When I met Jim in Huaraz on Monday after climbing Tocllaraju he had fully recovered from his cold and was eager to head out again. We decided on Chopicalqui (6354 m) in the Llanganuco valley as our next adventure.
We headed out on Wednesday morning. Incidentally, three other climbers had the same destination and so we hooked up together. The other climbers were James, an Australian living in Colorado, Axel from Freiburg in Germany — both whom we had met in the Pisco base camp — and Moritz, a friend of Axel.
James, who speaks Spanish well, organized a collectivo for us that brought us all the way into the Llanganuco valley. After 3 hours of riding on horrible gravel roades we were happy to start hiking up to Chopicalquis moraine camp which is situated just below 5000 m. The camp is large and beautifully located. Getting water was a bit of a problem though. We had to venture far out onto the Kienzl glacier to collect glacier runoff water. The water was quite dirty and our filter was clocked quickly. Also, the place was quite unsafe as once in a while a big chunks of ice or rock would fall off the seracs above us.
We finished the day with some freeze dried food for dinner. Jim had brought some delicious self made food from the US while I used some stuff that I had bought in Germany, called “Jägertopf” ("hunter pot" which, apparently, is not cooked hunters but a dish that hunters would cook). It consisted of noodles, dried meet, a brown sauce, and a lot of chemical additives. It tasted quite well…
During the night, however, my stomach started to dislike what I had eaten and I turned quite sick. The night was horrible with frequent trips outside of the tent until my stomach was empty. At around 6am, when the sun rose, I didn't bother to return inside the tent at all and stayed outside. The sunrise was quite beautiful, even though I wasn't in the condition to enjoy it fully.
Since I was sick and Jim also hadn't gotten a lot of sleep during that night, we contemplated on how to continue from here. One option was to stay for a rest day in camp but the chances of me recovering within a day at 5000 m seemed slim. There were two other groups in camp, a french group with a guide from Chamonix that we had met at Pisco before. They also had a sick member and weren't sure what to do. The other group consisted of James, Axel, and Moritz. Axel wasn't feeling to well either and Moritz had developed a bad cough. Only James felt good. Overall the mood in camp that morning was quite depressed…
At the end Jim and I started heading down. James joined the French group for their move up to the col camp. When they tried the summit the following they would be turned around by bad weather. Axel and Moritz decided to wait another day in camp and continue the following day. They would eventually reach the summit of Chopicalqui.
Having not eaten anything during the past 20 hours I was quite weak on the long way down. The trail involved some exposed travel on top of moraines and an ugly glacier crossing. Even though Jim had strapped a lot of my stuff to his backpack, my pack was still heavy and I was moving slowly. So I was relieved when we met a porter who, having carried his load up to camp, passed us on the way down and offered to carry my pack. Those where some well invested US $15! After 2,5 hours of hiking down (more like stumbling in my case) we reached the road where the porter somehow had already organized a taxi for us. After some haggling we agreed on a price and where on our way back to Huaraz. Unfortunately, when we reached Yungay, the driver noticed some strange noise on the car and informed us, that he couldn't continue. This surprised us somewhat, as our impression of Peru so far was that, as long as a vehicle doesn't break down completely, it will be driven and take passengers until it dies.
So for the last leg from Yungay to Huaraz we took a cramped collectivo which was the usual fun and the more authentic way of traveling in Peru anyway.
It was sad that this climb failed due to my upset stomach. The weather and everything else looked so promising! However, it seems that pretty much everybody gets sick in these mountains at some point. Maybe it's a combination of the high altitude that weakens one's immune system, the sometimes horrible hygienic conditions, and the exotic (or otherwise toxic) food. No more Jägertopf for me!
Also check out Jim s account of the events on his blog.