Our acclimatisation thus far hadn’t been perfect, but we were on our way. 35kg packs hung off our back and the valley ahead opened onto some big mountains. The fresh air was a relief from the dusty, dry air in Huaraz. So we breathed deep and enjoyed the 10km flat walk we had to get to our first camp.
We arrived with enough time to hang out and enjoy the scenery and set up a nice camp. I can’t say we we’re feeling great, the relatively short walk felt harder than it should. We had a really short day planned for the next day, only moving camp a few km’s up the Cayesh Valley and gaining probably 200m in altitude. So a sleep in was in order.
Sleep didn’t happen very well at all. The night was spent tossing and turning, trying to deal with headaches. Waking up with a throbing headache, I was a bit worried and was feeling pretty incapacitated. Panadol wasn’t working, so I decided to give the diamox a go. I was hoping not to use the altitude drugs at all, but in my current state i was willing to try anything. 15 minutes later, I was feeling totally fine, had packed my bag and was ready to go. The drugs worked scarily well.
Our first climb, if you can call it that, was the following day on Maparaju. Just a simple walk up peak at 5,326m it was good to further our acclimatisation and we would decend roughly 1,000m to sleep down in the valley at night. The climb ascended moraine ridges and rock slabs for about three hours, following a zig zagging trail up towards Abra Villon Col at 4,996m.
We roped up to cross the glacier. The crevasses were well filled in and we initially travelled quickly. But as we plodded further up the gentle slopes we began to slow down. The altitude was creeping up on us. We finally made the summit and sat down for a rest.
The weather was starting to turn as the wind whipped up and the clouds thickened around us. The weather report for the whole week wasn’t fantastic, and it was supposed to get worse as the week progressed. We descended the same route back to our camp in the valley, getting a little dehydrated on the way.
The next day we moved camp 400m higher up the trail towards the Cayesh glacier. The day ended in a decent little snow storm, it seemed like the weather was sticking to forecast.
Our main goal for this first trip into the mountains was the short but technical West face of Cayesh, 5,721m. The route sounded interesting with 700m of climbing,with rock up to a grade 16, 70 degree ice and plenty of mixed climbing. We still hadn’t been lucky enough to see the face due to the bad weather, but we were still holding out hope that it would happen.
The following day we moved our camp up onto the glacier under Cayesh. Snow squalls were happening the whole approach up rock slabs towards the glacier, quite heavy at times too. As we popped over the first snow ridge onto the glacier proper the heavens opened up and gave a view of the face. Silently we stared, nervous apprehension churning in our stomachs.
We continued on and set up our tent a few hundred metres from the face. We turned around to be greeted by the darkest, ugliest looking storm clouds we had been so close to in the mountains. Not long after, they opened up and started bombarding us with snow, this continued relentlessly all through the night. Our food situation meant we had to attempt the climb on Cayesh that next day. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas.
So, fairly bummed, we packed up our stuff, still getting hammered by snow, and began the descent out of the valley. Our packs were still chimming in at over 30kg so the walk out was not that fun, even though there was a lot of down hill.
Arriving at the end of the valley we were still 25km as the crow flies out of Huaraz with no transport back. Tourists do the day walk up to Laguna Churup, a nice alpine lake nearby. There were taxis and minibuses in the carpark as we walked pass but no one would gives us a lift. So we continued down the road battered and beaten, and got some water out of a culvert, and promptly treated it with puritabs.
Finally somewhere down the windy, dusty road into Huaraz a collectivo sped in behind us and slid it’s door open. These minibuses are the public transport of Peru and they cram in as many people as possible. So we shared the rest of the ride into Huaraz with some other alpinists, some trekkers and the balance were locals getting the ride down the hill for half the gringo price no doubt. I didn’t care, food, shower and beer were near at hand.