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).   


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