Trek to Pachaspata Camp
June 16, 2011
Our next move would position us for an acclimatization climb of Nevado Campa I and then, if our luck held, a climb to the ridge and perhaps a summit shot on Santa Catalina, also known as Mariposa. The day's trek would involve a move of about 8 more miles, but without too much elevation gain, probably no more than 1000 feet. We would leave the hot pool behind for a protected spot below 16,700 foot Campa Pass but regardless of protection, we would endure four rather cold nights as the stable weather that normally occurs at this time of year was replaced by afternoon instability and unseasonably cold nights.
We had breakfast at about 7 a.m., the timing pretty much set to coincide with the arrival of the sun hit on the camp. Something about that sun hit makes the world a happier place and as we ate breakfast, Leo and Rocque set about breaking the camp and lining up the loads for the pack train. The horses were gathered up and we too saddled up with our day packs right as the crew began to break down the mess and cook tents and Domingo finished packing the kitchen gear. We headed on up the valley on a solid trail, up and down along the rocky edge of the valley until we came to a fork in the valley which we could survey from a piece of high ground.
During my photo recon of the route via Google Earth, I'd taken an educated guess that we would take the left fork but I did not have the advanced knowledge of Leo and Rocque who had a perfect camp spot picked out at the head of the right fork. Their advice was to trek to a camp site called Pachaspata, consisting of a flat area and old corral, a spot that offered both shelter from the cold air coming down from glaciers nestled at the heads of adjacent valleys and prmised to be below the snow line. I was unsure of the snow line elevations at this time of year and had not gotten a solid read from Google aerials as they appeared to show a snowy crossing of Campa Pass, a route we would eventually have to take.
The trek up the right valley took us past herds of grazing alpaca and an occasional farmstead, mostly seasonal refuges for the herders grazing their flocks in the highest reaches of the valley. We stopped for a snack about halfway up the right leg and then moved on across a low boggy area having a small flock of Andean geese. The boggy areas were similar to those we found in the Apolobamba, large cushions of soft mossy ground with inset streams running and cutting through the wetlands. Most of these steams are inset into a cut a few feet deep and they are generally crossed by hopping from cushion to cushion. We made a dry foot crossing and as we climbed a moraine like ridge on the other side, the pack train came into sight behind us, moving quickly to play through.
Once Leo and Rocque passed us, we knew there was a good chance we were nearing the Pachaspata camp. There was just no way we would arrive first simpy because, as earlier stated, the pack train's earlier arrival seems to be a hard and fast rule. We were now at a bit over 15,500 feet in elevation and right after traversing a semi dry lake, we passed to the lower side of an unused stone corral. Leo and Rocque were dropping gear to make camp. We had arrived at the base from which we would climb Nevado Campa, hoped to climb Mariposa and then would depart to cross over Campa Pass and drop into the far valley that would eventually lead us to a third climb and the extended trek to our departure trail head.
After a bit of a rest and a touch of Inca Cola, the crew had the camp set and we had erected our individual tents for the multi day stay we anticipated for this camp. Given that we were planning to climb Nevado Campa, a 18,150 peak the next day,we grabbed a snack and some water and proceeded up the trail toward Campa Pass, figuring to scope out the approach that we knew we would do at least a portion of in the dark the next morning. We knew that the climb of Campa left the trail at just about the high point of the pass but figured an eyeball of the route would give us a bit of an idea of what glacier conditions we were likely to encounter the next day. We walked about a mile up the trail toward the pass, climbing to about 16,100 feet and were able to determine that the glacier looked to be in good shape and that the climb likely had an obvious route within our ability. We also got a look at the 5800+ meter peaks that rose on the opposite side of the pass and determined, after looking at the fluted ridges and overhanging seracs, that these peaks were not on our list.
We returned to camp and pre-packed the gear we would need to make a glacier climb the next day. We elected to take only an 8mm ice line and a light assortment of hardware with one picket and one ice screw per climber. We all took the requisite crevasse rescue gear but owing to the early season and appearance of snow filled crevasses, we anticipated a minimal chance of having to haul someone from the darkness of a crevasse. Domingo set us up with a good dinner and afterward we sat around the mess tent for an hour or so before heading for bed. . . the alarm would go off sooner than any of us desired.