Nadine Wallner and the dangers of the Quitaraju
Freeskier Nadine Wallner and her crew face danger climbing the towering Quitaraju in Peru.
Our second mission in Peru was quite an adventure and we're glad we're back safe and sound.
The destination of our second trip on our South America adventure was the 6,036m-high Quitaraju. The journey was peppered with funny and nerve-wracking incidents.
We squeezed into a car brimmed with luggage to start our trip and stopped after an hour and a half for the first break, and had our first surprise – the car wouldn't start again. We had to push the packed car slowly around so it could roll downhill to bump-start. Luckily it fired back into life and we were glad that the mission didn't end before it even got started. There were no more pee breaks from there on, though!
Entertainment in the village bar
The journey continued like it started. We finally arrived in Cashapampa at 2,900m above sea level to learn more about Peruvian way of life, where the donkey driver kept us waiting for hours. Fortunately there was some entertainment in the village and we enjoyed the scenes that could be witnessed in front of the so-called village bar. Locals staggered around, and, after hesitating, our cook William joined them. We couldn't help but smile even though waiting was quite exhausting. Taking it slow seems to be the way of life here.
We got going around noon and the Santa Cruz Valley reminded us why we were doing this. The gigantic gorge with its high rock faces resembles the Verdon Gorge in south-east France – as soon as the valley starts to open up, you can see the majestic glaciers and snow-covered mountains. We enjoyed the six-hour hike through the landscape so much that we didn't even notice how exhausting it is. Due to our late start we had to camp before reaching the base camp at 4,440m. But there was no problem – we just let Peruvian calmness set the pace.
We reached base camp without any incidents and started right away with our preparations for the high camp and climbing. Everything had to come with us – tents, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, ice axe, crampons and food. One-thousand two-hundred vertical metres lay ahead of us, leading first over moraines, and then later over snow and the glacier.
The dangerous route to high camp and the decision
While climbing to high camp at 5,500m above sea level, we cast a glance at the Laguna Arhueycocha, which sparkles in blue and green and serves as the perfect contrast to the snowy giants above. We were already late and having to hurry because the warmth of the sunlight increases the danger on the mountain.
At the glacier we tried to pass the bridge above the menacing crevasses fast and light-footed. We could hear ice avalanches and séracs coming down on the laguna behind us, giving us the chills. After three and a half hours of relatively fast climbing, we reached the high camp and were rewarded with a spectacular and unbelievably impressive view of the famous Alpamayo, one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. The sunset adds a little kitsch and I enjoy this unique moment. No words can describe my emotions, you have to experience it yourself.
Due to our late arrival we didn't have time to take a look at the snow face we wanted to ride the next day. We only got the chance to check it out the next morning and the result was sobering. The last 50m of the climb were covered with fresh snow and at the top was a big snowdrift.
We took all day to discuss the situation and consider every possible line, but after endless hours we came to a conclusion – we were calling it off! The last part of the climb looked too dangerous and, as I say, it's better to call it off once too often than never to call it off again.
We took down the tents the next day and started our descent. The thick fog supported our decision, but it also made it even more dangerous. After the dizzy descent we were happy to be back on firm ground.
In conclusion it's fair to say that life in a high camp at 5,550m is definitely different and shouldn't be taken lightly. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two forwards. In a few days a last update will follow – until then, hasta luego!
See you, Nadine