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Author Topic: May 17, Nevado Pisco, Peru  (Read 3248 times)

Posts: 275

May 17, Nevado Pisco, Peru
« on: 05/20/09, 02:05 PM »

I have spent the past few months bumming around South America and enjoying the hiking, but also missing skiing.  When I found a guidehouse in Huaraz, Perú, in the center of the Cordillera Blanca that had a halfway-passable pair of skis, I jumped at the chance of skiing something with them.  Nevado Pisco seemed like a fine (18,800+ ft) and technically reasonable objective.

Nevado Pisco.  The normal route climbs the left skyline.

After another mildly-terrifying drive on the paved, but horribly-potholed road up the most accessible valley in Parque Nacional Huascaran, we set off from the trailhead (3800 meters) under increasingly-cloudy skies.  We had the delicious luxury of donkeys carrying all the heavy stuff. After climbing to a basecamp at 4600 meters and setting up, I continued to the moraine we would be scaling the next morning to take a took a look at the route. Recent glacial retreat had devastated the valley.  To the west, the sun was sliding beneath a sea of threatening clouds. I sat in an utter silence, without even a breath of breeze, hoping for the clouds to lift and permit a glimpse of Pisco. After 30 minutes I gave up and shuffled back down to camp.

Clouds marching in

Those clouds marked a turn for the worse in the weather and it snowed off and on for the next 36 hours.  Snow and low visibility scuttled the following morning's summit bid and we passed the following day playing cards, fixing ropes to prussik up, and z-dragging ourselves around the pampa.  Finally night fell and we waddled back to the megamid. Almost immediately after settling into the bags, it started snowing again. I groaned a prayer to the mountain gods and tried to sleep.

It was still snowing when the hour of departure came, but we were out of weather days.  So off we went by headlamp.  Soon, a ghostly half-moon pierced its way through the clouds to cast a glow enough that we turned off the headlamps.  However, our celebration for the seemingly-improving weather was short-lived. As we roped up, clouds flowed up the valley and engulfed us.

Nonetheless we set off up the glacier hoping for a break in the clouds and snow.  After 30 minutes the weather made no sign of improving, so sadly, we turned around. After taking some defeated photos of me climbing and skiing approximately three turns, we skittered our way down the slabs just as the sun was beginning to assert itself.

A little flavor of the times

Almost immediately, the wall of clouds began to lift. I scratched my head in amazement but reluctantly continued down the trail.  After another 15 minutes of improving weather and descent, I finally ventured the question that seemed to hang in the air: Can we turn around and give it another go? Walter, the guide, thought a moment, then shrugged and said that it would mean another night at the camp, but he'd give it another go. Erin, my girlfriend, still suffering from a cold, said she was done for the day. We parted ways and Walter charged back up the moraine almost at a jog, while I followed as fast as I could.

Improving weather reflected in a moraine lake 150 meters below the toe of the glacier

It was 7:30 by the time that we had roped up again, and the sun was already out in force, giving us psychic energy (as well as later cooking the snow, and our brains on the glacier). Walter finished fixing his crampons and took off, practically dragging me after him. We got the wide col that marked the turning point of the route, and despite the snacks I had just eaten, I was starting to bonk. After stumbling up another 150 vertical meters with snow botting hatefully on my crampons, I ventured the obvious: the skis needed to go if we wanted to summit before midafternoon. A traverse above to a hungry-looking crevasse seemed like an appropriate place to leave them, since I probably would want to deski and rerope to cross it on the way down anyway.  So at 5400 meters I jettisoned the skis.

Dropping the skis helped for a bit, but soon I was dragging again.  One breath between steps became two, and finally I was panting like a dog between each step. Worse still, the midmorning tropical sun was frying us alive.  Somehow I convinced myself to keep going, and after a final steep climb, we were on top.

It must have been the warmest, calmest 18,900 foot peak in the world at the moment. The clouds came and went below us but we stayed in the sun without even a breath of air. After snapping as many pictures as I could blindly through an invisible screen on my camera, I collected my wits and Walter collected the rope and we descended.

We made good time back to the cache and it was time to ski. I snapped into the unfamilar (Silvaretta) bindings and tentatively started down the slope. The first few turns were the crux of the route, it turned out. Although slightly off fall line, a bottomless-seeming icefall loomed to my right.  I awkwardly jump-turned and slide-slipped over the roll until the top few inches of new snow, that had been overcooked by the sun, started to sluff. I gingerly traversed out of the way and paused for a second before continuing, traversing out of the way of the sluff until the angle lessened and I had passed the void.

Skiing it

Tracks leading back up to the col

The rest of the run went without event, aside from the heavy snow and hairy-skis, which desparately needed a wax. Luckily, a supportive crust lay under the top few inches of mashed potatoes.  If we had been three hours earlier, it would have been a delightful few inches of powder on the crust.  Oh well.

Many of the peaks in the Cordillera Blanca are impressive snow and ice climbs, that climb fluted couloirs that often exceed 60 degrees for extended portions.  But more than a couple have long sections that would be reasonable descents for mere mortals.  Nevado Hauscaran by its normal route, in particular, seems like it would be almost entirely skiable (as well as being the tallest tropical mountain the world).  I bumped into a German who had brought a very handsome looking dynafit rig with him, but unfortunately our schedules didn't line up to climb anything.  So while it's still quite uncommon, there's more skiing activity in the Cordillera Blanca than just my own.  I'm already hatching plans to return.  Tickets to Lima are cheap, and besides skiing and alpine climbing, there's wonderful trekking, sport climbing and bigwalls to be had if that's your thing.  More details are up on my blog.

Anyway, I've back in Washington now and have two weeks before I have to work.  Who wants to go skiing?

Posts: 3391

Re: May 17, Nevado Pisco, Peru
« Reply #1 on: 05/20/09, 02:09 PM »

Very very cool!

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Posts: 353

Re: May 17, Nevado Pisco, Peru
« Reply #2 on: 05/20/09, 02:22 PM »

Very, very cool. Thanks for the report.
I spent almost three months in Ecuador years ago, but didn't ski back then... since then the hopes of a return trip to that region for such pursuits lingers in the back of my mind.
Thanks for sharing your blog, too.

Livin' high on the cold smoke!

Posts: 255

Re: May 17, Nevado Pisco, Peru
« Reply #3 on: 05/20/09, 03:21 PM »

So glad you posted this. Both of your blog reports were well written and a lot of fun to follow.  Adding a ski descent in the Cordillera Blanca makes it an epic trip IMO. Solid work.

BTW, I want to go skiing...
« Last Edit: 05/20/09, 03:24 PM by JimH » Logged

Posts: 20

Re: May 17, Nevado Pisco, Peru
« Reply #4 on: 05/20/09, 07:44 PM »

Great report! Looks like a beautiful mountain.

I wanna go skiing too! and maybe hear a little more about bumming it around South America, hope to be able to do that some day soon.

Posts: 926

Re: May 17, Nevado Pisco, Peru
« Reply #5 on: 05/20/09, 07:51 PM »

South America = SICK

"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
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