Pequeño Alpamayo – Going up…

Posted: June 16, 2012 by Ben Weber in Climbing, English, Mountaineering, Training
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

After final preparations with more skills training on the afternoon after coming down from Austria, we went to bed in order to wake up at 1.30am to go up Pequeño Alpamayo. The reason we get up so early to go to the mountains rather than getting up during daylight hours is that it is much safer to complete the majority of the ascent when it is dark – once the sun is out, ice starts melting and things become a little less stable. Also, in these parts of the Andes, the weather has a habit of starting perfectly, and then turning bad in the afternoon as air from the rainforest rises… and the forecast for this day was for poor weather to come in after midday.

So it was; we woke up at 1am to get our stuff ready. Natalia was feeling better so we decided that she would give it a shot, and the weather was still, dry and completely clear – perfect conditions. Caleb called out for hot drinks and we had our cereal… headlamps on… and off we went. It was an hour or so hike along steadily higher terrain to the start of the glacier which we would ascend to begin the main assault on the peak. Unfortunately as we got closer to the glacier, Natalia’s stomach pains returned with aggression and she felt nauseous, so we thought that it would be best for her to go back. José went back with her, and carried her rucksack, which was a good job as later Natalia later commented that even with the headlamp it was very easy to lose the trail. We went on to the glacier, where we put on our crampons and linked into our rope team. I was with Kirk and Caleb, and when José got back (really, he has masses of energy and didn’t take long to catch up with us in spite of having been back to base camp!) he linked up with Augusto, who admitted that he felt pretty slow.

The glacier was straightforward. A gradual ascent, with no crevasses and no nasty falls. When we got to the top, it was sunrise and we could see the red light falling across the valley behind us as well as glowing on the snow on the peaks above us. The summit of Pequeño Alpamayo was not immediately visible. We still had to go up a number of other slopes until we got to see it. When the peak did reveal itself, however, both Kirk and I looked at it and just thought “wow”… it simply towered above us with steep 45-50 degree slopes leading up to it. The glacier itself had been nothing in comparison to what was to come and it was clear that we still had a lot of work to do.

As the sun rose and we moved onwards, we eventually got to a point where there was a snow platform from which we would have to traverse a narrow pass to climb a rock formation. It must have been about ten metres long with a steadily decreasing width to the thinnest part which was about couple of feet wide. On either side of these two feet were almost vertical falls going down for… I don’t know.. I guess a few hundred metres or so. Enough. Remembering how altitude has the effect of making things go much slower, this was not good, and with my not having the greatest head in the world for heights, this was not something that looked particularly enjoyable to me. Rock climbing is different – you are generally protected against the falls. With this, I was in a rope team with two other people and if I fell, I would have to depend on their reflexes to secure themselves with ice-axes to stop the whole team from falling. With these thoughts in my mind, the pass was simply terrifying for me. Augusto later commented that he had his heart in his mouth when he saw me going over it, with there being a bit too much slack on the rope and it getting tangled in my crampons. By the time I did get across and join Kirk and Caleb on the other side on the rocks, I was almost hyperventilating… but I managed it.

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

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