An Attempt on the Arteson

Sean and I packed up, took a packed-as-usual colectivo to the town of Caraz, north of Huaraz. An 80s techno-filled taxi ride landed us on the west shore of Laguna Paron, access point for the Quebrada Paron and home to a staggering panorama of incredible mountains. The quebrada is absolutely stunning….like driving through Yosemite on your way to something even better. Thousand meter granite walls jut up on either side of the road….unfortunately unmarred by crack systems or ledges.
Our goal, to climb the Arteson…Artesonraju. You know the mountain, if you have ever seen a film by Paramount Pictures. Just take away the stars….

We felt pretty good after our climb of Shaqsha; felt ready for a slightly bigger challenge. Though this ascent would be much more straightforward (we thought), without the messy icefall and tricky routefinding that took us all day on Shaqsha. Just six hundred meters of perfect styrofoam-like snow on a perfectly hewn mountain.
Hike in to base camp on the 29th was uneventful…staggering along the lakeshore with our ungainly loads. We met a few other climbers at base camp. Their story was unencouraging…three days higher at moraine camp waiting out weather. They told us a bit about this season’s history…apparently they were the sixth attempt on the mountain….none had gone much higher than the bergschrund for various reasons, altitude, snow conditions, and mostly weather problems.

Relatively undeterred, Sean and I plodded up to moraine camp at 4900m, and then up onto the glacier. The glacier was dry….meaning no fresh snow on top, just bare ice. We stepped carefully, probing for the water-filled holes hidden under the icy crust that the other climbers had warned us of. Found a few, avoided all. We gained elevation, crossing the firn line into snow, roped up and continued on towards glacier camp. A small crevasse field lay between us and our proposed campsite. Both Sean and I suffered minor crevasse falls on the hike….quite a shock to suddenly feel the ground disappear underneath you or your left foot, in my case! As I said, both falls were minor, ‘punch-thru’ falls where a foot or leg break the snow covering a hidden crevasse. My fall was rather uncomfortable indeed, as my crotch caught the combined weight of me and my pack on the crevasse lip, but both Sean and I clambered out of our little cracks otherwise unscathed.

A partial windwall stood on the glacier, beneath a small-looking crevasse field the stood between us and the southeast face of Artesonraju. We took turns shoveling loads of wind-hardened snow onto the blasted old wall and stamping out a tent platform on the inside. The snow was not deep….we pitched the tent using v-thread anchors in the glacial ice. Before long we had a veritable snow fortress build up around Sean’s REI Trail Dome….quite necessary for that silly tent. We took it where no Trail Dome was ever designed to go….and it actually made quite a comfy home after our windwalling!

Weather had been poor….the summit shrouded in clouds most all the time. It had cleared briefly one morning, and for three days in a row had cleared up at about 4:30pm and stayed clear until near morning. The peak looked incredible via the nearly-full moon at night, and we entertained notions of climbing through the night for our best shot at a clear summit. We discussed climbing plans for hours….trying to decide how to take advantage of the weather while still climbing safely….considering night climbing, traditional early start, and all manner of unorthodox plans.

First morning on the glacier 4am came cloudy as ever…a bit of snow fell and kept us inside. By eleven AM things were looking up….the summit still obscured but all around the clouds were lifting. We packed and set off on plan two…to climb through the afternoon, hopefully summitting during the usual afternoon clearing and descending via the brilliant borrowed rays of the full moon. We were unsure about how the plan would work out….relying on an uncertain weather window, staying warm after sunset, so many concerns. We left the tent at about 1:30pm, headed for the crevasse field and face looming above.

I’ll let my journal entry from later that night tell the rest of the story. I was pretty tired and worked up, so forgive the strange grammar and occasional bad language….

July 2nd 11:32pm Glacier Camp…..thankfully! 5100m
Temp Frickin’ cold! Baro 561mb Clouds on Arteson. Windy, blowing snow.

Well, we got beat. Beat pretty good, I should say, though we definitely gave it a strong effort. We climbed up through steep, inconsistent snow and wild crevasses/icefall as the sun sank in the west. The routefinding was intricate and involved many shady snowbridges. Just before the face, I led across a shitty bridge over an enormous void and punched through….one leg dangling free. Got out with much cursing and fear, then let Sean lead the bit of ice above.

Arrived beneath the face at approx. 5:30pm…only 4hrs after leaving camp! Screw you, Brad Johnson…1 hour!?! (edit: Brad Johnson is the author of a recent guidebook that severely underestimates the time required for the routes down here.) Ready for an epic, we pushed on….Sean leading 100m up deep snow, mixed rock/snow, and hard nerve. Before long, the sun was GONE, and it was dark and scary. Our weather window never came….summit still shrouded in clouds. So as the moon rose over Piramide, we put an end to the madness. High point was about 5500m (at 7:00pm). So ended our ascent of the Arteson.

The descent was a hellish nightmare. Pardon my understatement. The full moon aided us greatly…but passing clouds and mist rising from the valley cast shadows….crevasses become intensely more horrifying in the dark. Our line of ascent was out….that nasty ice pitch/ wide bridge were too scary. So we wove left, amid giant gaps riddled with smaller cracks. I punched through a mid size crevasse…pack and arms supporting me while my legs kicked frantically, finding nothing below. Some screaming later, Sean realized my plight (having suffered a minor punch through himself) and came to the rescue…helping me flop out of the hole like a fish. I was done…frazzled. Sick at every step…heart in my throat….Sean and I swung leads down through the hellish minefield. I eventually found our tracks, one small fall later….and we picked our way down. I was so very unhappy….though I am not very religious.. .I kept repeating the ‘Our Father’…which seemed bizarrely appropriate, “forgive us our trespasses….deliver us from evil….”

The tent was/is like a magic wonderland….warm, dry…SAFE. Now eating/drinking….recording thoughts before they vanish. A sad night…..

The next day it snowed hard almost all day long, keeping us in the tent. We talked long and hard….both very confident that given good weather, we could have had the ascent….both comfortable that despite the terrifying descent, we had managed everything safely and well-composed despite our situation. I feel no regrets for attempting the climb in the style we did, or for turning back when we did. We made the best our of what Pachamama handed us on that glacier.

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However, Sean made an important decision…that he is finished climbing on this trip. We joke about how climbing is just pure suffering….under a huge load on the way in, through fear like I have never known before on scary glaciers, on steep snow, in rare air, bad weather, and pounding downhill on descents that seem to take forever…..yet we are still drawn to it. Sean has a bigger draw down here…the wide world is tugging at him…and I cannot blame him. So in a few days he is headed out…to see South America in much the same fashion as I did myself before coming to the Cordillera Blanca.

Which leaves me with an interesting situation….lots of gear and no partner! Ron has left town for a few days….perhaps we’ll climb together, or I may easily find some partners in town. Lots of climbers here. And for me this trip isn’t over yet.

However, tentbound on the glacier, I thought a lot about my reasons for being here…and have come to the conclusion that I have by and large achieved my goals, learning what I came to learn and more…so much more. And the reasons for skipping town and going home abound….rapidly diminishing money and motivation, terrible climbing weather, losing my partner…

So there is a chance I will change my ticket and head home early. Probably not much earlier than intended….a week or two perhaps….but that remains to be seen. I feel like I have at least one, maybe two more adventures in store here in Huaraz before I get on that plane.

Now I have a date with our favorite polleria in town for dinner…..hopefully I’ll muster up a email about Huaraz in the coming days. Until then….

Phil

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