Cabeza de Condor Approach
A recon for the climb to come
G took his turn with Montezuma's cousin on our second morning at base camp. The Inca plague had struck the night before and G had a miserable night as a result. I ate breakfast with Mario and G stayed in his tent alternating trips to the can with sleeping with perhaps the same thoughts that those who are seasick and tired of being seasick harbor. I was not over my bout to any extent as I was now on a set schedule of visiting the can no less than 8 to 10 times a day. None of that raw rear stuff, just a friendly visit to drop a half of quart of water so that I would have room to put down another half quart of Cytomax until the bug passed.
By ten a.m. or so I decided that since I was feeling OK, I would make the hike to the base of the scree slope from hell that leads to the glacier and the Cabeza de Condor climb. We really had our hearts set on this route before we left Condoriri and we knew that the approach would be made well before dawn. I'd seen folks head out that way at early hours but figured our odds would be much better if one of us had been to the base of the slope and could find it again in the dark. I really wanted to know if the route was clear or an orienteering exercise through the moraine upon which we were camped.
I packed a lunch and a couple quarts of Cytomax and set off. The trail to the Cabeza leaves from the area of the shitter closest to the Cabeza and is braided enough to seem to offer confusion but fear not, all those paths join after a few hundred yards into a single and very strong trail upward. The trail climbs over the edge of the dark stone moraine and can be seen to rise upward, giving access to Pico Austria and the Condor. I passed a herd of alpaca and then came to an obvious junction where the Austria trail and the Condor trail split. As a matter of fact, there was a metal post at the split but such a marking is really not needed as one can see where the trails go to, but I guess if it matters, the Condor is to the right and Austria to the left.
From the juncture the trail heads upward and soon you are at the first scree slope that is really just a series of braids over loose but quite steep ground. The climb only takes ten minutes but it is loose and a two steps forward one step backward affair. Once atop this first scree obstacle, you are walking along the lateral moraine and can see the toe of the glacier that falls from the Condor. The lateral moraine that one sees from the campground is the opposite moraine and though it appears to be the route from the camp, it is not. The trail went flat for a stretch along the moraine and then arrived at what I think is the real scree slope from hell. I went up it about 50 meters and it really is not so much scree as larger talus, loose underfoot but traveled enough to have formed an ascending trough. I did not go further instead deciding to drop back to the flat section and . . .
The trip back to camp was quick and the camp is visible for most of the way. I found that the approach to the base of the Condor climb was not confusing and that a brief recon acclimatization hike to the base of the talus slope shoulder removes any grief from an 0 dark 30 approach. G was still tent bound when I go back but was mainly resting up to take a shot a climb the next day. Our goal was the Condor but we also knew that neither of us would be up for the task early the next morning. Instead we decided to make a climb of Pequeno Alpamayo,a route we had been guided up in 2001 and that we both wanted to tackle without the assistance of a keeper.
We took the opportunity to chat with some of the other climbers who were coming down from Pequeno Alpamayo as to the conditions they experienced. The real inquiry was neve versus powder versus blue ice. We were getting responses ranging from neve and its an un-roped walk-up to blue ice and take your screws. Well you really never know the climber behind the report so we took the middle ground and decided that a couple screws and a couple of pickets would likely be a good combination and hopefully cover whatever conditions we encountered. We knew we were really only dealing with two pitches and from the camp, the route has a snowier look than an icy look. Two and two it would be . . .