Text and pictures © 1996-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know." — René Daumal
Away from the ugly, misty, crowded and so-often violent Lima, is the city of Huaraz, at the heart of the Cordillera Blanca where lies the highest peaks of Peru. Huaraz, at 3100m asl, is a nice place to start altitude acclimatization, discovery of local food (less than one US$ for a common menu with soup, main and juice). The town is very tourist oriented, with the possibility to hire guides, find gaz, rent gear, find cheap accommodation... The best season for climbing seems to be from June to August, the so-called 'dry season'. I was there from June 15th to August 7th: it rained once (for 3 hours) and snowed once (about 1cm). We never used a tent.
Left: The city of Huaraz, base for climbers. On this picture are visible the multi-summit Huandoy (left), the mighty Huascaran with its two summits (center) and the pyramid of the Chopicalqui. This picture was taken from the bridge where most of the local buses leave. You can get to just about anywhere in a matter of hours with those fast and cheap (but crowded) buses.
Right: Vallunaraju and avalanche on Ranrapalca.
Near Huaraz are some low and easy summits, like the Vallunaraju (right), the Cashan, the Churup... They make for good and interesting acclimatization. Unlike the crowded Pisco (5752m) or Urus, you are pretty sure to be alone on them. The summit in the back is the Ranrapalca, with a huge serac fall just occurring. The Slovenian route I later did on it with Javi is half hidden on the left side.
Left: Cashan seen from the valley.
Ascent of the Nevado Cashan (5.723m), a technical summit. We did a first camp near some nice lake, with a good view on a big waterfall, then went up to do a second camp on the glacier, right before the traverse of a short technical rock ridge (IV+).
Right: 'Rébuffat-like' picture taken from the 2nd camp on the glacier.
Left: After the IV+ it goes easily up to a lower summit and there starts the difficulty: you have to traverse on a knife-sharp snow edge, softened by the sun, with vertical walls on both sides.
Right: The traverse is about 200m (here Vincent leading it), with holes underfoot and the summit is further protected by an overhanging snow mushroom. Sorry, too hairy for us. We stopped 50m short of it.
Sunset on the base camp of Alpamayo. OK, you've all seen this mountain hundreds of times, what is it ?
... OK, as a hint I give you its name: the Artesonraju (6025m). Anybody ?
... Well, just imagine it with a circle of stars around it... Still clueless ? Well, then e-mail me. Base camp is where I started to get sick, probably from bad water drank further down.
Left: View on Artesonraju from the base camp of Alpamayo (6025m)
Right: Alpamayo, the diamond mountain.
Sick, it took me two days to reach camp 1, while my friends left me on the trail with just some junk food and my sleeping bag. When I arrived at Camp 1, they where high up on the Ferrari route (2 tiny dots visible on the picture). They faced some 70° ice near the summit ridge. I never went higher than camp 1 and the following day I even had trouble going back down. I had my revenge later. As you can see, the Alpamayo is no longer the beautiful summit it used to be: rocks are beginning to be visible and a big part of the face fell out, making the French direct all but impossible.
Left: Musho, starting village for Huascaran.
After two days of rest and eating in Huaraz, we took off for the big part of the cake, the Huascaran. The bus takes you to Musho (left), a small village where it's possible to sleep and rent donkeys for the morning climb to base camp. It took us only 3 hours to get there (the donkeys don't go higher), so we took our bags and kept going till the glacier where it's possible to find some flat ground and water. It's called Moraine camp and is at 4800m, as high as Mt Blanc.
Right: South face of Huascaran (6758m)
From there the sunset on the south face of Huascaran is breathtaking. My friends wanted to go to camp 2 the following day (skip camp 1) and climb the normal route, but I wanted to do the direct of the Escudo (the shield, the smooth face visible on the picture). I took off solo at 2 in the morning.
Left: Summit rock of the Escudo (Shield) south face of Huascaran.
Here I am, sitting on the rock that marks the end of the face (visible on the picture above) after 1000m of front pointing; the north summit is visible on the right. After that it's an easy ridge to get to the summit. The exertion, the 20cm of crusted snow and the surprisingly deep cold took their toll. I made it to the summit in 10 hours and was not even awarded by a nice view: there was a nasty cloud right on top.
