Nevado Pisco, Urus & Ischinca Expedition
Relocation to the Ischinca Valley
Day 9 – Return to Huaraz:
July 9, 2004
Elias was on a roll, having already made a trip to the base of the valley and returned. He had food ready to go and after taking a quick bite, we made ourselves ready to go as well. The arriero arrived by 8 and after grabbing a bit to eat, he and Elias broke the communal portion of the camp while we each took care of readying our tents and gear for the mules that were now milling about the hillside below the Refugio. By 8:30 gear was going on their backs and once they were loaded, we bid adieu to the Pisco Base Camp and headed for the curve in the road a few miles away.
The trip down was the usual knee jar but one has to temper that thought with the realization that for every foot you descend, there is more air the breathe. I may be wrong but I also think the sense of smell is less at altitude or there are simply fewer things to sniff. Either way, it sure seemed like the lower valley had scents that we had not been aware of for the high altitude days. We stopped along the way for photos and to chat with a couple of local guides about climbs off the beaten trail. They were heading up with a older Japanese group that had set its sights on Pisco. We were curious as to just how many people go to climb the Huandoys and Chacaraju . . . the guides advised that few do and those that do were on their own as far as the local talent was concerned. Jim also took the opportunity to jest with an older Japanese climber who asked what country we were from. We told him the U.S. and then Jim looked at him in a curious way as asked him what country he was from. Puzzlement moved to his face so he answered we feigned looks of surprise. You might as well have fun on the trip down as well as the climb up . . .
Chris had arranged a ride as communicated and we pushed and shoved all of the gear into two Toyota taxis that displayed “La Cima Logistics” placards in the windows. Push and shove was the name of the game but eventually everything was loaded and we set off for Huaraz. We chatted with the driver a bit and kept our eyes open for the viscachas that had to be just out of eyesight. We had seen one timid individual up at the Pisco camp and noted that, unlike Bolivia, they were not all over the place. Of course, the pastures leading to the Condoriri camp are also filled with herds of Alpacas and Llamas, two species we had seen not a one of in Peru so far. The Llanganuco; however, does have vicuna and we did see a group of perhaps one half dozen on the heights above our camp late one afternoon. We headed on down the Llanganuco valley and just before dropping into Yungay, we got the driver to pull over so we could hop out and look at the mound that now covers the old town of Yungay.
From Yungay to Huaraz we were just along for the ride except for our discovery of the Peruvian singer Sonia Morales. This popular singer is from a village near Huaraz so the driver had a Sonia Morales CD in his player. We gave it a listen and were more fascinated by the announcer’s constant repetition of her name throughout the CD and the reverbertory Latin style in which it was constantly repeated than the music itself. Regardless, Sonia Morales won a place in the collective memory of the group. The taxi pulled up to the Familia Mesa accommodation a bit after 3 in the afternoon and we headed in to dump gear and get a shower. There was hot water for all (pink bathroom, upstairs if you go) and then we caught up with Chris to straighten out the mess we had made of his well-planned logistical schedule.
It was now Friday and the original plan called for us to have had a rest day or second shot at Pisco’s summit followed the next day by the long traverse to the Chopi base camp. We had porters arranged for the Chopi climb from base camp to the high snow camp and return. Now instead of meeting the porters along the road to Chopi, they were meeting us here in Huaraz for our trip to the Ischinca valley. However; we were now heading for a couple of climbs where porters are not traditionally used as there really is no need to move to higher camps or otherwise hump a large amount of gear around on a non burro basis. However, we were the ones who made the change of plans and our two porters had signed on for the job. We all agreed that a deal was a deal and the porters would go with us to the Ischinca need or no need. We made the right business decision and having the porters along was a good arrangement after all.
Chris had contracted with a fellow by the name of Joaquin and his son, Joelle. Joaquin is a seasoned professional with 118 climbs on Huascaran. If a name has climbed in Peru over the past 30 years, I have little doubt Joaquin played some part in their getting up the mountain. Joelle is Joaquin’s son and this was his second year working in the mountains. Dad is teaching him the ropes and the ways of the gringo, as each nationality is a bit different in their expectations of just what the local staff will do and where staff fits into the expedition hierarchy. Our scenario was simple, one big group, everyone on a par and have a good time. There was no differentiation in our camp, the Pisco went to all, the insults eventually flowed from all, and everyone was a diehard Sonia Morales fan by the end of the trip.
We reorganized the trip plan and agreed on an 8 a.m. departure the next morning. Our next goal was dinner and our plan was now to go back out and find the Thai restaurant that we had missed on the first night out. No more skullcap/dreadlock Thai, we wanted the real thing from the restaurant up the hill about 4 blocks away. We found it and Jim played the role of culinary pathfinder, explaining what dish was what and just how hot we should expect the next days mountain dues to be. The food was excellent and if you are into Thai food and pass through Huaraz, look the place up, you will not be let down. Then it was back to the Familia Mesa and a decent night’s sleep before gathering all the gear up once more and going out for another week . . . in the Ischinca valley.
Day 10 – The Trip to Ischinca Base Camp:
July 8, 2004
The seven a.m. alarm came soon enough and we gathered our stuff and got it down to the iron gate to start loading up for the trip to the Ischinca. The game plan was the same but we would now be six-burro outfit with eight members, six people and two chickens. The chickens would play a vital role in the trip, as they would ensure that meals toward the end of the stay in the valley would not be bland but instead would be of the fresh variety. We loaded up another Toyota four-wheel drive van and soon we were off toward the Ischinca in pursuit of Urus, Ischinca and maybe even Tocollarju.
