Alpamayo

As confirmed yesterday in my twitter message, I reached the summit of Alpamayo earlier this week. The climb however was not a walk in the park.

It all started pretty good though. Saturday, we took a bus to Cashapampa where we were awaited by a donkey driver that was going to take most of our equipment to basecamp. From Cashapampa we also started with the 2 day trekking to basecamp at an altitude of 4300 meters. The start of the trekking was steep and hot. The journey brought us via a ravine to the Llamoral camp at 3750 meters.

The next day we continued our journey with a gradual climb until we could see Alpamayo and we left the valley towards basecamp. Because we were higher, fortunately is wasn’t so hot anymore. Once we arrived in basecamp, we pitched our tents and organized our equipment. The intent was to only take to the high camp what was absolutely necessary for the summit attempt.

On Monday we left at 8 am for a 1000 meter climb to the high camp at 5300 meters. The first part was fairly straightforward because we hadn’t reached the snowline yet. On Alpamayo, this snowline (or ice line in this case) is at 5000 meters. They had saved the hardest part for last though. The last 300 meters we climb over a glacier and the last 100 meters contained a few vertical ice sections. Compared to last year, these sections turned out to be a bit bigger. But in the end, I had come to Alpamayo to iceclimb so these last 100 meters were sort of an unexpected bonus. It felt great to pull out the ice axes and have a go at it.

At 4 pm, after we had set up camp, we talked a bit about the summit attempt. Despite the nice weather, things did nog look very good for a moment. We had noticed that the snow on the way to the high camp was actually pretty lousy. The fresh snow that had fallen that night was of poor quality. On top of that it was actually too warm so this snow didn’t harden. This could possibly create avalanche danger in the first two pitches of the climb. We decided to assess the situation at the beginning of the first pitch that night.

But when we put our head out of the tent at 1 am that night, the weather was no good at all. Too many clouds could mean that we would get even more snow while we were climbing. That didn’t really look like a good idea. We had no option but to wait. But the waiting was rewarded because at 2:30 am the sky had cleared out. We prepared ourselves as quickly as possible to start our ascent. In the distance, we could see the dancing lights of a Swiss team that hadn’t waited for the ideal circumstances.

At 3:30 we set off in the direction of the ice wall. The route to the wall did go through powder snow which wasn’t very promising for potential avalanche danger but in the end it turned out to be allright. The snow on the first two – least steep – pitches wasn’t great and painful to climb but there wasn’t any obvious avalanche danger.

At about 4 am we started our 7 pitches ice climbing towards the summit of Alpamayo. The first two pitches were difficult because of the snow. It was hard to get a good grip and it took me quite a bit of energy to get 100 meters up. The altitude was also showing itself. I had to go full throttle the entire climb.

After the first two pitches the route became steeper which means less snow and more ice. In these circumstances that was an advantage. I was starting the find a good rythm when things took a negative turn. When I looked up for a second to check how much I still had to go, a piece of ice the size of a golfbal hit me straight in my left eye. The initial pain was brutal. I stayed put for a little while next to a Swiss climber I had caught up with. Because the situation wasn’g getting any better, I decided to continue climbing with one eye closed until I could get someone to take a look at my eye.

Because getting your eye checked out is not so easy when you’re dangling off an ice wall at 5500 meters, especially when it’s night. The only option was to eat the pain and continue climbing as good as I could. Fortunately, the pain started to decrease at the end of the 4th pitch. We had another 3 pitches to go and the summit came in sight.

Despite the increasing altitude and fatigue, the climbing went better all the time. The route became steeper but the ice also became better. The sun came up which made it a little warmer. On the other hand, the sun also made my left eye tear.

At about 8 am, I climbed on top of the little Alpamayo summit together with Doug. There wasn’t really a great view because of the clouds but that didn’t ruin the fun. We were however in a bit of a hurry. As we had left high camp pretty late, we would have to descend part of the route in the sun which may cause more falling ice. I felt I already had had my share of falling ice, so we decided to descend as quickly as possible.

The advantage of a steep ice climb is that you can rappel down which is a lot faster – and requires less energy – that climbing or walking down. 3 hours later, we were enjoying a cup of tea and wonderful soup in our high camp. There was talk of descending further to basecamp, but because my eye was still hurting, it seemed better to let my eye rest. I retreated in the tent which stopped most of the ultraviolet light. I kept my glacier glasses on, pulled my hat over my damaged eye and tried to catch some sleep. I must have looked to a pirate in the mountains.

But the strategy worked. A few hours later, the pain was much better and the next morning it was as good as gone. Hence, we could continue our descent to basecamp. On Thursday, we broke up basecamp and hiked all the way back to Cashapampa, where we celebrated the summit with a Peruvian beer before we got on the bus to Huaraz.

In the mean time, I’m back in my hotel room in Huaraz. This evening, we have planned a goodbye dinner with the Peruvian team lead by Manuel Bernuy Ponte. Tomorrow I will get on the bus to Lima for the last part of the journey: Machu Picchu.