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Chacaraju Ouest

Simplicity and a beautiful line. This year we turned our focus towards the Chacaraju Ouest South face in Peru. Back to the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. The top of the Chacaraju Ouest lies at 6112 meters and the route is 1000 meters in length with mixed terrain, ice and snow. With an alpine gradation of ED we intend to climb Bouchard- Meunier line, first climbed in 1977 over the course of three days. 

This summer Cas and I had our mind set on an adventure in Pakistan. We found a beautiful unclimbed face on a peak of around 6800 meters. It spoke to us and we set about making the arrangements to get there. After 4 weeks of negotiation, looking for sharing the logistics with another team and stifling finances we thought again. We decided to shift our focus to another place and mountain.

July 2nd. We set out for an acclimatisation to Laguna 69, at 4500 meters, from where we could have a good look at the south face. It seems to be in good condition. During the night snow set in and during the morning the mountain did not reveal itself anymore. We just need to have a closer look at the flutes near the top. 

July 4th. To combine the necessary with the enjoyable we decided to go rock climbing in Hatun Machaj, in the Cordillera Negro. Two days, with another night at 4750 meters. A beautiful place with some good routes.

July 9th. The first two weeks of our trip are closing in and we set out for our final acclimatisation.We decided to head for Pisco so that we could have another view of the top part of the face we want to climb. With 5700 meters it will also give us sufficient height in our preparation. Theafternoon in Pisco basecamp gave us a good look, and although not straight forward there seems to be a possibilty to climb onto the final flute barrier near the top.The next day we ascended quickly towards the summit of Pisco, where we waited a while in vain for a view in the wind.

July 10th. Getting down to the real stuff. At the end of this week we want to make our first attempt at the face. The plan is to go up to basecamp on thursday and to start climbing friday morning. We think that we will need two days to climb the face and one day to descend. Tomorrow we will get our weather forecast which will further determine the possibilities.  

July 14th - Blasted. A weather window for three days, it seems perfect. We set out and friday morning early we are underway. The glacier is heavenly broken, but we make progress. Two hours later I look up at the face and I see a horrendous avanlanche break loose at three quarter height. It is on the far right of the face, seemingly far away. After being in awe for a while, it keeps on thundering down and we quickly start running in the other direction. to be blasted by a cloud of snow not long after. Three hours later we arrive under the route, it was quite a slog to get there.

To discover that the entire bottom of the face under our route is also littered by blocks of snow and ice.The route seems to be in good condition.´Where do you think they come from? What do you think´, is the answer. A bitter disappointment, is the only way to describe it.

I have had a photo on my desktop of this mountain for months and all my training of the last six months has been geared towards this moment. These three days. The adventure begins there where things do not go according to plan. Not always easy to appreciate, being thrown of the beaten path. It would have been too perfect. On the way down the right side of the face is being stripped another time by an avalanche.

July 18th - Back to the Taulliraju. I did not expect that I would end up going back to the Taulliraju, after being there two years ago. A beautiful mountain and Southwest face. The plan, with emphasis on plan, is to climb the Jaeger route. We leave tomorrow and if the weather works in our favour we will camp under the face on the glacier thursday evening. Leaving friday morning early to finally do some climbing.
 

Tornadoes in the snow. High hopes, expectations and excitement. Going through the familiar steps of prepping our gear and mind. Being back at basecamp was familiar. The approach on the glacier brought out the drive but the conditions were lean. Wet rock half way up and dripping snow. This time I needed to be under the route to and really be able to say, this is not within the possibilities. Not wanting to accept and if necessary feel defeat deep in my core. With this, unexpectedly bringing an end to the attempt and our expedition. Dissapointments like this are part of the game, but nevertheless hard to swallow, lingering around and adding on the pile of dreams and ambitions. Another time, another year, I guess.

 

Below is a small excerpt from the original report of the 1978 American Alpine Journal written by John Bouchard over their 1977 Cordillera Blanca Expedition, led by Nicolas Jaeger.

"At this point, the expedition had split itself into three teams for Chacraraju; Nicolas: team one; Rene, Bernard, and Denis: team two; and Marie-Odile and me: les Americains. “Les Americains” were not sure if they indeed composed a team, I viewed the five-foot-two Marie-Odile with the same suspicion she viewed me, the constantly coughing and wheezing American student who did not appear as organized as he claimed. So when Nicolas announced he was going to the Polish ridge on Huandoy Oeste to prepare himself for Chacraraju, Marie-Odile and I aimed ourselves at the southeast spur of Pisco neither of us wanted to go on Chacraraju with an unknown. Pisco was an excellent training climb since it was technically difficult, yet had an easy descent. We bivouacked at the base of the spur and below the summit, then descended, and met the others at the new Base Camp at the foot of the south face of Chacraraju.

We rested, waited out some storms and finally all left for the face on July 6. Marie-Odile and I began the route to the west summit, Nicolas started up below the east summit, and Rene, Bernard, and Denis, also walked across the glacier toward the east summit. The face had a different guise up close. The gray patches I had assumed were ice patches were steep granite slabs lightly coated with snow and ice. The obvious gullies were barred in places by enormous ice towers. And the low clouds prevented my seeing where the route broke through the towers to the summit. I was not amused. We bivouacked in the bergschrund as another storm began to cover us with snow. We remained in the bivouac one more night until the storm was finished.

Finally, at two a.m. on July 8 we started up the face. Doing three-hundred-foot pitches, we wove through the initial rock bands and got into the obvious summit chute. We met our first nearly vertical ice-covered rock band in the early afternoon. I was somewhat disconcerted to see the ice I was climbing fall away from my crampons as I moved up leaving blank patches of granite. An overhanging mushroom presented itself for a perfect bivouac, and so we stopped.

The next day was more of the same-steep ice and steeper rock and ice bands. We quit climbing in darkness, stupidly groping for a bivouac. In the morning I realized we were in trouble. The ice towers closed us off. I went up and down on some coral-like ice mushrooms before I gave in to the facts. I would have to traverse across the towers to my right and hope there was an exit on the other side. I dropped one end of the doubled rope to give myself 300 feet until I had to belay. There was no way I wanted to stop in the middle of the towers. To make a long story short, a tower collapsed with me on it. I fell over fifty feet, cracking a rib and a crampon. But, the tower which barred our way was gone, and the way to the summit was clear. Then, two 300-foot pitches below the summit, a storm closed in.

Once on the summit our difficulties began in earnest. We traversed the mountain in an off-and-on snow storm trying to avoid the cornice over the south face. A deadman stopped a slide that would have otherwise ended 3000 feet later. Finally, we bivouacked just before the col separating the two summits and ate the remaining food-one dinner, some tea bags, three squares of chocolate, and no sugar. In the early morning, the weather briefly cleared and we began our descent with absolutely no intention of traversing to the east summit and completing the project.

The clouds moved in again as we began our descent to the glacier. Seventeen rappels later with one remaining ice screw, we crossed the schrund. Nicolas was waiting for us and he led us through the crevassed glacier to Base Camp. We had spent six days on the mountain. The others, having renounced their climb because the conditions on their route were unacceptable, gave us a rather memorable reception."