2006 Apolobamba Expedition
Climb of Nevado Sunchuli
G has the duty of setting the alarm and calling to me in my tent when it goes off. Fifteen years as a boss in the mining industry took with it any hope to hear the beeping of a wrist watch alarm. It doesn't really matter though as my bladder is generally full by 5 a.m. and the night is at its coldest at about that time. The combination means I am likely awake and putting off the last pee of the night. The alarm went off, Gee called and we both started getting read for a walk to the west.
Mario was up as well and prepared breakfast for himself and us as he was planning to tag along at least as far as the snow line. Mario was cooking for us but he guides on Huayna Potosi as well and caries a Bolivian Mountaineering Association as a guide. We partook of breakfast and then made the final few adjustments to gear before getting going. G was off about 5 minutes ahead of me as I am the slower start of the morning and he likes to get a move on to keep warm. We have developed a well oiled system where we will climb together but the first hour or two of the approach is a solitary event. We are often in sight of one another, sometimes not, but we have climbed together en ought to pretty know the path the other will take and where we need to be at the first hit of sun to rejoin. This morning was no different.
The route we selected appears easy enough and called for us to cross the gentle sloped to the west of camp and gain an obvious ridge that from a distance appeared to be no more than a class 3 or class 4 scramble. The three of us joined up at the base of the ridge and started the scramble upward. The terrain was steady class 3 with dips here an there along the ridge that were bounded by class 4 terrain. We made steady progress upward, taking our own routes but remaining within voice contact distance. it was fun terrain where one could scramble along, picking a route through the steeper sections at one's leisure.
We hit an extended steep section at about the 2/3 mark and crossed around some small gendarme like terrain, picking an choosing paths through slots trending upward. I was making just such a scrambling traverse when the rock I grabbed began to move and then fall directly onto me. In a split second, I realized I was in deep trouble and without any conscious thought, i pushed off from the rock, trading a fall for a final dance with a stone cold partner. The move pulled up as the slab went one way and I fell about 8 feet onto my back. I was able to slow the fall but trying to catch myself but in the end I did little more than drag the underside of my arm along the edge of a rock before continuing my fall.
When the action stopped I was on my back, nicely padded by my pack, but feeling a tinge of pain in my arm and contemplating the rock that was laying nicely on my double plastic boot. The boot was quite pinned but my ice axe easily levered it up enough to remove the foot. The foot was fine and the arm seemed fine as well. G arrived a few seconds later and I assured him I was fine, a bit shaken but fine. It was a close call, a very close call, and we were not close to any help, none whatsoever.
We kept moving upward and trended left to a loose couloir that would give access to a break in the ridge and a point of entry for the glacier above. We had chosen this ridge and couloir as it appeared to be the only one that would give easy glacier access as the others appears to have short vertical pitches guarding inviting snow slopes above. The couloir was loose and getting a bit on the high side as we were now closing on the upper end of the 16,000 foot altitude bracket. We climbed 3 paces, backslid 2 but we got up the slope without slabbing one another with loose dislodged by the one or the other's footfalls. That the course was loose was no surprise, we had not seen another climber yet, did not expect to se another, and there was no trail.
We broke out the glacier gear as the rest of the route to the summit would be on snow and ice. The route was not going to be long, we could see that but it was probably a good half mile and another 300 vertical feet to the summit. The arm was now providing a steady sting so it was time for a look see. It was not pretty, I had a nice bulge a few inches below the armpit and the color was starting to take on a blue tinge. There was a bit of a scratch but what ever was going on was not on the outside. Well, we had some climbing to do, so we geared up for glacier travel and were on our way to the summit.
The route G chose crossed one well filled crevasse and then trended along a crest to the first of two summit points. We made the first point after perhaps 30 minutes travel and then crossed a dull knife ridge to make the other summit. The GPS told that the first summit was the high point but the second provided the view down to Lake Kotani far below. We had a bit to eat, shot some stills and video and then retraced our steps along the ridge to the first high point and then on back to the snow rock lien not all that far below. We had just scored our first Apolobamba peak, Nevado Sunchuli, elevation 5306 meters and I'd rate it as a F with regard to the snow and perhaps a PD- if you add in the various scrambles needed to get to the snow.
We racked the ice gear and took another look at the armpit. What became known as "the bruise" was coming along nicely and now boasted of a lump a bit larger than a surgically implanted golf ball hanging below the arm . . . not real encouraging. We had come thousands of miles to climb in the Apolobamba and now I had a screwed up arm . . . great, grand, just what the doctor did not call for in this locale. Not much to do about it, so we re-loaded the packs and headed down the loose slope to the rocky portion of the ridge. We crossed back through the steep rocky sections and then dropped into the opposite side couloir which looked to provide a gentle slope to the flatter ground below.
We zigged back and forth to get to the easier terrain and then just trended toward the camp, taking llama paths here and there before arriving at the tents. Mario and Alcides had seen us top out from far below so our success was no surprise. Now that we were on flat ground, we took another look at the bruise and remarked about the kind of unique tiger stripe pattern. I figure the stripped effect came as I dragged the arm down over the crest of the rock on the downward trip. Mario and Alcides were taken aback and curious as to what the game plan was now. The answer was easy . . . compartmentalize the bruise and climb on.
It was mid afternoon and warm so I retreated to my tent with a Nalgene bottle filled with ice and water. I had a book to read and it managed to hold the cold bottle on the bruise while reaching upward for the rest of the afternoon and waking evening. I even managed to kind of do a towel wrap that let me sit in the cook tent, bottle in pit. And let me tell you, that was the saving move as the golf ball lump went away by the next morning. The color however, became more interesting as whatever was doing the slow internal seep kept doing just that, promising that the bruise itself would be with us for the rest of the trip.
We did dinner and cards to kill the rest of the light of day and then off to the tent for what I knew would be one bear of a cold night. I was not wrong.