Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mt Condoriri

Condoriri: 4/25-26/2007


I danced to that mountain
To present to it my truth, unguarded.
The llamas butted and mounted each other in rut
As I danced
Invincible love to Condoriri, and myself.
Thank you for my lost control, my childish
Tantrum and stubbornness.
Thank you for not allowing me to practice with you, to climb you.
And thank you for making me run away,
For chasing me off with thunder and biting hail
My hands gloveless
Felt each piercing stab as I,
Joyful, was reminded
To Respect.


Skipping stones
Skipping stones
Throwing circles in
The clear clean mirror
Of Condoriri;
Its broad wings soaring
Its head and white breast
Shine under a
Midnight dust of snow
One, two, three
Ripples blur these
Stunning heights

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mt Huayna Potosi, Bolivia

Huayna Potosi: 4/21-22/2007

The high snow mountains of the Cordillera Real are sacred to the Inca and modern campesinos because they control the weather. They bring water/fertility to the high altiplano, but also destruction: hail storms, floods, lightning storms. The mountains themselves are spirits. They can be moody, and need to be pacified with offerings and treated with respect. Of Huayna Potosi, some say matter of factly, “Occasionally the mountain needs to eat someone.”

Huayna Potosi (6094 m, 19,974 ft), is probably Bolivia’s most frequently climbed glaciated mountain. Almost every one of the kazillion tour agencies in La Paz offers a ‘guided’ climb of this prominent pyramid shaped peak. The name Huayna Potosi means “young riches”. And they certainly treat tourists as a source of Potosi when it comes to climbing the young one.

We climbed an interesting alternative route, one that no one would be on. The Ruta Francesa climbs to a different peak than the normal route, and is dramatic and steep. It scales the south east face up to the South summit, the Pico Sur. That face climb was interesting… up to 60 degrees in pitch, and the snow quality just degraded as we got higher. About 400 feet from the top, we changed tactics and started leading pitches with placed protection instead of simul-climbing. However, when our guide led, he would take off immediately and not place any pro until the anchor… running out ~150 feet of rope in snow conditions where a fall could mean disaster for the whole group. After this we asked to put him on belay at least… hmmmm, interesting!

When we safely made it to the summit, we were surprised to find that the whole summit was a very sharp, knife edge, ridge of snow. It dropped even more steeply on the other side, about 150 feet to a nice wide plateau. Straddling the ridge, we set up another anchor and belayed the climb down to the plateau.

The morning sun was extremely bright and hot for the l o n g walk down (we walked the normal route down). When we finally got back to the refuge, and out of the glare, we had a snack and packed up our stuff for the walk back to the taxis. Stepping outside again, we were startled to find that it was all cloudy, and snowing! How does it go from that much sun to snowing in about 45 min!?

Route description: Follow the marked trail up the rocky south side to the high Refugio. From the Refugio, walk directly onto the glacier and follow the well worn normal route up the ridge. Soon, the normal route crosses over the ridge to climbers right and continues across a broad bowl. Then it turns left over an obvious knoll and onto a wide gently sloping plane with a prominent ridge to the right and the south east face visible directly ahead. When the normal route makes a right turn, over a crevasse, and up the steep slope to gain the ridge on the right, make a left instead and work your way leftward and up through the crevasse field to the base of the south east face. Climb directly up the south east face to the visible peek. Rappel or downclimb the short north west side to a plateau, then move east down to join the normal route for the decent.

A challenging and beautiful climb, on a truly amiable and welcoming mountain.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mt Ilimani

Ilimani: 4/15-18/2007

It is 4:00 am, an icy wind blows over the snow, we are above 20,000 feet, laboriously walking with each step breaking through a 3 inch crust. Under that crust is about 2 or 3 feet of sugar (ice crystals with no adhesion). Ahead is steepening up to crevasse wall, but looks like there is a way around it on the right. Breathing heavy, I take a step… I break through and fall back to where I started… I take another step, this one holds… another step. As we get higher, these snow conditions just get worse and worse. This crust is thick enough and strong enough that avalanche isn’t the main concern… the growing concern is protecting a fall on these steeper parts. The thick crust probably would not break through if you fell, you would just slide on top of it. Self arresting with ice axes is out of the question; the knife will just slice through this crust, and there is nothing to grab onto underneath. And the sugar isn’t going to hold pickets either… maybe if we dig down through it to whatever is under that… maybe. At this point our local guide stops and we all gather to confer about the conditions. We discuss the avalanche danger, and we discuss the potential scenarios given someone falling. Grrrrrrr….. a tough decision is made…. Grrrr… we turn around.

