Our packs at Cochapampa, with Huscaran Sur in the background.
Victor ties our gear onto the burros. Victor did not come with us, but his son Ceasar led the burros into the valley.
It´s a 15 km walk from Cochapampa to the base camp in the Ishinca Valley, which is approximately the elevation of the summit of Rainier, with about 900 m elevation gain. The hike in is quite beautiful passing through a forest, which is quite unusual for the valleys in the Cordillera Blanca.
The trail through through the Ishinca Valley.
Daniel, Ceasar and the two burros hike along the Ishinca.
It´s quite a spectacular hike in. After you come up one of the last rises in the valley, you are hit with the view of Tocllaraju (6032 m). The Northwest Ridge was one of our climbing objectives.
Tocllaraju. The NW ridge is the left sky line. The route is grade D and requires some steep snow/ice climbing and negotiating a couple bergschrunds. The rating D stands for difficile. For way more information than you want on climbing grades, see Ari´s Base Camp.
The plan was to wake at 2 AM to climb Ishinca the next day. The alarm went off at 2 AM, and I woke with a sore throat and feeling really tired. Daniel said we´ll take a rest day, and we went back to sleep. During the rest day, I mostly sat around, read and slept. That afternoon Daniel went up to explore the trail to Nevado Urus, which he intended to climb the next day if I didn´t feel better. He came back around 5 PM saying that he couldn´t help himself, and he had summited that afternoon (it was a straightforward snow climb). That night we treated ourselves to dinner in the Italian hut nearby.
The next morning the alarm went off at 4 AM. I was feeling better so we headed off towards Ishinca at 5 AM. Ishinca (5530 m) is another acclimatization peak and is rated PD-. It is a very straightforward glacier climb. Both Daniel and I were moving much slower than we had on Pisco, but neither of us had slept particularly well the night before.
Nevado Ishinca. Our route goes left out of the photo and up easy snow ramps to gain the top of the ice cliffs shown in the photo. We then headed up the snow ramp (center) to the summit.
Daniel looking up at the snow ramps.
We expected the route to be quite crowded since it is an easy acclimatization peak. However, we only met one climber, James from Australia (in the photo). We also ran into three skiers on the way down.
Daniel climbing the summit ramp.
James was kind enough to take our summit photo with Ranrapalca in the background.
The views from the top are stunning and it was well worth the effort.
We headed down around noon and made good time back to camp. We spent the remaining part of the afternoon lounging in camp before going to bed.
The next day we intended to be a rest day. However after talking with two Swiss women who had climbed Tocllaraju, we decided to move some of our climbing gear up to the high camp to make our following day easier. We got a little lost in the boulder field, but eventually found the rock with the cross, where we planned to stash the gear. My sore throat persisted throughout the day, and was quite bad by the time we reached our camp (think razor blade feel). Since we had added an extra rest day, we had dinner at the hut that night. The soup and hot limonada was great. Daniel suggested that I spend the night in the hut, saying that the warmer air might help me recover.
That night was extremely unpleasant (though not because of the hut). My sore throat and general tiredness were symptoms of a cold and with the warmer air of the hut, I was quite congested as well. I woke the next morning and talked with Daniel. I told him that Tocllaraju wasn´t going to happen for me. I could probably drag myself up the mountain, but I wouldn´t enjoy the climb and if something went wrong, I would not be at 100% to deal with the problem. I needed to head back to Huaraz. Daniel said he understood and we discussed options. I suggested he talk to the guy from CA and the woman from Chile that we met the day before to see if he could climb with them. Ultimately the answer was yes. We sorted gear and I headed down.
My last view of Tocllaraju as I walked out of the valley. I wanted to climb that route really, really badly. It was one of the most frustrating climbs to walk away from. Even though I know it was the right decision, it´s still frustrating.
I made my way back to Cochapampa in three short hours. From there I borrowed a cell phone from Victor to call fro a taxi back to Huaraz. It was quite a strange experience. Here are two people who live in what is essentially a teepee made from branches of wood, and I am borrowing a cell phone. How weird is that?
Now I´m back in Huaraz trying to get rid of a cold. Daniel hopefully summited Tocllaraju this morning. I´ll find out tomorrow or the next day when he returns. I´ll post his Ishinca pictures then too.
Of all the potential failure modes, I never anticipated the common cold. I had guessed altitude, GI issues, conditions (snow, wind, weather...), or technical difficulties might cause us to fail on a route, but not a cold. Frustrating!
We have just a short amount of time left in the Cordillera Blanca. On July 31, we fly from Lima to Cuzco to start a tour of the Manu Jungle on Aug 1. Hopefully I´ll have time to get in one technical climb before I leave.