Nevado Pisco, Urus & Ischinca Expedition
Relocation to the Ishinca Valley
Day 11 – A Bad Weather Rest Day:
July 11, 2004
Our first dawn in the Ischinca valley was a repeat of our first morning in the Llanganuco, snow. The trip up from Pachpa was a haul so we had agreed that the next day would be a rest day, therefore four inches of heavy wet snow did not make much of a difference. We made our way to the cook tent and shrugged our shoulders in tandem with Elias and crew. What was with this weather? The day was a good rest opportunity, nevertheless we hiked around a little bit but with spurts of rain and snow, there was little enthusiasm to do much more wandering than to the Refugio and back in search of an Inca Cola. Oh, how could I forget, we dug a really nice pit toilet . . .
By evening, we had started to get hints of a good weather day in the cards and we hoped that with the coming of the evening the weather would settle down and show us some stars by midnight or so. To our surprise, the clouds continued to thin after dinner and soon after dark, the clouds broke up for the stars to push through with a dull light here and there. That was good news, as we were all ready to climb something and Ischinca was the plan.
Our goal was to do the climb in a single day though groups often break the trip into a two day affair with a high camp about 2/3 of the distance to the glacier. The high camp spot is flat, sandy and inviting but once again we were looking at the same scenarios as we did on Pisco . . . go high, get weathered in and sit it out high, on food packed in. The Ischinca climb just was not long enough to justify the effort to move even a minimal camp given that we did Pisco from base camp and now we had a pair of porters bored out of their skulls. No intermediate camp was in the cards.
My nocturnal pee trip closed the debate . . . all stars . . . the climb was on.
Day 12 – Ishinca Climb:
July 12, 2004
Ishinca is not visible from the base camp; so an alpine start is required to get the approach over with. We knew that the trip to the toe of the glacier was going to take about three hours so the alarm was set for 1 a.m., making for a 2 a.m. departure. Elias of course was up and had a light breakfast on the burro box for the five of us about to head out for the day. Joaquin and Joelle had previously gathered the crampons, ice axes and ropes while we packed minimnal gear to make for a light approach. The weight division was really not that important as we had already the wholelugged the lot up Pisco but Joaquin was absolutely insistent and since the portering deal had been cut, we stuck with the program.
The trail to Ishinca leaves from the boulder cave on the lower edge of the base camp and traverses up the hill and through a series of switchbacks until it gains a bit of altitude. We were not the first out as another group was perhaps five minutes ahead of us but we were definitely on the early side and moving at a good pace. We passed the others as the trail turned and began its course up the canyon that leads directly to the base of Ishinca. The trail climbs continuously through another series of switchbacks before arriving at the sandy patch where some groups choose to make their high camp. Since it was dark, we passed through this spot with little notice though later on the return I realized that tents stood but a few feet from the path were had earlier used.
The trail continues to climb through yet another but shorter series of switchbacks before attaining the basin below the glacier proper. The trail then crosses up and over small moraine humps here and there and crosses the melt water stream a time or two before again climbing a short pitch and stopping at the toe of the glacier. We were early and it was still quite dark but our watches told us that dawn was not far off. This really did not make my day as it was cold, my bowels were churning and we did not really see where the trail started up the glacier and oh hell, is this supposed to be fun? I recognized that the thought pattern I just described was an indicator of – a bonk, plain and simple. That was not what I wanted so I figured I would just power through it until the sun came up. For me, the sun is like an early morning dose of Prozac, if the alpine start has got me down, the sun will most always bring me back around.
The first step in stopping the bonk, for me at least, is a healthy sh&%. That was what I took care of as the rest of the gang got their gear together and made ready to climb. That task complete, I wrestled through the stuff in my pack and set the rope up for three climbers. We had two ropes and the idea was to put Joaquin and Joelle on one and the three of us on the other. Joaquin and Joelle would have most of the weight while G concentrated on shooting video of the climb. I would lead; Jim would take the center and G the rear. We still had not spotted the herd trail up the glacier so once we were ready, I lead off on virgin ice, figuring to cut the route once the sun was up and we had crossed the first crest of ice. That was the plan.
We got to the top of the first rise, perhaps 50 yards up the glacier and I had simply had enough. I knew the feeling of a bad climb coming on and having not heeded the same feeling a few years earlier, I also knew the consequences of continuing on with the climb. I’m sure all would have been fine but there was just no joy in the process at all. Usually when I get on the ice, I’m psyched but not this morning. The excitement of the snow climb ahead, the summit in the distance and the offer of a beautiful day out was gone, just absent. The bonk was on. I stopped and told Jim and G that I was done and that we needed to rework the rope into a two-person configuration. Gary came forward and took my coils while Jim stayed in place, now on the rear of the rope. I handed off the coils and a few slings and then headed on back down the short pitch to the rock below while G and Jim continued onward. Joaquin and Joelle had taken the lead and the other two were catching up as I reached the moraine below.
I dropped my harness into the pack and sat for a bit to drink and eat. Right move or wrong? Day wasted or day saved? Well, turning around on a sweet climb thousands of miles from home is a tough move but in this case the right move. I watched the two ropes heading up and still was not moved to climb. Right move confirmed. In the meantime, the two groups made their way over the humps and rolls of the glacier heading for the icefall that separated them from the more flat summit ridge. I watched them continue up and then they slowed as they moved through the icefall, coming together at one point and then separating again before ascending to the skyline ridge proper. In the mean time I had descended down to the moraine flats below the higher bivy hut and the flanks of Ranrapalca.
After I turned for home, the others continued over the glacier and into the icefall. The route through the icefall was a steep climb but once they got to the summit ridge the angle lessened until just before the summit. Gary led the single rope length pitch and brought Jim up after him. The climbing was on great snow and the rope a comfort given the large exposure that accompanied the pitch. Joaquin and Joelle followed as they had fallen behind when Joelle had to retrace his steps to recover a snow picket used to protect a stretch of the route through the icefall. For Joelle it was a school day as Joaquin made him rappel back down to get the picket. The group spent a bit of time on the summit on this bluebird climbing day, not a cloud in the sky and 18,000 feet up.
Ishinca has two routes to the summit and our group had chosen to ascend the Northeast Ridge and then descend the Northwest Ridge. The guidebook says that crevasses are less of an issue on the NE route, our route for the climb up. The plan was to do the climb as a traverse so G and crew readied for the trip down the opposite side of the peak. As they made a protected descent off the summit pyramid they noticed that one of the climbers in a group coming up, suddenly dropped out of sight. The guy had located a crevasse the hard way, but that is the nature of roped climbing on the glacier. Been there . . . done that. Both ropes continued down and crossed the gently rolling glacier to drop off onto the moraine above the high bivy hut. Then they descended the moraine to the trail below. Jim just loves moraines and was probably the happiest guy in the valley when he finally dropped onto the hard beaten path.
Elias covered the dinner angle with skill as usual, sopa, cena and postre. We followed dinner with more Rummy 500 and discussed the plan for the next day. The climbing group was tired so a shot at Urus was not in the plan. However, a total sit out day was not going to be any fun either. We agreed that a good day hike would be good for the tired and the rested, so we planned to make the climb to the vicinity of the glacier camp on Tocollaraju to both wring out the legs and give us a look at the route to the top of that 6000 meter peak.