Ilimani (6462 m / 21,195 ft) holds a vital place in the lives and history of both the Aymara and Quechua people in Bolivia and Peru. Ilimani is an Apu. An Apu is a God, a person, and a mountain, all at the same time. Ilimani isn’t just any Apu either… it is the great Achachila and Wirajocho, the “King of the High Mountains of the Cordiellera Real” and also “Great God Owner of Water”. Every year, in August, a ceremonial sacrifice of a white llama is made to Apu Ilimani. The blood represents richness, and is given in the hope that Ilimani will provide sufficient water for the year. After the ceremony are lively fiestas, in towns all around the mountain, with music and dances with white banners. Ilimani or Achachila or Wirajocho, what ever name it carries, is revered as the chief of the mountains/Apus, owner of all the forces of nature.

To walk on, or climb Ilimani, it is important to ask its permission, and to make offerings so that you can safely pass. In respect, we made offerings of corn, coca leaves, and pisco (grape liquor) at the base of the mountain. Our offerings were accepted by the Apu, in that we safely slept, climbed, and descended on the mountain, but it did not permit us to make it to the summit.

Two days ago, we drove on the long bumpy dirt road (for 4 hours) to a little pueblo on the west side of the mountain. When we arrived, our muleteers, a family living in the pueblo, got two horses and a burro ready to carry our gear to the base camp. One of the horses was new to carrying gear, the one with my and Rod’s back packs on it, and flipped out on us. In wild panic, the horse started running up the road and around the field. Our packs slipped off its back and were being dragged on the ground until finally the horse fell onto the road and it’s reins grabbed a hold of. To the best of my knowledge, the horse was ok, but my back pack was not. The horse fell onto it and broke the metal frame (It also dented my titanium flask full of coca liqueur… bummer). After packing our gear onto the burro, we set off for the base camp, the animal handlers that came with us, our muleteers, were a 14 year old girl, in skirt and plastic sandals, and her 10 year old younger sister (also in skirt and plastic sandals). They were both very shy, and giggly.

We made base camp in a beautiful open green meadow. Black and white llamas were feeding as we set up our tents. We watched the girls and animals walk back home under a fabulous sunset. The next morning we dried our dew covered tents, sleeping bags, and gear in the sun as we waited for the porters to show up. They are supposed to carry our heavy gear up to a high camp today. Soon we see three women in skirts and an old man (all in plastic sandals) walking across the meadow toward us. It certainly was humbling to watch these women pick up our heavy packs, strap them onto their backs, and with smiles and laughter, set off up the trail... especially when they were going up faster than we were.

Rod sinking to a New Low:
The high camp is on a flat, snow covered spot on the long narrow ridge up the south west face (elevation about 5500 m). Dinner that night gave us an amusing reminder of how low we’ve sunk, eating in Bolivia. Our dinner consisted of a big bowl of instant mashed potatoes with butter, and three boiled hotdogs. To spice it up a bit, we had some ketchup. I am not able to eat my whole portion, and have a half a hotdog sticking out my potatoes. Rod grabs my hotdog, pops it into his mouth in one shot, and exclaims delightedly (and honestly)…”Yumm!!” That is how far it has gone.

That night, at midnight, we woke up, ate a bit, and started our attempt to reach the summit. It was cold and windy, and clear skys made the southern cross and milkyway almost blinding. With not too much further to go (at about 6050 m), we turned around. Back in camp, I was so cold from the decent, that I got into my -20 degree (Fahrenheit) down sleeping bag, and shivered for an hour before falling asleep!! Later in the day, we rapelled down the snow fields to the south of the ridge as far as we could (10 pitches). Anything to minimize the knee destroying walk down the steep rocky trail.

