Nevado Pisco, Urus & Ischinca Expedition
Logistics – the Nuts and Bolts of the Expedition
Three of us made the trip to Peru and our prior climbing experience was as follows. G’Tard and I have been climbing for years and through the course of that effort, we have managed to ascend all or most of the Colorado 14’ers and a number glaciated peaks in the Canadian Rockies. We’ve both hit the 20,000-foot mark in Bolivia and G has the additional experience of Rainier and some Ecuadorian volcanoes. Add to that some winter climbing, a touch of technical rock, and a bit of winter camping in the high country for the both of us.
Jim joined us from Guam and the bulk of his climbing experience is with G’Tard and me in Bolivia and Canada. Jim’s forte is adventure racing and open water paddling so it’s a good change of pace for him to suffer with us in the cold of the mountains as compared to his more familiar jungle environment.
As a group, we’ve climbed together on glaciers and at altitude so there is little worry about conflicts among folk who have not climbed together before. Given that the majority of our time was be spent in camp and not climbing, the gathering of a group able to play Rummy 500 and take on the personal abuse inherent in such a gathering is paramount. We are exactly that type of group.
My Spanish was the primary means of communication, verb conjugations be damned. Two semesters of college Spanish, a couple of trips to Central America, a year working with 20 hands from south of the border, and five years of opportunity to forget it all was the sum total. I know enough to get fed, get gear moved and if Gary uses some of those other words I’ve taught him around the wrong people, we should be able to get ourselves in really hot water. But that’s what Hep B shots are for . . . right?
Seriously . . . I brushed up on the Spanish before the trip when work allowed and even made an attempt to expand the vocabulary a bit, both of which were immensely useful when we later found ourselves in camp with Spanish/Quechua speaking local staff. Harbor no expectations of English speaking porters, cooks, or arrieros and you will not be disappointed.
The same rules apply in Peru as in any other foreign land; a little linguistic effort goes a very long way . . .
Our group has climbed enough to amass most of the gear needed for the relatively warm climbing of the high Andes. We did, however, add a Black Diamond Megamid tent to our gear list. While mountaineering tents are fine for sleeping . . . card playing and eating requires a different kind of shelter. We put the “mid” to the test over the winter and found it to be a viable snow shelter as well as potent social center. In the end, the concept was good but the size was wrong and we ended up using a much larger pyramid for cooking, card playing, and staying dry through the afternoon rains and snows.
Beyond the Megamid, we bought an extra picket or two, made sure everyone had slings and enough biners to pull off a crevasse rescue and replaced some older harnesses and worn out gloves. The complete gear list was pretty much what the outfitters tout but without the duplicity required to tone down the hue and cry of commercial clients suffering through a bit of stinky and damp gear. Our game was to go light, so we cut out the fluff, replaced some older heavier gear but stopped short of making any part of the trip sportingly miserable in a British sort of way.
We used the Alpenvereinkarte maps for the Northern and Southern Cordillera both for trip planning and on the peaks. Obtaining the maps in the U.S. became a drawn out affair, as a major supplier, who shall remain un-named, was first out of stock and then did not seem able to communicate when they would be in stock. Eventually a harshly sarcastic email got their attention and coincidentally our maps came into stock immediately and soon shipped. The lesson we learned is that these maps can be difficult to obtain in the U.S. so if you have the chance to buy them early, do so.
Once we arrived in Huaraz, we found that Alpenvereinkarte maps are available for about the same price from local operators and at the time of our visit, they were not in short supply. Supply in Peru is a roll of the dice, if you ask me.
We learned one thing from the Bolivia trip . . . take one carrier all the way there and choose one with that American flag on the outside of the plane. Given that Jim was coming out of Guam and we from Denver, that signaled a perfect fit with Continental who services both Latin America and the islands of the Pacific. Our US flag carrier fixation was based on the experience of another member of our Bolivia trip who arrived in La Paz after making a switch in Lima onto a South American carrier. You guessed it . . . she made the connection and none of her gear did. Waiting about for the airline to get your stuff together is fine in La Paz where you are sitting at 14k anyway to acclimatize, but we wanted to ensure that we did not spend any extra time in sea level Lima on the front end of the trip.
Continental did the trick and all the luggage got to Lima when we did and all the gear got home equally well. The Lima airport side of the arrival and departure was the usual developing world madhouse, seemingly more so on the outbound leg when the entire group was tired and the flight is scheduled to depart at 11:55 p.m. Why is it that every U.S. bound flight is supposed to depart within minutes of midnight and all arrivals come in at the same time as well? I know there must be a reason but I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.