Right: View on the south (higher) summit of Huascaran.
I later took this photo of the south summit from the north one. You can see the trail on the normal route (which I descended), near the summit. The Escudo is the right edge of the mountain. Camp 2 is hidden in the lower right corner. I arrived at the same time there than my friends !!! Since they had taken the stove, when I got back to Moraine camp, I had to rely on some nice arrieros (people who guard the tents) for hot water (and mate de coca). The following day my friends had bitter wind and turned back.
Left: North face of Ranrapalca (6165m).
Right: Slovenian route on Ranrapalca.
After Huascaran my friends left and I met Javi, a Spanish climber who wanted to do 'some hard stuff' (in his own words). We took off to repeat a Slovenian route opened 3 weeks earlier on the north face of Ranrapalca (6162m). Supposedly an ED- V+ 70° route.
Right: Pain in the ass snow on Ranrapalca.
Base camp is common with Urus, Tocllaraju and a bunch of other easy summits and is quite crowded. We did a second camp at the foot of the face. The face started with one long pitch of icy rock (IV) done in pitch-dark conditions, then some ice (60°) to a short rock band (top right photo). One move of steep mixed, then a very long progression on snow carved by the sun in 50 cm pyramids (right picture). Fragile and tiring, but fairly safe once you get used to it.
Left: Head wall of the Slovenian route.
It's hot, I can climb the head wall (20m of nice IV+) without gloves. Then there is about one km of flat ground on the summit plateau and a short climb to get to the summit. We went down what is normally the normal route, but with the global warming it starts with 200m of unstable steep rock followed by steep bad snow full of crevasses. Dangerous rappels (unstable rocks). The way up must be nasty.
Right: Javi arrives under the headwall of the Slovenian route thirsty and tired. 11 years later I would be surprised to run into the same (and in even better shape) Javi while climbing in Riglos.
Left: Tocllaraju seen from base camp (6035m).
Right: Tocllaraju seen from the Urus, I'm a small dot near the summit.
Back to base camp after Ranrapalca, I saw the sunset on the beautiful pyramid of Tocllaraju and decided to go solo it in the morning. There was a Japanese guy (Ryuseki Hiraoka, summiteer of Nanga Parbat) ready to go solo it in 2 days via the normal route. I convinced him to go on the same route than me (west face direct), just to be on the safe side.
I had planed to climb the obvious face visible on the picture, but when I got to the foot of it, it seemed easier an more secure to slalom between the seracs on the right. I'm actually visible on this picture (taken by a friend from Urus) as a black pixel almost exactly on the right 45° slope. Well, OK, trust me on that.
From there on there was very deep snow. In the last 100 meters I had snow up to my shoulders, in a 60° slope or more. Hard work at this altitude.
Left: Me on the summit of Tocllaraju.
Right: Ryuseki arriving on the summit of Tocllaraju, with the seldom climbed Oshinca in the background.
Left: Going down underneath the seracs on the normal route of Toclaraju (6035m).
After that, back to Huaraz for some rest and to get some fat back in the system. With Ryuseki we then decided to go climb Chopicalqui (6354m), the second highest summit of Peru, via the west ridge (on the left on the picture). A party of Italians who had been at it for 3 weeks discouraged us: they had set up 5 camps, put kilometers of fixed line... Either it was harder than we though or they were bad. We changed our plan and went for the normal route, the large smooth ridge visible on the right of the picture.
Left: Chopicalqui (6354m), seen from Huascaran.
Right: Summit of Chopicalqui, 6354m.
We did just one camp below the glacier and got to the summit in a few hours. There was a crevasse right below the summit (picture) where I had to do some vertical climbing on soft snow (in other words, dig it !). Here our trail is visible as Ryuseki is going down (the tiny dot...). Nice and easy route. And an incredible sunrise on the north faces of the Huascarans. That's during this ascent that I started getting wild ideas...
Left: Chacrajaru (6112m).
Right: Chacrajaru by moon light. Picture taken while I was waiting for Javi to catch up on the glacier at the bottom of the face.
