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For the Love of Peruvian Guides June 2, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in climbing, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.

Jase and I have set up temporary residence in Huaraz, in order to explore the surrounding mountains which are reputed to be some of the most beautiful in the world.  This is where Joe Simpson´s epic tale of “Touching the Void” took place.  If you´ve seen the film you´ll know how beautiful the mountains are (and how scary!).  But we´re not here to do anything quite so crazy, and it´s a good place to hone (or in my case, learn) some skills.

Richard our Peruvian Guide and Cheryl at moraine camp

So it was we decided to do a mountaineering course, and carefully picked our way through most of the agencies in Huaraz (and there are a lot of them).  It was difficult to know what to do, as every agency offered something slightly different and the range of prices was huge.  We finally decided on an agency called Peru Andes who seemed to know what they were talking about, and had enough satisfied customers milling about. 

We headed off in a taxi to a mountain called Vallanaraju near Huaraz.  On arriving at the foot of the trail to base camp (about 3 hours steep climb from the road) and seeing how much gear we needed to carry to base camp, our guide Richard suggested we camp there and not go to the base camp.  This would mean that every day, we would have to do a 6 hour round trip just to reach the snow where we could do our course.  The alarm bells should have started ringing, but being eternally optimistic, we suggested that it would be better to go to the base camp.  We had a porter with us after all, who if we camped at the road, would have just come along for the drive.

Jason tied up in the name of mountain rescue!

In some ways, Richard was perfectly capable, but in others he was most certainly not!  On arriving at the ice wall to do some ice climbing, we discovered we only had 3 ice axes.  As we had to climb in pairs, we required a minimum of 4 ice axes.  Jason had carried 2 of the ice axes, assuming Richard had the other 2 (we had lugged 4 ice axes all the way up the steep hill to base camp originally) but when questioning Richard, he replied that he hadn´t bothered to bring the 4th axe to the ice wall because “it was too heavy”.  It weighed all of 600 grams, and the only thing he had in his backpack was a rope that probably weighed all of 3kg.  I guess we should be grateful that he brought the rope.

The thing with high mountains, is that they´re normally covered with glaciers, and the glaciers are usually covered in snow.  The snow builds up on the surface and can cover all the dangerous crevasses lurking below the surface.  Most of the time the snow is strong enough to hold your weight, but occasionally, the sun may have weakened the “snow bridge” too much and when you walk over it, the snow bridge could collapse under your weight and you land up in a crevasse.

Cheryl ice climbing

That´s why mountaineers attach themselves together on a rope.  If one person falls into a crevasse, the other people can stop their fall and get them out of the crevasse.  As this is an ever present danger we were hoping that Richard would be able to teach us how to do a crevasse rescue in order to get the person out.  There is a particular technique that is used to create a pulley system which makes it easy to pull the person hanging on the end of the rope out of the crevasse.

This is probably one of the most fundamental concepts of mountaineering, but Richard was unable to set up a pulley system which could get someone out of a crevasse.  He spent about 2 hours working on it (by this time the poor bastard in the crevasse would probably have frozen to death) but to no avail.  He finally declared that the system wouldn´t work because “the rope was too wet”.  Of course the rope is wet!  Its been rolling about in the snow for 4 days!  I would hate to have to break it to someone that we couldn´t rescue them out of a crevasse because the rope is wet. 

Thankfully neither of us happened into a crevasse in the 4 days, as I wouldn´t fancy our chances of Richard getting us out!



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