Regardless, should you choose to climb in Peru, an arrival two hours before the flight out will put you at the back of the line and at the gate just minutes before the scheduled departure. But have no fear; you don’t really think that plane is going to depart Lima on time, do you? Regardless, I’d suggest nail biters allow a bit more that just two hours to negotiate the check in, baggage inspection, departure tax purchase, Peruvian passport control, and gate wait. The good news or bad, depending on your orientation of course, is that the Peruvians, unlike their Bolivian neighbors, do not run their hands up your leg to determine if you are engaged in the export business.
We arranged for transport from the airport to our hotel in Lima before heading south. Hotel Aleman ensured that a taxi was waiting; hence our driver was among the throng that greets every arriving flight. We spotted his sign with my name on it and within minutes we were out of the terminal and hotel bound. The Aleman was in the upscale Miraflores district and the ride from the airport to the hotel took about 45 minutes and cost US$12. A room for three went for US$50 per night and the Aleman is right across from a modern supermarket, i.e. better than all but the best in the States.
Our Hotel had a van and driver who took care of this detail but a roomy taxi would have done the trick just as well. The streets of Lima are crawling with taxis and your wait for a willing driver would not likely take more than about 4.3 seconds, half a minute at worst. Trust me, you stand on the sidewalk with a bag and dizzied look, and you will have a taxi in no time.
The going rate from our Hotel in Miraflores to or from the Movil terminal next to the National Stadium was 8 to 10 soles, a 15-minute ride due mostly to traffic.
Now bear in mind that every long distance bus line has its own station and the time and rate will vary with the time of day and your ability to dicker in Spanish with the taxi driver. I’m the guy who drops to a knee and negotiates eye to eye with the driver before hopping in for the ride. Get the hint . . . the price is set BEFORE the ride starts
Transport from Lima to Huaraz is conveniently provided by a number of bus lines. We chose Movil Tours based on the suggestion of the fellow doing the logistical arrangements for us in Huaraz. There are other lines but he suggested that Movil seemed to be the best operator at this time. Our bus left Lima promptly at 1 p.m. and made the trip to Huaraz in 8 hours.
The bus ride included two movies and a box lunch. The movies we saw were split between fight films and pirated black and white copies of US films. The buses were comfortable, have a pisser if you feel the need, and make the trip to the high country pretty much painless. The cost of a one-way ticket from Lima to Huaraz was a bit over US$13.
The usual words of caution apply to the bus stations as they are the realm of the sneak thief and pickpocket. We were reminded of this by our cabbie and then again by the station staff who alerted us to keep a close eye on the bags. Coincidentally, Movil had an English speaking staff member at the Lima terminal who was able to smooth the ticket pick-up process and get us on our hassle free way.
We selected La Cima Logistics to provide the arrangements for mules, food, cook, porters, rental gear and mountain transportation. La Cima is operated by a Minnesota ex-patriot by the name of Chris Benway and is located in Huaraz. I’ll just come right to the point on Chris’ operation . . . he made the expedition happen. His effort was flawless from start to finish and I could not have asked for more. When we go back, we will use him again without a second thought, no ifs, no ands, and no buts. He proved to be dependable, flexible to the inevitable need to make a change here and there, and he provided local staff that I feel was second to none.
Private transport to/from trailheads:
Transport to and from the valley trailhead was by private bus/taxi, all of which arrived on time at the appointed place and provided smooth transport to or from Huaraz. The operators got the gear on board, secured all in a fit manner and off we went. The run up to the Llanganuco took about three hours and the Ischinca trip about 1½. The going rates at the time of our trip was $70 each way from Huaraz to the Llanganuco trailhead and $50 each way from Huaraz to the Ischinca trailhead.
Arrieros and mules/burros:
We used mules and burros to gear our gear to the base camp in both the Llanganuco and the Ischinca valleys. Again Chris made some arrangements ahead of time and all was ready to go when we got there. The haul up to the Pisco base required five burros to move gear for three climbers, food, kitchen and cook tent. The Llanganuco valley cost was US$35, $10 for the mule driver and $5 per mule/burro. Once we moved to the Ischinca, we needed an extra burro as we had added two porters (yes, this does make sense). The trip up valley took six burros at a cost of US$40 and US$35 for the trip back down, i.e. we finished off the food. By the way, these guys are going to want to be paid in U.S. dollars and any expectation that they make change is sorely misplaced, i.e. take along a few bills smaller than the ubiquitous US$20.
We contracted for a cook to accompany us for 12 days. Though a cook may at first seem to be luxury, it is not. There is just no way that you will have any semblance of a decent meal plan if you have to do the work yourself. Sure, you can haul a load of freeze-dried crap up the hill and wait an eternity for it to cook . . . or you can have well prepared meals when you want them without a second thought as to either the shopping or the preparation.
