of ice. With 5 screws and two pickets we simul-climbed it in 3 blocks. Views of the range and Alpamayo were stunning. One of the main highlights though was the summit ridge. Brad Johnson's book suggests climbers "climax" on this ridge, and I would have to agree - it was INCREDIBLE. Again, this outing was a tough one - we had to break trail all day and down-climb (we brought a single 60 M rope and down-climbing was faster than rapelling) majority of the route to get down. We rapelled only 4-5 sections using V threads. Even with a long descent the climb took us about ten hours tent to tent and we were back at camp to witness another beautiful sunset.
Sunrise as seen from our tent
North Face of Quitaraju
View of our camp and Alpamayo from Quitaraju
Hamik traverses final ridge to Quitaraju's summit
Even though about 16 (!!!) climbers were seen on Alpamayo on the morning we climbed Quitaraju, there were still plenty of other people going for it on the day after. Turned out Hamik got a stomach bug and wasn't sure if he could ready to climb in the morning. As a great partner I tried to use a combination of begging, whining and threatening to get him healed. When we woke up at dawn, we decided to have a rest day. as the day progressed Hamik felt better and we felt we could actually have safer conditions on the climb if we start it as majority of people are rappelling (descending).

View of Alpamayo from Quitaraju's summit ridge
Santa Cruz Grande and Quitaraju's summit ridge
Two wankers enjoying their first 6000+ M peak in Peru
Our wet dream
Views from summit of Quitaraju
Hamik and Santa Cruz Grande behind him
 As climbers swing their tools into hard ice it knocks chunks down onto those climbing bellow them. One of these chunks injured a Japanese climber on the day prior (broken clavicle as someone said). Majority start climbing by 2 am. We left our tent at 10:30 am with 10 people still seen at various stages of the climb. Line of ascent we took is called French Direct and takes a middle couloir of Alpamayo's SW face directly to it's summit. For Hamik and I this climb was not a very challenging (1500 ft of ice to about 65 degrees), but combination of an aesthetic line and a beautiful peak put this one on my bucket list. Aside from other climbers knocking chunks of ice, we had a lot of fun on this climb. After first 100 meters of snow and neve-climbing, couloir was mainly ice for remaining 370 or so. Unfortunately at this point Hamik's ice pick broke and we had to stop simul-climbing. Even with having to pitch out remainder of the climb, we made great time. Three pitches from the top we saw a party of three from Colorado on their way down. As they rapelled past one of them exclaimed "although I climbed multiple 5.14s on rock, this was the toughest climb I have ever done!" At this point I witnessed something scary - I saw a body tumble to the base of the climb. Later on we found out last rapell anchor (a picket) failed, and a woman from Germany took a hundred foot fall. She was lucky this anchor was not any higher and there was a lot of fresh snow at the base - instead of losing her life, she only broke an ankle.
View of Alpamayo from up high
Good ice on North Face of Quitaraju
Hamik on descent of the North Face
No I am not tired of posting photos of Alpamayo, it is beautiful from every angle!

Quitaraju, a little less pretty, but a great climb
Ice seracs in fading light
 We climbed remaining pitches and after about 30 minutes of taking in views from the summit we begun rapelling. I was stoked that dream to climb Alpamayo became a reality. To our surprise there were still a few parties rapelling bellow us (one of them started the climb about 12 hours before us). On our way down we backed up every anchor with a screw for climber who would rapell first. Keeping things as safe as possible was our main concern. To our surprise tent to tent round trip took only 6 hours - without much simul-climbing, with a pleasant break on top, and no rush on descent.
Hamik coming up one of the pitches of French Direct (Alpamayo)
One of the nice ice pitches of French Direct
Cool ice formations as seen from our route
Me on Alpamayo's summit
My lucky charm on top of Alpamayo
Sad Hamik
Another view of Alpamayo (from our camp)
 Back at camp I had a little celebration with luxury dose of top ramen and a can of tuna. Highlight though was a snickers bar with a hot mocha mix. We fought condensation in our tent (at 5300 M) for one more night and had a 12 mile hike out on our 6th day of the trip. To our surprise 'collectivo' (cheap form of transportation locals use. Worthy of own blog entry. Yesterday's trip was especially funny - a bag full of guinea pigs started to fall out as we drove back to Huaraz. We had to alert the driver. If we didn't many people would be left starving...LOL) was waiting for us at the trail-head and we made it back to Huaraz in great time. So early that I had time to pick up a diarrhea burger. Now we are fighting for toilet paper and preparing to sport climb for a few days. Hatun Machay is a place worthy of multiple trips and we might even re-unite with a few other US climbers we met on Alpamayo. Hamik has freedom to choose next climb we have in the mountains, so I am sure it will be something exciting. Hopefully our roller coaster will continue to climb...

This climb was made possible by cheap Oreo cookies and two knuckle-heads willing to haul 60lb of crap up 6,000 M peaks 


  1. Outstanding pics! Looking forward to coming back and reading the rest of the text.

  2. Vitaliy. So much goodness. KNOWWHATIMEAN!?!?

    1. OCB said he doesn't know anything you mean. Especially not till you visit Lee Vining son. ;)

  3. Killer TR and pics. What camera are you using?

    1. Thank you! I am using Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS19. Like it more than Canon I had in the past.

  4. Great photos, Vitaliy! And good job listening to your mom... I love the flower pics! Stay safe, buddy.

  5. Hi, Cheburashka! Now I can really understand why you miss work:)))

  6. V -

    The pictures are the best you have taken in all your alpine pursuit. Now Alpamayo is in my bucket list! You did a wonderful job :)


    1. Glad to hear, it is a beautiful place. I am glad to be here for now, but also excited to get back to Sierra climbing...

  7. Dudez, I can't get enough of Sad Hamik, AMIRITE?!?!??!

    1. LOL. Was just looking back at all these pics. Miss that outing!

  8. Vitality your reports are awesome and heck a lot of fun to read. I'll sure remember some of your insights and pics when I'm up there.

  9. Just absolutely incredible! Thanks so much for posting this. Can't wait for my chance to go to this area.

  10. Greant expeditions and photos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  11. Do you have a e.mail to contact you???

    1. Hey, sorry, I didn't check the comments section on my blog in a while. My email is
      Welcome to PM me with any questions!