Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Huantsan Expedition's Report

2 New routes opened on Huantsan Mountain (Peru - Cordillera Blanca)
View from Huantsan South Summit - Cordillera Blanca Range - by Sophie Denis
o International climbing team, Sophie Denis, Beto Pinto Toledo and Rolando Morales, opened two new routes in Cordillera Blanca
o New route in Huantsan West Summit : “Les Trois Mousquetaires
Sophie is the first woman to summit Huantsan West.
o New route in Huantsan North Summit : “Illusion
Sophie is the first woman to summit Huantsan North.


Sophie Denis I Aug. 5th 2010

 July 18th - Huaraz to Base Camp

We left Huaraz early afternoon to the Rajucolta Valley (4,200m). Cut in a storm, we decided to set up our Base Camp at the same place where the car dropped us off.

 July 19th - Base Camp to Advanced Base Camp

The ground was soaking wet. Being in no hurry, we decided to wait that the snow melt down and the ground dried up enough for a better set up of our next camp.
After a short walk towards the Moraine of Huantsan North, we found a cozy* camping spot. We set up there our Advanced Base Camp ~4,600m.
* cozy = flat place, not too exposed to wind and with easy access to water.
 July 20th - Advanced Base Camp to Camp1

We packed up and started off at 9:00 am. We walked on the Moraine for ~2h.

It was a short and pretty straightforward approach to the Glacier, at the exception that we had to be vigilant to potential ice falls. We saw an impressive one, crashing on our way, leaving behind giant pieces of blue ice.

The good conditions of the glacier at the beginning allowed us to walk pretty fast. Then, it turned ugly. The snow became deep and very soft, which slowed us down by a lot.

Crevasses got more frequent, got wider, higher, and much more difficult to cross. Toward the end of day, we had to jump over few deep crevasse and it was not much fun.

Early evening, as we were still walking on the glacier, we could see a snow storm coming. So we decided to stop
as soon as we found a camping spot.

We found a cozy* camping spot next to a giant crevasse, which would act as a fence in case of avalanche.

We set up our Camp 1 at ~5,100m.
We did not go as far as we expected but it was close enough.

* cozy = flat place, not too much exposed to the wind, protected to avalanche / rock fall.  


 July 21st- Camp1 to Camp2
We woke up at 4:00am. We started boiling water to make some tea at 5:00am. We started walking at 6:00am, leaving behind us our tent to reduce our bag pack weight.
In this kind of expedition weight matter, so you left at each camp some equipments and some food behind you, that you will use on your way down later. 
Our approach to the bottom of the face was a mess. With a hip high snow, breaking the trail on the glacier was challenging, and the path between crevasses was more and more difficult to find, loosing too much time and spending too much energy, we decided change our initial climbing plan to climb the South Face of the West Ridge of Huantsan.

The wall start with passing a Bergschrund.  Then, we climbed a 60m couloir with an angle between 50-60º with deep snow.

          The ascent of the wall was a delicate climb due to the abundance of loose snow and loose rocks. That section took us lots of time. Moreover, we had to do lots of clean up to find something safe to put on an good anchor.
Angle got steeper as well: 70º, 80º, 90º.

At the end of the last pitch, we had to dig a small tunnel/path in the mushroom hanging to the hedge of  
the face. This last pitch took us more than 1h.
We reached the summit at 7pm. It was dark. We were tired. When we intended to dig a snow cave, the snow happened to be blue ice hard. We gave up the idea of sleeping in a cozy, roomy ice cave to sleep in open bivouac.