Our cook was a fellow by the name of Elias and I will ask for him again without a doubt. Elias is a professionally trained cook and I could not prepare as nutritious a meal at home as he does in a camp at 15,000 feet. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, snack, dinner, desert . . . does not matter, it is all good and prepared with continuous attention to sanitation. The going rate for a cook this summer was US$30 per day and that is the best $30 you will ever spend on a climbing trip.
We contracted for porters for the Chopi climb and then when the plans changed, we took them along to the Ischinca valley. Honestly, porters and the Ischinca don’t jibe unless you are heading for 6000-meters but. . . a deal is a deal and we stuck by our side of the bargain. We had two fellows, a father/son team by the name of Joaquin and Joel. Joaquin is an older fellow with a touch of climbing experience, would you believe 118 ascents of Huascaran alone! His son is in his second season in the mountains and the old man is teaching him the ropes. Honestly, when you get to climb with a guy like this, need or no need, you’re going to learn something . . . a new technique or way of looking at a route. This summer, Joaquin’s going rate was US$30 per day and his son came in at US$25 per day.
Rental gear is probably a bit on the pricey side but you are a long way from home and lets be honest, no logistics provider is going to stay in business by giving away the goods. We ended up renting a large pyramid tent for the kitchen, a couple of mountain tents for the cook and porters, kitchen gear, propane, a spare air mattress, and other miscellaneous stuff. Unless you are going to haul this stuff from the US, figure on renting it there, probably with the exception of the tents for staff. If you are going to be out for a while, give thought to just buying a new mountaineering tent because the rent adds up quickly and you will have paid for the better part of a reasonable four season tent by the end of a lengthy stay. Remember also that you provide shelter for your local staff. That means an extra tent or two beyond the needs of your group.
This summer’s cost for the rental gear on a daily basis was:
Now all this stuff is going to add up, fairly quickly, so keep in mind that you can rack up an extra $500 in costs over a two week trip if you end up renting a bunch of stuff. But if you want a cook and a place to eat, this is the price tag beyond his daily wage.
The cost of admission to Huascaran National Park was US$20 per Anglo head. The ticket is good for no less than 30 days even though it says it is good for just seven days.
The cost of food per day was US$10 per person. You will eat well and the growing boys will be satisfied. As for me, an over 40 small stomach kind of guy, I had stood no chance at finishing the portions doled out. You are also going to be paying for the meals of your support staff, i.e. cook, porters, and arrieros who overnight before bringing your gear down to the trailhead. Figure on US$3 per head for cook and porters, arrieros fit in there as well on the night before your descent.
Chris charges a logistics fee to arrange everything on a per head basis. This summer his rate was US$100 per person. As the only Spanish speaker, the job would have otherwise fallen to me and there would have been no other way to quickly drive me to the ground than to have had to make all these arrangements immediately upon arrival in Huaraz. Bear in mind, that we had two weeks to climb and not a whole lot of time to diddy-bop around Huaraz locating the cheapest this and the cheapest that. Instead, we paid for someone else to have the headaches, someone much more qualified, in the know, and well-connected to very good help.
We stayed at a small hotel run by Chris’ mother in law. Clean, secure, friendly, and centrally located are the key words. Enough showers and WC’s to go around, a touch of hot water and no complaints on our part. The going rate was US$5 per person per day.
Two weeks of climbing including all of the above starting and finishing at the Movil terminal in Lima . . .$800 per head. That’s about 1/3 the going rate to have the commercial guide sweat the details while you have to put up with him telling you where to go, what to do, and when to go to the can. Been there, done that, not going to do it any more.
Finally, A Word About Money:
New bills. Read it again, new bills and no excuses. A $100 dollar bill with a stain and a tear is worth exactly $100 in the U.S. In Peru it is worth exactly nothing. The cash you take must be clean and if you have half a brain, that translates to new. For you “wall bankers” this means you need to walk into the bank and face a real live body to ask for clean bills. You can do it, the tellers will give them to you and you will be happy that you did. Show up without them and well . . . you’re screwed.
The upscale grocery stores and restaurants in Lima will take either US dollars or Peruvian soles. Expect your change in soles, however some upscale grocers also give change in dollars, if you ask. Restaurants in Huaraz will take both and give an exchange relatively close to the going rate, expect the change in soles. Currency exchange is readily available in banks, casas de cambio and on the street corner, depending upon your sense of adventure. Lima ATMs were giving dollars or soles, your choice.