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Tocllaraju 6,034m : Mas O Menos June 25, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.
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“nobody told me there would be days like these, strange days indeed. . . . very peculiar moma. . . ”       John Lennon

Our first view of Toclaraju 6,033m at the head of the Ishinca valley

Day 1 – To base camp 17th June 2007 

Our next adventure would be a new test at high altitude, a technical peak classed as “D” (dificile) on the mountaineering spectrum.

We hired our gear and headed off in a taxi at 8am for the hour drive to the trailhead.  We were met by Jeronimo, the Peruvian donkey driver who duly arranged for 2 donkeys to base camp.

The donkeys being loaded by the arreiros

The sun was shining as we began our 5 hour hike up the valley to base camp, unburdened by our heavy packs. 

The walk was uneventful and maybe even a little boring as we walked up the valley until finally the valley opened out and the large snowy summit of Tocllaraju finally came into view, dominating the view ahead.  A massive hulk of a mountain with a beautiful pointed summit guarding the head of the valley. An amazing sight.

We reached our camp early afternoon and arranged to meet Jeronimo to be our porter the following morning for the walk to high camp on the moraine.

We spent the day relaxing and visited the refugio where we drank warm mulled wine.

Day 2 – High camp at 5,000m

Jason at the start of the trek up to high camp

We chatted to people we had met at base camp, Mary and Tim and then organised the equipment with Jeronimo for the trek up to high camp.

We began at 10.40am and finally arrived at high camp at around 3pm.

The trail was steep and we scrambled over the large rocks of the moraine to 5,000m where high camp was situated only a few metres below the glacier.

Cheryl and the porter heading up the trail to high camp past the refugio on the left

We erected our tent and began the immediate process of melting snow.  6 to 8 litres for the night and following day and then cooked an early dinner ready for an early night.  We would attempt the summit early the following day.

High Camp on the morraine, 5,000m with Chez melting snow

2 more groups arrived – a large group with 2 guides, and 2 Germans.  Not exactly a crowded mountain, our thoughts were only of our summit bid.

Day 3 – To the summit of Tocllaraju 6,034m

We woke at 1am and began the long process of getting geared up for the day´s events.  Eventually leaving a little later than anticipated at 3.10am and getting onto the glacier at 3.30am.

We knew that the big group were leaving at 2am who we did not want to clash with, so we thought with an hour and a half´s head start this would not be a problem.  Surprisingly, the Germans were starting at the same time as us and were in front of us up the glacier.

We roped up and soon overtook the Germans and continued our climb.

Sunrise, with the snow bridge and crevasse we have just crossed in the foreground

We began reaching the steep sections at sun up, rounding large crevasses and crossing snow bridges with death-defying drops either side.  

Cheryl watching the northern Cordillera Blanca as we traverse the slopes of Toclaraju at sunrise

The slopes got steeper and steeper, but the condition of the snow and ice was good. 

We gradually continued as the biting cold wind hit us as we reached the top of the ridge which we continued to follow.

Finally, we saw the summit pyramid ahead.  A truly awesome sight and the crux of the climb.  We saw tiny figures climbing the summit ridge as silhouettes.

Cheryl at sunrise on the ridge to the top of Toclaraju, the summit pyramid in the background

After a brief “baño” stop the Germans over took us just before the summit pyramid and thus got to the ridge first.

We thought nothing of this at first but this would be the start of our problems.

The sky was blue and radiant with sunshine against the snow.

Summit Pyramid with some of the large group ahead of us climbing the last section.

All was needed was one last 60m climb up the summit pyramid to the summit and a rappel down.  The view would be awesome.

As we reached the final ridge, the Germans were setting up their belay for the climb.  It seemed to take them an age as we sorted our rope and tried to shelter beside the large Bergschrund out of the biting wind.

Even in the sun, the temperature was perilously cold.

Cheryl and the Cordillera Blanca in the background, still blue skies!

The Germans seem to take an age to climb the ridge, but finally they succeeded.