Then I went back down to base camp and was joined by Javi. We took off for what is known as one of the hardest summit of Peru: Chacraraju (6112m, top). We wanted to do the Japanese couloir but ended up following some gear up the American direct.
Left: Japanese couloir on Chacraraju.
We had decided to solo the snow/ice face up to the mixed head wall, but we roped up about 2/3 of the way up, when the snow turned to ice (left, sunrise on Chopicalqui and the Huascarans).
Right: Hard/bad mixed near summit of Chacraraju.
the mixed was the hardest I've ever done: cheesy ice, huge bubbles, shnice, soft snow, smooth rock, altitude... you name it. I did a full 80 meters and ended up under an overhanging wall of snow at least 30 meters high. Javi wasn't too keen on following me (to say the least) and we opted out. Too bad, I think further left it could have gone.
Right: North face of Huascaran seen from Chopicalqui. The french direct is the obvious snow couloir.
After all that, I still had some food left and one week to go. Mind running wild, I took off to solo the French Direct (FA: Maurice and Liliane Barrard) on the north face of Huascaran North. On the top and bottom pictures, it's the snow couloir on the right summit that ends up in a short head wall. Grade: TD+ V+ A2. I long thought this was the first solo ascent, but in 2012 I read about Benoit Grison's solo ascent way back in 1985...
I went from base camp to the foot of the route to set my small camp. Small is the word: the face is huge, the noise of continuous rock falls makes for a nervous night and for the first time on this trip I felt truly alone.
Left: North face of Huascaran.
Right: Snow couloir of the french direct, north face of Huascaran.
At 2 in the morning I left my sleeping bag and stove and took off with 2.5 liters of water, some food, my bivvy bag and lots of faith. I climbed the rocks on the left to avoid the glacier. After passing the schrund there's the very long couloir. Near the end the sun rose and heated those damn penitents, turning them into fragile columns. It got steep too (~65°, right).
As I got closer to the headwall I started worrying. What I thought would be no more than a IV+ showed up as an overhanging wall traversing on the left. Gulp ! I self-protected on two 80-meter 7mm ropes borrowed from Javi, in the middle of a bunch of rotten lines hanging left and right: what a fuckin' mess, see the knots on the picture below. I left my big Nikon to record the flight in automatic mode and took off. I don't quite know if it was V+, but I can say that while trying to negotiate an unprotected 5 meter granite slab in plastic boots I was praying I was bare foot. Fortunately there was quite a lot of pitons. The second pitch was all A2 aid, but exhausting with the big pack. On the picture you can also see the Chopicalqui.
Right: Self portrait while in the middle of the snow couloir.
It took me 4 hours to overcome the head wall (right). I got out drained but happy, to say the least... After that there was a snow ridge to the summit, but crawling through 40 cm of crusted snow proved too much: I traversed 50 meters under the summit to join the normal route.
Left: Soloing the head wall (5+ A2) of the north face of Huascaran. Programmed camera sequence.
I was at camp 2 to see the sunset while a young French paraglider offered me some tea. A short break and I resumed what was now an exhausted night descent. 20:00 at camp 1. 21:00 at moraine camp. 22:00 at base camp. There a group of Mexicans was drinking some mate de coca and listening to some Pink Floyd. They gave me some boiling water for my freeze-dry, as well as some mate de coca... and after that I was stuck. Drained. Batteries out. They kindly offered me to sleep in one of their tents. I got in my bivvy bag and lost reality for a good many hours. In the morning I finished the descent to Musho, ate a chicken, got the bus back to the Quebrada Llanganuco, and hiked up again to the base of the face to recover my stove and sleeping bag.
After my tenth day straight of climbing, I spent one more night at the base of the face and upon waking in the morning I briefly wondered if it had all been a dream. Did I still have to climb the face ?
Right: As a nice poetic ending, I went back down to the valley in a pig truck. The pigs complained about the way I smelled. On this image, I'm a little dusty coming off the pig truck.
After some quite intense cleaning I spent two days eating better things than the traditional rat dishes (I recommend Chez Patrick, a French restaurant/crêperie on the main street) and partying before getting back to work.