Huaraz and the Cordillera Part 2

With Tom and Ed back in England and Hugh having left for Bolivia, only Sarah and I were left to tackle the next mountain. We decided to climb Vallunaraju. It is technically easy, not much higher than what we had done before and readily visible from Huaraz which made it a tempting climb.

Our Plan was to hike up to the moraine camp at around 5000m and then decide whether to climb it the same night or rest for a day.
Well, as it turned out the weather made this decision for us. For the last hours of our approach it hailed and as we arrived at the campsite visibility dropped to zero with serious snow fall.

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Snowed in at the Vallunaraju moraine camp

Towards the evening it stopped snowing. Still, we decided to wait for a day and attempt to summit a day after. The next day had perfect conditions so we explored the remaining approach to the glacier and the beginning of the route.

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Our campsite the morning after

We got up at two in the morning and started our ascent. The climb was easy and straightforward and we summitted shortly after sunrise.

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Last meters towards the summit

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Summit view

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Sarah traversing along the steepest part of the climb

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Trail towards the summit

After Vallunaraju it was time to relax for some days, no better place than Hatun Machay to do this. Some easy rock climbing before heading out again.

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Climbing “Pincitas” 6a+, one of the classics

Now it was time to leave mountaineering and rock climbing behind to go trekking again. I met Niv on the bus back from Hatun Machay and we decided to go on the Alpamayo trek together.
This track traverses the north side of the Cordillera Blanca and provides views of Alpamayo’s north face which yielded it the title “Most Beautiful Mountain in the World” in 1966.

The first day was the hardest with almost 1500m to climb. But it ended at a beautiful laguna just below Santa Cruz.

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First day’s campsite

The second day was supposed to bring us all the way to Alpamayo. However, we got off to a late start and had to setup camp before arriving at Alpamayo. On the next day we continued our way and finally Alpamayo came into sight.

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Nevado Alpamayo

We decided to camp on the meadows just below Alpamayo and continue the next day which would bring us to the highest pass we needed to traverse.

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Our campsite below Alpamayo

Having rested for a day we easily climbed the highest point on this trek. From here we had a stunning view of Santa Cruz.

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Santa Cruz and some other peaks

We continued the trek which lead us through beautiful valleys. Another highlight waited for us when we crossed another pass the next day. Traversing the pass granted views of probably the most beautiful valley on this trek.

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After the Alpamayo trek we returned to Huaraz to prepare for for the Huayhuash trek.
That trek would turn out to be the hardest I have done so far. 11 days and 8 mountain passes, almost all between 4500 and 5000m. We rested and prepared for two days, then left for Huayhuash.

We got off to an early start since the bus for the Cordillera Huayhuash leaves at 5 in the morning. The first day didn’t have any spectacular sceneries but on the first pass a flock of Andean Condors circled just above us.

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An Andean Condor

Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and the mountains were covered in clouds for most of the next 3 days.

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Yerupaya and Yerupaya Chico seen from Laguna Carhuacocha

But just as the main mountain range came into view the clouds started to clear and allowed a first glimpse of the mountains from Punta Coyuc at 4950m.

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The summit of Nevado Serapo

Since I expected the clouds to clear either in the evening or early morning I decided to camp high up on the pass while everybody else descended into the next valley.

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Camping next to Nevado Cuyoc

Indeed, the clouds cleared the next morning and the high pass made for a magnificient viewpoint to watch the sunrise above the mountains.

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But conditions on the pass were rougher than I anticipated. While it snowed mildly during the night and temperatures weren’t that low, the wind soon increased to the point that the windchill made it impossible to stay any longer on the pass. Removing my gloves to operate the stove to make breakfast resulting in an instantanous loss of sensation in all my fingers for a couple of hours. So I decided to skip breakfast and descend right away.

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My campsite the next morning

I descended into the next valley where I met my Israeli friends again, had breakfast and continued to climb the next pass. The weather would remain prefect for the next days and allow for some great views.

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Yerupaja, Serapo and Carnicero seen from Paso San Antonio

Here Niv and I went separate ways since I wanted to get closer to Siula Grande which would take an additional day. After descending from San Antonio I camped in the valley close to Laguna Juracocha. The next day I scrambled up the moraine to get as close as possible to Siula Grande. On the way I passed Laguna Sarapococha with great views of Yerupaja.

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Nevado Yerupaja, with 6617m the highest peak in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Scrambling all the way to the end of the moraine took me about 4h but I finally saw the incredible west face of Siula Grande. The face was made famous by the first ascent of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in 1985. Their story, “Touching the Void”, is probably one of the most famous mountaineering stories around.

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The west faces of Siula Grande and Chico

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A wall of ice and snow between Yerupaja and Siula Grande

The trek now left the main range behind. Nevertheless, it still went through beautiful landscapes.

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Laguna Sisucocha

I reached the final campsite after 9 days and decided to spend two nights here since I was quite exhausted and reaching the bus back to Huaraz would require a 6am start and 4h hike.
However, there are worse places to spend an additional night.

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The campsite is located just below the lower laguna with Nevado Jirishanca in the back

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Sunset over the campsite

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More sunset

I finally returned to Huaraz, considered climbing another mountain but conditions have become to unstable with the season coming to an end. So, tonight I will take the bus to Lima and continue my journey to Cusco tomorrow.