But before we could follow, the large party that had summited began to descend.  The section of the ridge people were climbing is quite narrow and meant that we had to wait for the party to abseil down. . . . .the only thing was that they were NOT abseiling down.  Instead they were taking an age to climb down whilst being belayed. 

When the first reached the bottom I asked the guy why they were not abseiling. . . ” Oh we don´t know how to”, a few blue words arose from my mouth before the gentleman informed us that “this was the perils of modern mountaineering”!

I looked at him as I did the next person to descend.  I have never seen people dressed in such new shiny equipment, the price tags must surely have still been on their boots and clothing as they descended the mountain. It was like an outdoor fashion show! What would they know about modern mountaineering, being dragged up by a mountain guide with their brand-new gear bought with Cotswold Camping Christmas vouchers!  They had all the gear, but admitted that they´d never ever done this before.

We had arrived at the summit pyramid at around 9am.

Eventually, whilst freezing in the wind and waiting for the last couple of people to descend I decided we had to ascend before we froze to death.

The foothills leading to the Amazon to the north east

So I began to climb whilst they descended.  This involved being hit on the head by falling ice and their rope as they negotiated the Bergschrund at the bottom.

Eventually, I reached a narrowing of the ridge before the final stretch but was stopped in my tracks by the Germans(again) who decided they were now going to descend via an anchor they had set up on the ridge I was climbing. 

I had to stop and wait again for them to take another age to abseil.

Freezing cold, I found a place to belay and eventually belayed Cheryl as she climbed.

By this time the wind was howling and there was a virtual white out on the mountain.  I could not even see Cheryl climbing only 20 to 30 metres below me.

By the time Cheryl finally reached me on the summit ridge, only approximately, 20 metres or so from the summit, the weather had turned, visibility was almost nil and it was 12pm or so.  2 1/2 to 3 hours or so waiting in the cold had taken its toll.

As I looked at her face (her face said it all!!) as she reached our precarious spot I asked if she would like me to abseil her back down.  There was no argument.

We still had to get off this bloody mountain yet.

I abseiled her back down and then began to sort out the anchor for my rappel.  This did not go well!  My hands were frozen and some of my karibiners were freezing up.  I thought of making a dash for the summit myself before rappeling down but any anchor I set to climb would not hold.  The quality of the snow was aweful.

I eventually used the anchor left behind by the 2 Germans to abseil down. But the leash on the anchor was quite worn where the friction of the rope had been.  I reversed the leash and abseiled down hoping the anchor would hold.

As I reached the bottom of the summit pyramid  above the bergschrund the rope suddenly dropped a metre or so, I thought for a second the anchor had failed.  I had visions of falling down the summit slope.  Luckily, the rope must have snagged on a section of ice and freed itself. . . .the anchor had held!

Finally, I arrived below the bergschrund and after sorting our gear out we left at 1pm, a full 4 hours after we had started!

Yes, A White Out!!

By this time we were in a complete white out and our fear was trying to find a route down if the wind covered our tracks.

Luckily, we were able to find the route and follow our tracks and eventually fell below the mists.

Cheryl arriving out of the mists!

By 3.30pm and 12 hours after starting out we reached our tent, exhausted and feeling thoroughly miserable! . . . . . . just 20 metres from the summit. . . . we could not believe our luck!

Day 4 – Too tired to move!!

Jason, cold, miserable and exhausted!! After the 12 hours on the mountain!

We spent the following day in our tent making hot drinks and resting.  Cheryl was exhausted and I felt like I had been beaten up!

The snow started at around 10am and continued all day.  It was not a day to be on the mountain.

Day 5  – The long walk out

We needed to get off the mountain today.  The wind was still up but we packed away our gear and headed back over the moraine as the snow began to fall again.  

We had vague hopes of climbing Ishinca, another mountain in the valley, but we soon abandoned the idea, still tired and the bad weather was relentless.

We had lunch at the refugio at exhorbitant prices and then proceeded down the valley carrying all our equipment.

We reached the road head by nightfall, 6.10pm and people at the village of Williac were very friendly and arranged for a taxi for us back to Huaraz.

We remained silent in the taxi,  just glad to be off the mountain.

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