We were not excepting doing an open bivouac 
AND we did not bring with us a bivouac bag

1/ We digged a 2 persons narrow hole, 1 feet deep, 
2/ We built up a small snow wall to protect us from the wind,
3/ We spread our rope down under our mattresses to add a little bite of insulation,
4/ Empty our bag packs and put our legs inside to keep our feet as warm as possible, as we did not have a bivouac bag,
5/ Put our gaiters along the bivouac walls to limited as much as possible the contacts with the snow

… after more than 1h, we were finally ready to sleep, Happy!
 July 22st- Rest day at Camp2 until 8PM

After our tough climb of yesterday, we decided to have a half day rest. It was a good opportunity to dry up our clothes, take pictures and get some energy to the North Summit push.
We opened a new route in Huantsan West Summit that we named: “Les Trois Mousquetaires”. That climbed was technical and very mental. Every single pitch (60m long) was taking us more than an hour. We had to be patient, cheerful, and keep our focus. That climb showed us that we were a team with strong bonds, having faith and confidence in each other. It was a good and rich experience.
Sophie resting at the South Summit
 July 22st- Camp2 to the North Summit to Camp2  
We started our climb to the North Summit at 8:00pm.

- The plus to start early evening was avoiding getting too cold before starting our climb and wasting even more energy to fight against the cold once in our bivouac.
- The minus to start our climb early evening was that the snow which melts during the day would not have enough time to freeze.The snow is much easier to climb when it’s hard and crispy.

The 1st pitch started off by few tough crevasses to pass.

The next 3 pitches were fairly easy with good snow and good walking slope angle with a ~50 º slope angle.
Snow for those 120m to climb was made of tiny “petinentes” that we were using as steps.

The next pitches got more challenging due the loose rocks and high risks of rock falls.
We lost quite sometimes in the traverse section, mainly when crossing the rock sections. Rocks were so breakable that it made those sections very sensitive to climb.

A big mushroom was hanging at the hedge the ridge. We tried to pass it on the left side, but it was too dangerous.
Thus, we turned back*, and went down to bypass the big snow mushroom.
* When the way you choose happened to be closed. It is not a heartbreaker to turn back and try another way, because you are already psychologically prepared. It is part of the game of opening a new route, you might try some ways that might or might not work.

Finally, we found a nice canalet at Pitch 10th made of hard ice with a 70-80º angle. That was very refreshing to be able to climb fast again. I love climbing those walls.

We summit Huantsan North after climbing for 12 hours.

Our initial plan was to climb as well Huantsan South Summit. But a giant crevasse (6m wide by 25m high) was in our way. We tried to find way to cross it (go into the crevasse, find a snow bridge somewhere, see if the giant crevasse will close at one point), but it was impossible. Resigned, we decided to go down to Camp 2. We went down via the same route.

Few times when we recovered the ropes, they got stuck between rocks which really damage one of them and required us to climb up again to unstuck the rope.
That was exhausting.
We had done our last rappel at 3pm.

We climbed for 20h.
Exhausted, we decided to sleep in our Bivouac.

  July 23st- Camp2 to Huaraz

The night in the Bivouac was very cold. The strong winds were blowing lots of snow on us all night. We woke cold, covered by snow, and few of our things were missing, included my helmet. “Les Trois Mousquetaire” route is a very exposed route to rocks falls and ice falls. So, it was too dangerous to go down without helmet. To prevent any injury, I used our cooking pot as helmet to go down the face.

We walked down the glacier. We found the way back with no major difficulty.

We had a lunch on the Moraine. We were very thirty. We climbed almost all day without drinking because we did not have enough gas to melt down some snow to get some water. Not drinking coupled with the dehydration due to the effort and the altitude intensified our eager/need to drink ASAP. We stopped at the first glacier lake we saw on the Moraine to get some water.
It felt sooo good.
Once at the base camp, no car was waiting for us. Thus, we had to walk ~20 kilometers until a village near to Huaraz where a car picked us up and drove us to Huaraz.

At first, I was feeling really good, and enjoyed the walk.
But, then it got dark. The night was cold and the trail slope got steeper as we had to walk on the ridge of the hills to try to get some cell phone receptions to call a car to pick us up. And it became a nightmare. Dogs feeling strangers in their land, got very aggressive with us, barking at us, following us…. My heart was beating really hard. I was really sacred. It was only Beto and I, Mono stayed at the Base Camp with all our climbing gear. I really did not like that last hours of our trip.

Photo album : Huantsan Mountain

Photo album : Huantsan Mountain
( Peru - White Range )