Tuesday, July 28, 2009

King Me: Juego de los Reyes

Marcus working up mixed ground. The climb never relented despite features that looked like they would offer easy travel. The ground was precarious.

The thin ice technician at work. Marcus dealing with thin, exploding ice, and runout dicey protection on the first pitch.

Marcus nearing the finish of the first M6 kingmaker pitch.

Will BD warranty these picks? 300 m of thin ice and mixed not treating our picks nice.

Pucaraju 5400m
Juego de los Reyes
TD+ 300m WI4 M6 5.8
FA: Marcus Donaldson, Nate Farr 7.26.09

On July 26 Marcus and I made an ascent of an unclimbed line on the south face of Pucaraju (5400m). The line follows a couloir immediately right of the line La Princessa au Petit Pois.
After an early morning start, and more essentially a French-press of CafĂ© Andino´s finest, we reached the bottom of the face and began climbing at 8 a.m. Reports from other parties indicated that it took around 5 hours to climb other routes on the face. We found conditions that were far less than optimal and rock that yielded little protection. These factors meant that we spent far more time digging for protection and establishing anchors than we did actually climbing.
Though the Cordillera Blanca is well known for its good weather, this season has been an anomaly. Snowy weather has been the dominant pattern and most technical routes on the big mountains have not seen successful ascents yet. We dealt with snow, low visibility, but luckily no wind throughout the entire day.

The gods of rock, paper, scissors deemed Marcus the winner and he set off on the first pitch. This pitch yielded the hardest ice climbing. Though only graded a WI4 it had very little in the way of protection. Also the ice was never more than, and usually less, than a couple inches thick. Did I mention it was rotten, and would often give way underfoot? No better incentive to climb up, than when your feet disappear beneath. Marcus established a belay at the first available spot, after a full 60m.

The next two pitches were less difficult, though consistently sustained. Both pitches were 50m long.

The end of the third pitch brought us beneath a mixed band which we had spotted from the base. Initially we expected it to be the crux of the route. Of course after the first pitch we hoped we were wrong. Unfortunately these pitches yielded sustained mixed climbing around M6 (probably M7 at times), difficult, less than optimal protection, thin ice, and rotten rock. Two 40m pitches brought us through the last of the difficulties.

A last 50m pitch up deep snow, neve, and some mixed put us on the summit ridge around 4 p.m.
Being so close to the equator, the sun sets very early in Peru. By 6:30 p.m. your headlamp will be on. Most parties seem to descend the line Adam and Eve on the far climbers´ left of Pucaraju. This line looked very snowy and we were unsure that would be able to find the raps from above. Near our final belay we saw a lonely rap station. After dealing with bad protection for the length of our couloir, we didn´t want to descend our route. We made the decision and descended one couloir climbers´ right of our route. I won´t say the rock was any better, but were able to partially use a couple of the established raps. Either the team that had previously used this descent had very long ropes, or the stations had disappeared. Marcus had to work very hard to find anchors. Sometimes he would spend up to an hour to get in two pieces that would hold more than body weight.

It started to snow very hard. After one particularly hard fought anchor, Marcus rapped into the darkness stood on the edge of a very steep cliff and looked around for a long time. At this point we weren´t sure if we were one, three, four or even more raps from the ground. His eye caught a glimmer from his headlamp, then tat… then a bolt. Someone actually packed a bolt kit and a shiny ½ inch bolt up and down Pucaraju! After dealing with several exploding rap stations, Marcus bounced hard on the bolt… it was solid. Happily, just 40m down we reached terra firma at 7:30 p.m.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finding lemons... looking for lemonade

Enter the choss: An hour out and 15 feet up, post 1000 pound block trundling.

Our desired route is the central couloir. Nothing but choss on the bottom.

On day one putting in a boot pack. We thought we had it in the bag, less than 500 ft. to the base. Two full days later we reached the face.

The view of what we needed to bridge.

Despite many pictures from three different years all showing a continous ice and mixed line... we found no such line. Most likely it's due to the strange weather this year. People are saying it is the snowiest winter in the past 30 years. I believe them. We have seen many major avalanches and have done more post-holing than I care to admit.

We set out for the Paron with a solid two-weeks of food. We came to hunt bear and make sure we gave an honest attempt on our project. This period would also serve for our acclimitization so we wanted it done right.

We spent the first three nights at 14,500 ft. Did some hiking and eventually moved our basecamp to 16,500 ft. We spent one day completely tent bound as the storm raged.

In total it took us the better part of three days to get a book pack up to the face. The snow hit Marcus' knees so I'll only let you guess where it puts the snow level on my frame.

Despite seeing from a distance that the snow was not continous we hoped to find crack systems or terrain condusive to mixed or aid climibng. No such luck. I spent over two hour trying two different obvious features to reach a ramp that would bring us within a pitch of the ice. I cleared probably a thousand pounds of rotten rock, ran it out, and never got more than 30 feet up. Without a HILTI I'm not sure this goes. Tried or look at every conceivable option... another year maybe.

No we are back in Huaraz as the mountains storm. Bad weather this season. The south faces are avalanches waiting-to-happen. We'll head to the seldom climbed, but this season climbable, Churup next. Looking for lemonade... still finding lemons.

Friday, July 03, 2009

PDX a Huaraz

It began six months ago on the way back from a successful ice climbing trip to Lillooet. The plan was hatched, and thus far everything has fallen nicely into place. Marcus finished school a week-ago as a full fledged paramedic. I had just enough time to shift from full-time school to full-time work ensuring I could pay for the next two months.

Just a hours away from departure we're still scrambling. I'll work tonight and tomorrow. Marcus will likely work until 1-2 a.m. on July 5, then meet at the airport at 4 a.m.

The bags are packed. 200# limit between four bags, we're at 196#.


We received a lot of support for this trip. I'm not sure it would have been possible without the help. We're definately excited to get down there, do some climbs and come back to share it with everyone.