Pequeño Alpamayo – The summit and back down again

Posted: June 17, 2012 by Ben Weber in Climbing, English, Hiking, Mountaineering, Training
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thanks to Casa de Pedra of São Paulo for your support! And thanks Augusto for the picture!

<—- Ascending the mountain

The guys helped calmed me down and I went on ahead with them securing me. It was now a scramble down a rock face about three metres wide, with crampons on  – something I had not done before. Fortunately, as I went down, José caught up with me and saw that I wasn’t a particularly happy chap. He asked if I had climbed with crampons on before and on receiving the negative answer, he took my crampons off and accompanied me down the rock face – something I was particularly grateful for considering my near panic after the thin pass.

Photo: Augusto Petacchi

We all got down the rock face eventually and now it was time to go up the slopes. Though much steeper than anything beforehand, it was relatively straightforward: using the ice axe to secure your upperbody and then a couple of steps up digging in the crampons, and then repeat this umpteen times until the top of the slope; another small platform to rest, then another steep slope. Straightforward, yes, but still extremely tiring – especially considering the altitude. The whole body just seeped away energy and everything seems in slow motion and takes so much longer than normal.

At the top, the views were beautiful, though I was too drained to really enjoy them. I probably managed a couple of pretty pathetic “wooos!” and just stayed sat down trying to recover my breath. Kirk, full of energy, stripped off down to his chest, much to the amusement of everyone on the peak. In the back of my mind I knew that we had to go back down the same way we had come, which meant crossing that horrible pass again. We must have stayed at the top for about twenty minutes or so, though we noted that dark clouds were forming over the summit – clouds which did not look like they boded well for climbers who would be stuck under them (we did meet a German and British climbing pair who were going to the summit an hour after we had got off it, and we hoped they would be okay).

Photo: Augusto Petacchi

In going back down… the first parts, the steep slopes, were very easy: Caleb belayed us down which meant we just needed to lean back with our full body weights, and enjoy the ride. Getting to the rock formation was straightforward. Unfortunately, José had already left and gone well ahead of us, so nobody was there to accompany me up. My rock climbing mindset from Casa de Pedra set in and slowly but surely I worked my way up. It is not the steepest climb in the world, and there are plenty of rocks to grab hold of, but the lack of security if one falls stayed in the back of the mind, and the falls to the side… would have consequences. Made it up and recovered my breath, and now for the hard part – the snow pass. Going down it was even worse than going up it as this time I was forced constantly to look at the falls. Onlookers who had already reached the other side looked on worriedly at the rookie crossing the pass.

Again, thankfully, no incidents and I managed to get across, pretty much by sitting down at some points and inching my way forward. My fear of heights (or fear of falling? interesting question – not sure exactly what, but ultimately it’s a fear!!!) pushed to the back by a very real need to concentrate. This was the last really challenging part of the climb and it lasted an eternity, and it must have looked like I was drunk once I had actually made it to the other side. Kirk was behind me, telling me to slow down as he was on the dangerous part and didn’t want me pulling him off! Fortunately I heard him, stopped and just sat down.

The weather really closed in when we were going back down the glacier and it began snowing quite heavily – by this time the two climbers we had met earlier would have been on the summit, and the hints of thunder in the air made us worry even more, though there was nothing we could do. We made our way down, knocking the snow out of our crampons and with me occasionally stumbling because of the fatigue. It was great getting off the glacier when we could take the crampons off, though it was even better an hour or so later when we eventually saw the tents of base camp with the mountain behind us completely obscured by cloud, and I saw Natalia there. We had made it.

  1. Jonathan Weber says:

    Well done, a real shame Natalia couldn’t make it with you to the peak. Good to see you have a sensible team getting up early to avoid the bad weather. Keeping my fingers crossed for good weather for your next climb and not too many of those nasty aretes!

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