Ishinca Peak - 18143' - SW Ridge Grade F
Artesonraju - 19767' - East Ridge Grade PD+
This will be the first of three reports I plan to write about my trip to Peru this last summer. I went for 5 weeks and had an amazing time. My flight to Lima from Los Angeles went smoothly and I took a taxi to the Plaza Norte bus terminal to catch the Cruz del Sur bus to Huaraz, which is 8 hours away. Upon arriving in Huaraz, I met Santiago, who I was in email communication with for months prior to the trip. I met him at Caroline Hostel on July 5th, and he had arrived earlier that day.
There was originally going to be a third person in our group, who was already in Peru for a couple weeks, but upon getting really sick just before I arrived, he was forced to return to Lima and get an early ticket back home to New York. So we both grabbed dinner near the Casa de Guias, and discussed what we would do first to acclimate. I wasn't interested in Urus since I had done it in 2014, but I did not previously do Ishinca, so we decided the next day to do a nice hike to Laguna Aguak, just a short ways out of town. Then, the day after start out for a 4 day trip to Ishinca Peak, and attempt Urus Oeste, which is the technical, much harder, and slightly higher brother of Urus Este which I had done in 2014.
During this process, we got in touch with Andreas, who is from Switzerland and was looking for a team to join for Artesonraju. So we informed him Santiago and I would go do Ishinca, and get back to him when we returned.
So we rested for the night since I was tired from travelling nonstop for over a day, then took a taxi up to the start of the hike for Laguna Aguak. This hike brought us to about 15,000 feet and an excellent view of Vallunaraju. We were also the only ones there since it was a weekday. We both were feeling great, and we made the ascent quickly, at well over 1,000 feet per hour, despite being at sea level for a very long time. We returned back to Huaraz and met Andreas for dinner that evening, and finalized our plans. He was going to rock climb at Hutun Machay while we acclimated on Ishinca.
Laguna Aguak Photos:
So off we went the next morning to the trailhead for Quebrada Ishinca in a taxi, up the dusty road. We pre-arranged for a burro driver to meet us at the trailhead. We ended up having to pick him up in a small village before the trailhead though. I had hiked this trail before so knew what to expect. It took us about 3 hours to reach base camp and the large Italian run Refugio Ishinca. We just decided to stay in the hut and buy the meals they cooked.
The next morning we woke up at 2am, and had a quick breakfast in the dark hut, then began hiking up the nice trail at 3am, heading to the smaller refugio at the base of the peak. We made good time hiking up the steep trail under a perfect starry sky. It was a very quiet and calm night and fairly warm as well. Just before we reach the hut, Santiago, who was a few paces ahead of me stops and informed me there is a large animal, most likely a puma just behind a couple boulders a few feet off the trail. My skeptical self looked over and at first didn't even see anything, but after a second look I saw the green eyes of a large black animal. Still reluctant to say it actually is a puma, I grab a rock and make a bee line for the hut which was less than a minute away. We walked in the hut and sat down at the table for a quick break.
Soon after we got inside and started making some noise, the hut warden came out asking what the heck we were doing, and Santiago starting talking in Spanish to the guy how there was a puma outside stalking us. The warden claimed it was his own cow but Santiago wasn't convinced. Either way, we took a 5 minute rest, then continued around the top of the glacial moraine. It turned out to indeed be a cow!
As twilight came, we were hiking up the steep trail up above the right side of the moraine, and we could begin to see the lake in the bowl below us, where the glacier used to be. We caught up to a few parties who left before us, and took the shorter, but steeper trail that bypassed the hut. We quickly passed them as we were feeling really good, and reached the edge of the glacier at sunrise. We took a 30 minute break to rope up and put our boots on. The walk across the mellow glacier below the south face of Ranrapalca was awe inspiring. We reached the final ascent of the peak where the snow steepened to about 30 degrees, and finally, the last 15 feet to the summit was a tiny ice step of about 60 degrees we were able to easily solo.
By about 8:30am we were on the summit. The nearby 6000 meter peak Palcaraju was shrouded in clouds, as was Tocllarau. We were however, in the clear and could see most of the large Cordillera Blanca peaks to our south, but most of the ones to the north were hidden behind the mountains to the north of Quebrada Ishinca. Nonetheless, we stood on top for 30 minutes and took in the view. It was a calm morning and beautiful for photos.
Santiago downclimbed the ice step first, and just before I started down, I asked him to take a photo of me downclimbing it. It was a good thing I asked this because he went to grab his camera, and it was missing. He then realized he left it on the summit, so I grabbed it off the snow before I climbed down. That could have been much worse if we got 1000 feet down before realizing that!
The hike back to base camp went quick, although I stopped many times for photos since it was dark on the way up. We ended up getting back, and after looking at Urus Oeste, we agreed it was not in a good condition to climb so we had the hut warden call in a burro driver for us to hike out the next morning, rather than wait another day, since we initially planned for 4 days (as we wanted to climb Urus Oeste).
As we neared base camp, a small band of snow fell cooling the air quite a bit. We decided to stay in the hut one more night, and hike out the next morning. We chatted with a group of guides from Ecuador, one of which was the president of the Ecuador guiding association, and was working to allow unguided parties on the high mountains of Ecuador once again! She mentioned the process was nearing completion to allow this again. Santiago and I also played a game of chess, which I amazingly won.
