Success on Huascaran!

On Huascaran Summit June 7, 2010

On Huascaran Summit June 7, 2010

After a 3-day acclimatization climb (unguided) on Nevado Pisco (5760m) I embarked on a 7-day guided expedition to Huascaran Sur: At 6768m this is the highest peak in Peru, the highest mountain in the tropics worldwide and the third highest of the Panamerican Peaks.

Note: Check also the Huascaran photo album and the dedicated Huascaran Peak Page.

Huascaran seen from summit of Nevado Pisco - Sur next to my ice axe, Norte to the right

Huascaran seen from summit of Nevado Pisco - Sur next to my ice axe, Norte to the right

I had joined a twin expedition on Huascaran. We had two small groups, one consisting of two Spaniards and guide Darwin, the other group just me and guide Christian, plus two cooks and four porters. This team as well as drivers from/to Huaraz and mules for transport to base camp was all expertly arranged by Enrique Expeditions in Huaraz.

Huascaran as seen from near Yungay - main summit Sur on the right, Norte on the left

Huascaran as seen from near Yungay - main summit Sur on the right, Norte on the left

We reached the summit of Huascaran Sur on Day 5 after 2 days and 2 nights at the high camp at 5810m. As we were early in the climbing season and Huascaran hadn’t been climbed yet this season, our guides decided to explore the route – which changes every year due to ice fall and crevasses – and break trail to make it easier for us clients. This cost us an extra “waiting” day up high, but this strategy worked 100%.

Camp 2 just below the Col between Huascaran Norte and Sur

Camp 2 just below the Col between Huascaran Norte and Sur

Conditions on summit day started out very good, but deteriorated up high due to strong and very cold winds as well as cloud cover on the summit after sunrise. Due to less than perfect rental equipment I struggled a lot with the cold, reinforced due to the wind and high altitude. The last hour up to the summit was one of the toughest mountain pitches of my entire project. It was the only one of my summits shrouded in clouds (!) and the one where I stayed the shortest time (less than 10min due to the cold).

Sunrise over Huascaran Norte with Cordillera Blanca peaks behind - note the three climbers in the other group below.

Sunrise over Huascaran Norte with Cordillera Blanca peaks behind - note the three climbers in the other group below.

Huascaran is a difficult and dangerous mountain. I’d say it ranks third in overall difficulty after Mt. Logan (Canada) and Mt. McKinley (Alaska) – and that only due to the remoteness and size of those two – and it ranks first in overall danger and risk: Huascaran has nontrivial terrain (granite slabs with friction hiking) to get up to the glacier. It has a huge glacier (due to the massive precipitation here in the tropics) with crevasses as big or bigger than those even on Mt. Logan and Mt. McKinley. The glacier ascent has a objectively pretty dangerous part in the normal route between Camp 1 and 2: in the Canaleta you have to climb a distance of about 300m vertical with huge seracs hanging high up above and an avalanche cone with massive debris fields a constant reminder that if something breaks lose above, it’s going to come down your way. The same is true for parts of the following traverse to Camp 2 near the Col between North and South summits. The other two clients and I agreed that in the end it’s a bit like a lottery – you just hope your number isn’t up that day. And on summit day you have to not only climb almost 1000m vertical at high altitude, but it’s also far steeper after the Col than I expected. Especially on the descent you have to be very careful as the route often traverses diagonally above huge crevasses – a fall there would send you right down one of those monsters.

Descent in the dangerous Canaleta

Descent in the dangerous Canaleta

I am glad that Huascaran is behind me. Of all the peaks in this project, this is the only one I would not consider repeating – once is sure enough for Huascaran! Now there is only one of the 15 peaks remaining: Chimborazo in Ecuador. I’ll tackle this last one later in June together with my wife Jill as the Grand Finale of my Panamerican Peaks Project.

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