Our primary game plan was to do the two 18,000-foot peaks, Urus and Ischinca, and then fit Tocollarju in if the conditions fit and if we were feeling up to it. At this point the health of the gang as a whole was not the best. Gary was the odd man out being in perfect health, while I was no doing so well below the waist and Jim was fighting a nasty chest cold that just took hold and would not let go. We figured that would make for a challenge but hoped that everyone would kick whatever ailment they had and get in some good climbing.
The ride took us out of Huaraz along the same stretch of road as before but we turned off much sooner and started up a much less developed dirt track leading ever upward to our drop off point. We passed the locals going here and there but this was a Saturday so we also passed a number of groups of campesinos working on the roadbed. All was well with the first pass or two then about the third pass, a shovel full of dirt hit the back of the truck as we passed the work zone. The fourth work zone brought a complete halt and no effort by the local crew to let the van pass. The only effort made was to throw shovel fulls of dirt and rock into the road and give some mean stares at the driver. Eventually, our driver asked to be let through and since my Quecha is not too good, I have to interpret by tone and facial expression. My read was a response some where along the darker side of screw off. We sat while they kind of gathered into a couple of angry clumps before Elias settled the matter once and for all with a monetary offering that reversed all the hard feelings and off we went.
Now that the bush league roadblock was behind us, we kept winding up and up and up until we arrived in the small hamlet of Pachpa. We pulled into the square and bailed out of the van to the delight of kids playing on a nearby dirt pile and the stares of older residents, likely those not immediately involved in the arriero business. The mule guy showed up within just a few minutes and soon a group of kids were gathering mules and burros from a nearby pasture to provide transport to the Ischinca. The gear was once again sorted by weight and bulk and the appropriate animal selected for each load. This time it would be a six-burro haul and after perhaps 45 minutes the pack train was ready to leave the station.
The mules were lead off in one direction while we took a shortcut through the back of the village following Joaquin. Now keep in mind that Joaquin is in the lead and he has been up Huascaran . . . Needless to say we left at a good clip and within but two minutes I was starting to wonder how I would possibly survive the next five minutes not to mention the whole 4 hour hike up to the base camp. It was suddenly clear that we should have taken a rest day in Huaraz while we had the chance. Regardless, we passed pastures and fields, outlined by stonewalls, likely built a very long time ago and then continued along a wide grassy road. Ahead of us lay the mouths of three distinct valleys but we did not know just which one we were aiming for. The answer was of course very obvious, the one furthest away.
The trail makes its way along a flat ridge before dropping down to cross an aqueduct and then climbs steeply before again mellowing to wind along at about the same contour most all the way to the mouth of the Ischinca. The entry to the valley comes with a sudden drop down to a more traveled route, the main trail leading up from the village of Colon. We knew of Colon from the climbing guides that mention Colon as the trailhead and an arriero pick-up point. But as we would later learn, being dropped at Pachpa is a blessing due to the relatively flat valley traverse made to the valley mouth as compared the bust ass hump up from Colon. (Hint!)
Right as we started up the valley proper, the afternoon weather, i.e. rain and snow, began. We stopped long enough to don a rain layer and then continue the trudge up through the tree-lined trail slowly climbing up the valley. After perhaps a mile, we reached the Huascaran Park entry station and ducked into the stone cottage where the rangers took a look at our passes and let us sign the registry. This brief respite from the now pouring rain was more than welcome at this point but the rest was short lived as another group arrived and we grabbed our packs to keep moving up the valley. We knew this is one beautiful valley but we could see little due to the low clouds now hugging the steep walls on both sides of us.
The trail is rarely steep but it is continuously climbing. After a bit, the valley flattens a bit and after perhaps the half way point the valley bottom is quite wide. One continues on and eventually the last uphill comes into sight and beyond that, thank God, is the Ischinca base camp. We really needed a rest day and this approach graphically demonstrated that my trots and Jim’s mucous laden chest was taking a toll. We dragged into the camp and headed for the cook tent that Joaquin, Joelle, and Elias had already erected to get some hot tea. The skies were still spitting and the clouds were low enough that there was no viewing of the 18,000-foot peaks on either side of the camp.
The camping here is not on a bog but instead a sandy delta generated by the outburst of a lake through the moraine that forms the head of the valley. The sandy delta makes for flat camping and one need only find a spot not too obscured by cow pies. The terrain is cut by the various channels of the glacial stream coming down from the Ischinca, Tocollaraju and Pacallaraju glaciers so any movement between your camp and those of others, necessitates stream hopping. The population of the base camp was pretty large, perhaps 30 tents in all and don’t forget the same outfit that has the Refugio below Pisco has one here as well.
Our spot was well separated from the others and soon enough we had four sleeping tents and a cook tent in place. Elias was busy with dinner, Joaquin was sorting through stuff and we were getting the Rummy 500 tournament started. We soon found out that Joelle was no stranger to the game and within no time the cards were falling and the personal barbs flying. Dinner came next and then shots of Bacardi for the gang in a well-received toast to Sonia Morales and the wish that the evenings snow squall would be light and followed by a 48 hour climbing window.