With six days left to climb we decided to travel to one of the last valleys in the northern part of the Cordillera Blancas--The Paron Valley. We both agreed upon arriving that this valley was the most beautiful setting of lakes, rivers, cliffs and big mountains that we have ever seen! Equally attractive is the variety of routes and summits to climb in this valley. Because Christian was more acclimatized than Charlie, it was possible for him to climb a second route from Camp 2, while Chalie used the time to further adjust to the high altitude. It seemed like the perfect plan.
Day One: three hours of taxi driving left us at one end of Laguna Paron, a brilliantly blue and large, picturesque lake
. Porters offered to carry our packs for ten dollars but we declined. It was a beautiful day, we were in high spirits, and ready to hull our heavy backpacks, ready to climb at least one more summit. It would be the crowning event! Two-thirds of the way to Base Camp, we stop to talk a hiker coming down from Paron Glacier. We are shocked and saddened by the news: a Swedish snowboarder had died that same afternoon in an attempt to descend Artensenrahu. It appears as though he made two turns near the summit before falling all the way down the incredibly large mountain face. Some may recall that three Americans died this summer on the very same face. Our hiker-friend also informed us that two French climbers died last week near the top of neighboring Piramide Mountain. Some days prior to that a Spanish climber died there too. Needless to say, all the news of death and the current recovery opperation going on above us had put a cloud over our spirits. Well finally, after a little more than three hours of slow hiking, we arrived a couple of kilometers past the other end of Laguna Paron. This would be our base camp: a small river of cold glaciel water running through a serene quenual forest. The trees here had bark that could peel off like filo dough. You can touch, but don´t peel.
Day Two: We wake up to the sunrise and to two porters at our tent door. They will carry our backpacks to Camp 2--Moraine Camp, but this time for only ten soles
. Now that sounds more reasonable! With the thinking that we should save our backs and legs for the next day´s climb, we accept their offer. We, however, use our smaller alpine packs in order to carry some of the load for our hired hands. Anxious to know what the scene is like on Paron Glacier, we arrive in a little more than one hour of steep hiking. The recovery operaton is still going on near the base of Artesenrahu. Several parties are heading out. Now it is just Christian and Charlie at Moraine Camp, trying to understand the events taking place at the far end of Paron Glacier. A short time later, ten members of the policia arrive to help with the recovery. They are dressed in full alpine gear, they are winded and tired. We make hot tea for all of them. It seems to help, they thank us. Hours later, while having dinner, the policia are back at Moraine Camp. They are painstakingly carrying the body of the dead snowboarder past our campsite. That night it snows hard. It snows into the morning. Stormy clouds socked in and around all summits. The reality of death has been too observable. We will not attempt to climb in this weather.
Day Three: We sleep in late, the storm preventing us from climbing. That afternoon we decide to walk across the Paron Glacier and look around near the base of Artesenrahu. We had previously watched the police and recovery team walk this glacier unroped, it appeared very safe, and so we head out with only a little food and water and crampons in our alpine packs
. Signs of glaciel melt are prominent, there appears to be a lake only inches below this mammoth glacier. The glacier rises near the base of Artesenrahu. Charlie follows a few inches outside of Christian´s tracks to where Christian has stopped to look around. Charlie suddenly falls through the snow. His body hangs above a wide deep crevasse. With both arms, he is holding onto the lip of snow at the top of the crevasse. Quickly he mantles and pulls himself out of the crevasse. Christian and Charlie look at each other with shock and awe. They consider themselves very lucky and proceed cautiously back to Camp 2.
DAY 4: We thought that the weather would have to break, so we prepared to climb Paron Grande and had set the alarm for 2AM. We woke up to steady snow and wind and reset the alarm for 4AM which was a repeat of 2AM. We gave up and decided we would descend to basecamp, it was too much time in the tent and we were ready to leave the claustrophobic environment and by noon we were back at basecamp under fairer skies drying out our gear. The persistent clouds helped relieve any notion that we had made the wrong decision.
DAY 5: A short hike with packs that were still shoulder wrenching in weight got us back to the trailhead where we crammed into a taxi with two brits and a woman from switzerland
. It was a bit embarassing smelling as we did with four people in the back seat. Tired from our ordeal we were happy to again enjoy in some of the comforts of civilization.
So we are now preparing to take the last risk in our little adventure...the bus ride down 10,000ft to the coast...a windy precipitous road that should provide more thrills than an American roller coaster. The bus is a double decker and we reserved front seats on the top deck...at least we will be the first ones to die/know if we miss a turno!
Thanks for all the posts and for following our trip. See you all soon!
Charlie and Chris
Hola Familia y Amigos. This our fifth and last Travelogue Post. Thank you for joining us as we have taken a look back at some of the photos, videos and highlights of our trip.