Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cordiliera Blanca - Pisco, First Mountain

Upon our arrival to Huaraz, the Chamonix of Peru, we decided to start our mountaineering with Pisco, one of the easiest mountains at only 5 760 meters at the summit. Still the highest point we both ever climbed up to. Below is the mountain, the Normal route climbs the long ridge on the left of the picture.

It has been named Pisco because of the famous Peruvian alcohol, pisco, consumed immoderately to celebrate the first ascent. Pisco was actually born when the Spanish king forbade the peruvians to make wine because it competed with production back home. The peruvians invented this crystal-clear alcohol to compensate. The best part about pisco is Pisco Sour, the cocktail with lime and egg white, the delicious invention definitely worth a try or two.

Back to our mountain, one of the reasons why Cordiliera Blanca is so popular with the mountaineers is the ease of the approaches. It does not boast the lifts of the Alps, but it is also far from several days of trekking necessary in the Himalayas. 1.5 hour combi ride from Huaraz to Yungay, and another 1.5 hour cab ride up the Llanganuco valley gets one to the base of the approach, at around 3 900 meters. The view of Chopicalqui, another 6 000-ender around, from the glacier:

At the end of the Llanganuco valley, at the taxi stop, several burros and their arrieros (mules and their drivers) await to carry your bags up to the Refugio and the base camp at 4 600 meters. Proud and poor, we became self-made sherpas and carried the heavy backpacks up, to the moraine camp at 4 900 meters. Around 4-5 hour effort that requires to be acclimatized to the altitude and in full possession of the carrying enthusiasm! The destination, cold and high moraine camp:

The reward, as always in the mountains, of this high camp, are the views, especially at the sunset. This is Chopicalqui, again, just as the moon appeared and the clouds settled in at around 6 pm (it is dark early here as it is winter now in the Southern hemisphere):

The next day, the departure is at around 2 - 3 am, the usual mountaineering obligation. The climbing is mainly walking, with a couple of cravasses to negotiate on the way. We had around 8 japanese tourists roped together just in front of us (Pisco with Ishinca and Urus are the most popular guided excursions for the wealthy thrill-lovers), that were even harder to negotiate than the crevasses. This is the ´road´to the top:

The altitude finally got to us a couple of hundred meters below the summit, making the last 200 meters a grueling and slow affair. I dragged Renaud and he dragged me, and somehow we made it to the top. The 360 degree panorama, just as the sun started rising, is rewarding. Below is myself with Huascaran Sur and Norte (the highest mountain in Peru at 6 740 meters) in the background.

The way down is quick except for the only technical difficulty of the route, just after the summit, a 20 meter snow slope to downclimb or rappel on the interesting-looking cornice. That much for the thrill of the first mountain!

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