The next morning we made quick work of the 8 mile hike out, and got in contact with Andreas. We went for pizza again at the Casa de Guias. We discussed how we would climb Artesonraju, and got the most recent info. The Peruvian guide association president, Wilder, gave us some up to date info about the east ridge route he was using to take clients up, and said that is the best route on the mountain this season. So off we went! The next morning, we found a taxi to take us all the way to Laguna Paron, however he arrived in a small car with barely room for the three of us, and our cook, who we hired to guard camp and cook meals for us. With the car full to the brim, and the trunk overloaded, we started north down the river valley. We paid 5 soles per person to enter and continued up the long 32 kilometer gravel road. It was a slow ride, and we even had to get out a couple times so the car could make it up steeper sections.
By around 1pm we made it to the lake and shuffled gear around. We started hiking along the north side of the lake on a nice trail, and walked easily for about an hour until we reached a small cliff band right before reaching the far end of the lake. This blocked easy passage near the lake shore, and we were forced to ascend higher up the steep, slick grass to go around. We probably went around 300 feet above the lake, and when we made it back down, we decided to wait for our cook, but when I saw him struggling to find out where we went, I dropped my pack and returned to show him the way. We got safely back to the bottom of the valley, and continued hiking on the outwash plain towards the large glacial moraine up ahead.
We continued up the wide valley filled with boulders and sand with Huandoy towering above us to the right, and Pyramide rising steeply directly ahead of us. We could not yet see Artesonraju until we rounded the corner and started ascending steeper up the lateral moraine. We couldn't believe what we were looking at....such a perfect looking mountain with dazzling ridges and faces on all sides. We hiked for around an hour uphill until we reached the established timber camp, in a grove of trees with offering a secluded place to relax. We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a nice stew for dinner.
The next day we continued up the steep trail on the moraine, and up to the moraine camp, which we skipped and descended down the moraine to the recent glacial fed lake at the toe of the glacier. We hiked just past the top of the large waterfall cascading down into the valley and once through the boulder field, we emerged onto the glacier, but were able to continue walking across the ice without a rope or our boots. As we got closer to glacier camp, we stayed too far off to the right and navigated a crazy maze of crevasses and moulins, and ended up going all the way around the actual camp spot, and when we arrived (we had since roped up), we found a couple porters watching over a few tents while, you guessed it, Wilder was guiding a couple clients up the East Ridge. They returned down in mid afternoon and they all started back down, while we made dinner and set up our camp. Wilder mentioned to us that the better way across the glacier was to stay to the left when ascending where more rocks covered the ice. We noted that for our descent.
2am came way too fast, but amazingly it wasn't a frigid morning and I was able to get going fairly quickly. We followed the nice tracks up the opening glacier slopes on the lower face. A couple crevasses were scary to cross over delicate snow bridges, and we even ran into a short 15 foot ice step that Andreas and I solod but Santiago wished for a belay. Beyond that we reached the bergschrund and prepared to begin climbing steep neve snow and ice. Andreas started up the first pitch and we made long simul-climbing lengths up fairly uniform 60 degree snow. Some parts were less steep with more unconsolidated snow, while others were steeper with more ice. All this time, we climbed under the darkness of night, with the only light coming from our headlights and the faint glow of the stars.
Upon reaching the large seracs we spotted from camp below, we found a rightward trending traverse around them which I led, and as we snaked through the serac zone, twilight began illuminating the mountains around us. Shortly past the seracs, we reached the east ridge right where it was flat, and offered a great place to have a snack. Just as we began climbing once again the sun rose, and I was livid with the beauty around me. Bright red and orange glow lit of the Huandoy and Huascaran groups. We continued up the broad ridge alternating between ice and snow. I felt my pace slowing as we came within 500 feet of the summit. Andreas led up one final steep ice pitch that was about WI3+ in difficulty and just beyond that we passed under the summit seracs through a tunnel, and finished the last 50 feet on easy slopes to the summit!
it was about 9:45 am when we topped out, nearly 8 hours of climbing...I was pretty exhausted and was standing on a new elevation record for myself at 5,999 meters! The views were indescribable, with Quitaraju and Alpamayo to the north, and the rest of the Cordillera off to the south. I almost couldn't believe it, as the three of us really worked well together, to make it up such an amazing mountain. It is a summit I will never forget.
The descent ended up taking almost as long as the ascent and involved 14 rappels, mostly on pickets with some V-threads to add some sense of security. The worst rappel was angling down back through the serac zone. We got back to camp with a couple hours of daylight remaining, where our cook was waiting patiently, and ready to go as we stated we wanted to return to timber camp that same day. We packed up as quick as possible, downed some tea and started down the glacier. We made much quicker time and was almost in a moonscape as the sun set as we descended the glacier. When we reached the boulderfield once again, we took our boots off and continued down the trail in the dark. I went ahead with our cook who unfortunately didn't have a headlight, so I stayed with him to help him see. We caught the trail and made it back to timber camp only to find 4 tents already there, with people sleeping in each one!
It wasn't until the next morning that I realized they were people I knew!! Sarah and Dominic along with Peter, all of which I know from my time in Colorado were on their way up to climb the route we just finished. We shared some beta and stories from our year so far, and they took off with huge packs up to glacier camp. We took our time hiking back to the trailhead, where we ran into a couple from Germany who climbed the Sphinx. Our taxi ride was right on time and we had a smoother ride back to Huaraz, where a serious, multi-table covering celebration meal ensued.