When we made it back to the little pueblo that evening, we set up our tents by the house of the muleteer/porter family. They offered yesterday to kill a lamb for us and have a lamb and potatoes dinner waiting for our return. They set up a blanket on the ground for us to sit on, and laid another blanket, heaped with potatoes and pieces of lamb, on the ground in front of us. They cooked the lamb and potatoes in a rock lined hole in their field, with a fire above it. The potatoes and lamb were very plain, no spices, oil, or salt, yet were simply tasty. We sat on the ground eating with our fingers, sometimes swatting off chickens, dogs, donkeys, cows, or horses, who where interested in getting some scraps. The family was very friendly, and the children (there were many) spent the meal mostly staring at us. When I would smile or say something to one of the kids, they would shyly giggle and run away. One brave little boy started playing with Rod… they were growling at each other and making tiger claws. That same little boy stood outside our tent growling at us as we tried to go to sleep that night… he thought he was really funny.

In the morning, the taxi came to take us back to La Paz. Waving goodbye to the family, we thought our adventure was at an end… little did we know. About 20 min into the bumpy drive, the driver stopped the car and popped the hood. What is going on?...the accelerator cable had broken. So all the men hunched over the engine, pulling wires, and jabbering excitedly. Soon a nylon rope appeared, some wire, and a pair of pliers. They rigged the wire to the accelerator, and the rope through the passenger window. The guide sat in the passenger seat pulling on the rope to press the gas. The driver worked the clutch, steered, and directed the gas pulling… true team driving! And this went on for 4 hours on steep, narrow, 1000 foot drop exposed, dirt roads! When we finally made it back to La Paz, everyone was a little frazzled and tired, but all generally pleased about the grand adventure with the great Apu Ilimani.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mt Chicon

Chicon: 4/10-12/2007

Because of rainy weather and several staggared illnesses, we have not climbed anthing big yet in Bolivia or Peru. We have done some trecking and a bit of rock climbing, but any aclimization we had from the big peaks in Ecuador is gone (although we have been hanging out at around 12,000 feet for a month and a half). So before we go to climb Ilimani, we are going to climb Chicon (5530 m, 18,143 ft) as a warm up. Chicon is a glaciated mountain on the North side of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, outside of Cuzco. This mountain is not often climbed, so we got a local guy, Daniel, to join us and show us the way.

Overall this climb is not technical. The approach however, the climb up the valley, is difficult to find, and a brutal bush-whack. We would not have found it without a local guide. Trudging through the snowy, slippery bunch grasses, avoiding tarantulas on the rocks, and navigating the waterfall covered cliff faces, was tiring and demanding. Once above tree-line, the climb was beautiful and relatively simple. A great acclimation trip. Great views.

Route description:
We get a taxi from Urubamba, up the Chicon valley, to the end of the road. After walking a short way up the valley we scale a narrow ridge on the South side, then traverse and climb steep grasslands to a small col partway up the mountainside. We stop here for some lunch. From here we can see a large talus moraine up along the right side of the cliff-lined valley, leading to a col at the head of the valley. We traverse in the grasslands below the moraine, and head to the col. There are camping spots on the col, but no reliable source of water. We fill up along the way.

From the camp (at about 2:00 am), we continue to head up, staying slightly right, and moving over various morains (2 hrs). When you get to the top of the valley, where there are some creeks from the glaciers, and good views of the glaciers, you see two main peaks. The summit of Chicon is not the prominant peak on the right, it is the one on the left, or in the center of the glaciers... there is a valley with a glacier between the two peaks. Head to the base of the glacier to the left of the Chicon summit. This is a 35 degree, broad rise that becomes less steep, and even wider, above. We head strait up, and then right to cross the glacier field (2.5hr). At the top of the field, move right again to climb up the ridge (the climb may be behind a cornice) to the rocky summit (1 hr).

Friday, April 6, 2007

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu: 4/5/2007

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu... what is there to say...?!!
Awe-inspiring, Mesmerizing, Rocky, Steep Steps, Jungle Smelling, Powerful, Mysterious, Light-filled, Remarkable, Suprising, Evocative?
None of these do it justice.
Enjoy the photos!!

crazy cool rock work

the terraces used for farming corn, beans, quinua, etc...

Rod navigating the steep steps

Shelly walking up the stone terrace steps

Seriously steep steps!

Hitching Post of the Sun

We got the first bus up to the ruins, to see dawn over the space

amazing shapes and rock work

View of Machu Picchu from the side of Huayna Picchu

Misty dawn over the ruins

There are more photos in the Machu Picchu set. Go to our photos with the link at the top right.